I own a lot of biblical commentaries. I have shelves and shelves full of commentaries. As a pastor, I have a responsibility to make sure that the message I am proclaiming is a responsible, well-informed, theologically grounded interpretation of the biblical passage at hand that says something to us about who God is and what that means for how we are called to go about living our lives. Some biblical passages are, quite simply, difficult to understand. I routinely take comfort in the fact that there have been countless generations of Christians before me who have wrestled with similar questions about how to interpret scripture faithfully in a particular context. There are many people who have devoted much time and energy to reading scripture and telling others what it all means. Frankly, I find some much more helpful than others. Sometimes I read commentaries and find myself thinking, "I didn't learn a thing from that." Other times, I think, "Well, that was interesting historical background, but I'm still left with the question of what this means for me and for the community of faith for which I have a responsibility to provide spiritual leadership." And at other times, I find myself thinking, "I could have done better than that myself."
In all my travels through the scriptures, and in all the time and energy I have spent poring over commentaries and other theological tomes, I have found only two commentaries on Matthew's gospel that I consistently find to be helpful, clear, informative, grounded, articulate, and thought-provoking. I have found only two that, when I read them, I have "Aha!" moments, and I find myself energized and amazed by what I am reading, and can't wait to share it with others. I have found only two that have a solid understanding of the historical context combined with a tremendous depth of theological insight. One of them is Thomas G. Long's commentary in the Westminster Bible Companion series. The other is this three-volume commentary in the International Critical Commentary series.
This is a heavy tome indeed. There is well over two thousand pages worth of material in these three volumes. This is not for the casual reader, not for an average lay person who is just wanting a fairly straightforward interpretation without a lot of technicality. If you're looking for that, try Long's volume instead. If, on the other hand, you want solid critical scholarship that offers a careful reading of the Greek text, an analysis of historical and literary issues that impact on the meaning of the text, AND (not least!) that tremendous depth of theological insight that I mentioned a moment ago, this set of books is just what you need. How nice it is -- just to give one example out of hundreds I could give -- to read several pages of pretty heavy-duty commentary on the parable of the laborers of the vineyard in Matthew 20 and then come to words like this: "For the main teaching is indeed about how God rewards human beings according to his unexpected goodness -- although that teaching functions as much as warning as encouragement. Hence the less deserving may receive as much as the more deserving. Like the Spirit, the divine grace blows where it wills." This is a critical commentary that dares to be theological as well -- and does so in ways that I find consistently impressive. Thank you, W. D. Davies and Dale C. Allison Jr., for the work that YOU have done laboring in the vineyard.