Kenneth Mathews’ Genesis 1-11:26

I once heard David Dockery in one of the “Baptist Identity” conference lectures quip that all the Broadman & Holman brass really cared about in its The New American Commentary series was getting the Genesis volumes done and done correctly.  He offered this comment, as I recall, with apologies to Timothy George who was sitting in the audience and whose Galatians volume in the same series is truly a fantastic piece of work.  Dockery’s comment was an allusion to the infamous “Genesis controversy” involving, first, Ralph Elliott’s controversial work on the book, and, second, G. Hinton Davies’ 1969 Genesisvolume for The Broadman Commentary.

I suspect Dockery may be right.  The Convention party men are no doubt much more pleased with Mathews’ work, but let me be perfectly clear about this work:  Kenneth Mathews is no party hack and he’s no shill.  He is a first-rate biblical scholar and Hebrew linguist whose now-completed two-volume work on Genesis is a model in careful scholarship and God-honoring exegesis.

Mathews teaches Old Testament and Hebrew at the Beeson Divinity School of Samford University.  He’s done work on Leviticus in the Dead Sea Scrolls and has had a long and distinguished teaching career.  I will not feign impartiality.  I had the priviledge of having Dr. Mathews in a DMin. seminar at Beeson, and I can attest to his scholar’s mind, pastor’s heart, and sincere faith in the risen Christ.

Over the last many weeks of preaching through Genesis, I’ve had great opportunity to spend time with Mathews’ first Genesis volume.  As I’ve also had time to spend with a few other Genesis volumes, I can now speak by way of contrast concerning at least the other current evangelical works on this book that I’ve been reading.  To put it simply, after journeying through the first eleven chapters of Genesis, I can say that Dr. Mathews’ work is hands-down the most thorough, balanced, careful, and helpful work on Genesis I’ve ever encountered.

Mathews does not skirt the difficult questions and he does not rehash platitudes.  He carefully plumbs the depths of the numerous exegetical and hermeneutical problems that this book presents the reader and then reasons out his conclusions in ways that are compelling and admirable.  He has a great grasp of the representative literature for the various sides of the various problems, and he does not hesitate to lay out the respective strenghts and weaknesses of each of the viewpoints.

This will be necessarily hit-or-miss, but I was particularly helped by Mathews’ handling of the “sons of God” and “Nephilim” passages, his handling of Noah, and, particularly his handling of the Tower of Babel story.  Furthermore, this commentary unlocks the literary unity of Genesis in convincing and powerful ways.  I suspect I will never view Genesis in quite the same light again, thanks in no small part to Kenneth Mathews.

I have come to appreciate profoundly Kenneth Mathews’ tremendous work and I would like to recommend it here without hesitation.  Furthermore, I very much look forward to spending time in the second volume.

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