Douglas Sean O’Donnell (Phd. candidate at the University of Aberdeen) has nearly 20 years of pastoral ministry, which includes helping plant three churches with College Church, a historic Reformed interdenominational church in Wheaton, IL. Pastor O’Donnell has written nine books, including two children’s books, a Bible study on the Psalms, and commentaries on the Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, and John’s Epistles. With R. Kent Hughes, he co-wrote and edited The Pastor’s Book: A Comprehensive and Practical Guide to Pastoral Ministry.
1. What previous research and/or personal interests led you to this project and helped prepare you to write this commentary on Matthew?
Whenever I’m asked, “What is your favorite book in the Bible?” I usually say, “the Gospel of Matthew” (the book of Job is a close second). I love Matthew because it is dear to my heart. Part of my conversion story involves reading through the First Gospel and being struck by the story of the young rich ruler (or simply, to Matthew, the “young man”). I knew that if I, as a nineteen-year-old man, wanted to follow Jesus that the Lord of heaven and earth demanded everything. I also love the Gospel because it is a Gospel that highlights Jesus’s teaching ministry, the life-changing ministry of his authoritative word. Some of the unique features of the Gospel are inspiring to me—e.g., the Sermon on the Mount, the Great Commission, and even the woes to the scribes and the Pharisees.
With all that in mind, when R. Kent Hughes called me to contribute to the Preaching the Word commentary series, I wanted to write on Matthew. However, I was young at the time and thought it would be presumptuous if I returned the call and asked for a large book and a Gospel. So, I thought I’d say “yes” to being a contributor and ask for a short epistle, maybe 1 John. Jude? However, before I could reply, Kent left a message while I was at church, saying, “And I’d like you to do Matthew, if you’re up for it.” What remarkable providence! I was indeed up for it.
2. Who is the intended audience for this commentary? Would it benefit pastors? professors? students? lay Christians in the local church?
Pastors and laypeople are the target. I have had a few friends tell me that they spend their morning devotions first reading a passage in Matthew, then reading my commentary, and finally praying that God would apply those truths—read and “preached”—to their lives. I highly recommend that practice, whether it is my commentary or others like it.
3. What is unique about this commentary? What contribution does it make to studies of Matthew?
Like all the volumes in the Preaching the Word series, my commentary on Matthew is homiletical. While this is not completely “unique” (there is the Reformed Expository Commentary series, ancient commentaries, etc.), it fills a small niche today. So, while I exegete the text, and interact with scholarly options (see my extensive endnotes), the main contribution comes for the preacher. The commentary will help the pastor see how someone else divided the text into a sermon outline, and then explained, illustrated, and applied God’s Word. I would also hope my exegetical imagination (God has gifted me with creativity grounded in orthodoxy) and wit (I have my Irish father’s clever and dry humor) adds some freshness and originality.
4. What section or passage of this commentary was particularly memorable to research and write? Why?
As I mentioned above, Matthew 19:16-30 was a text that God used to save me and bring me under the Lordship of Jesus. Another text that has been life-changing is Matthew 15:21-28, the story of the Canaanite woman. That narrative has been my area of study for my PhD. Sometimes doctoral students get bored with their topic (so much research on one small area of the Bible). For me, these eight verses have breathed life into me. Her story is now my story. I have lived with this woman (the inspired text that is!) many years, and I love Jesus more because of her. She has taught me the nature of faith. Her coming with her need. Her posture. Her persistance. Her prayer. Her utter dependence. What “great faith!”
5. What personally edified you in writing this commentary, increasing your affections for Christ?
As a pastor and scholar, my goal is to demonstrate and declare, in Peter’s language, the “excellencies” of Christ (1 Peter 2:9). With every section of Matthew’s Gospel, I encountered the incarnate and resurrected Jesus. I was taken aback. Reformed. Renewed. Edified. Encouraged. Stunned. Changed. Face down in adoration.
I was also edified by my congregation’s response to the sermons that were the basis of the commentary. Pastors don’t often (sadly) get notes of encouragement. When nearing the end of my sermon series on Matthew, I received this incredibly kind and edifying note during Pastor’s Appreciation Month:
My heart really overflows with appreciation when I think of you. . . . In your consistent pointing to Jesus and marveling at Him in each sermon, my apathetic thought that “my best years with the Lord were behind me” has been drowned by ever increasing love for my Lord! When I think back to the hunger in my soul during college to hear more about Jesus in church, and then I think about how I have been fed on three years of Christ-exalting preaching under your pulpit—I AM THANKFUL!
That note, still today, helps me strive to faithfully proclaim and exalt—through voice or pen—our Lord Jesus Christ.
6. Besides your commentary, what are your top recommended books (commentaries or otherwise) on Matthew?
There are a number of excellent resources out there. We live in the land of plenty! For expert scholarly exegesis of the text I recommend the commentaries by [W.D.] Davies and [Dale] Allison Jr. and John Nolland. [Jefferey A.] Gibbs is solid. [Ulrich] Luz can be helpful. For clear exegesis of the text, along with excellent theological reflections and applications, I recommend Grant Osborne’s work. For a helpful overview of Matthean theological emphasizes, I recommend Charles Quarles, A Theology of Matthew: Jesus Revealed as Deliverer, King, and Incarnate Creator. For a short overview on Matthew, listen to my interview with Nancy Guthrie (https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/help-me-teach-the-bible-douglas-odonnell-on-matthew).
7. What is next for you? What project are you currently working on? How can people follow your work and ministry?
I am working on four commentaries: on the Song of Songs, the Gospel of Mark, and two on the book of Job—one scholarly, the other homiletical.
To listen to sermons, go to Westminster Presbyterian Church (wpchurch.com). I will be preaching the Gospel of Mark, starting in November 2017. The Gospels are the life of the church!
- Author interviews (index)