An excellent commentary, who can find? She is more precious than jewels. To make this list, a commentary must do most of the following:
- observe the text carefully (and not just tell us what others have said about the text)
- take note of literary devices
- make interpretive decisions primarily from the text and not solely by scholarly consensus
- show, not merely tell, its conclusions
- spell out the biblical author’s train of thought (focusing on logic and meaning instead of on words, etymology, or cross references)
- focus on the biblical author’s main points (without getting distracted by every possible debate on isolated words or phrases)
- show a conviction that the text will change our lives, both individually and corporately
I award bonus points when the gospel of Jesus Christ takes center stage.
Note: Please don’t use this list to feed a lifeless addiction. Make sure you study the text on your own before consulting any commentaries, no matter how good they may be. Your spiritual heirs will thank you for it.General Commentaries
G.K. Beale and D.A. Carson, editors, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament: Great as a doorstop or paperweight, but even better in training you to think like an apostle. The unique value here is that the contributors examine every OT quote and allusion in the NT. They show that the NT authors don’t just quote verbiage; they reference (and assume the reader understands) the context of the OT verbiage. I read this every time I study a NT book.
Gordon Wenham, Genesis 1-15 and Genesis 16-50, WBC series: Some sections can be skipped altogether. For example, on every passage: “Scholar A and Scholar B divide the text into sources J and E differently. Scholar C does it a different way. Blah blah blah. All we have, however, is the text in its final form, so we’ll analyze it accordingly.” Wenham rocks when he observes repeated words, structure, and the narrative train of thought. Extremely valuable.
Warren Austin Gage, The Gospel of Genesis: This short examination of Genesis 1-11 and its impact on the rest of the Bible will knock your socks off.
James B. Jordan, Judges: A Practical and Theological Commentary: Jordan is a keen observer of the text. He’s also magnificent at showing how the larger structure fits together and communicates part of the author’s meaning itself. If you don’t mind sifting through occasional strange interpretations for the gems, this is worth your time.
1 & 2 Samuel
1 & 2 Kings
1 & 2 Chronicles
Ezra & Nehemiah
Raymond C. Ortlund, Jr, Proverbs: Wisdom That Works, PTW series: Fabulous exposition of Proverbs 1-9. Then covers a few topics in the rest of Proverbs. Strong on main points, train of thought, and application.
Dan Phillips, God’s Wisdom in Proverbs: Not exactly a commentary, but I keep it on my commentary shelf. Phillips’s exposition of select texts and themes in Proverbs is meticulous and amazingly coherent. Application is decent, though I wish he had taken a more winsome and persuasive tone.
Bruce Waltke, The Book of Proverbs, Chapters 1-15 and The Book of Proverbs, Chapters 15-31, NICOT series: The most thorough commentary I’ve seen on Proverbs, yet it rarely loses its helpfulness. Everybody and their seminary teachers recommend this one, and for good reason. Lots of Hebrew, but it’s possible to understand without knowledge of the language. Better as a reference than a read-through.
Zack Eswine, Recovering Eden: The Gospel According to Ecclesiastes: Unfortunately, Eswine doesn’t travel section by section; he prefers to go theme by theme, but roughly in the order they appear in the book. By the end, he’s hit almost every passage. Clear understanding of the mains points. Powerful application. My go-to resource on a difficult book.
Douglas Wilson, Joy at the End of the Tether: Short, clear, well-applied. Focused on the train of thought, and he usually gets it right.
Song of Songs
Michael Green, The Message of Matthew, BST series: Great on observation, structure, and application.
D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, PNTC series: All-around good commentary. Good grasp of main themes, good exposition of passages, good observation, interpretation, and application.
Merrill C. Tenney, John: The Gospel of Belief: After a wonderful introduction, the body of the commentary drops off a bit in usefulness. It still stimulates me quite a bit in thinking through each passage, but his analysis of John’s purpose statement is the best part.
John R.W. Stott, The Message of Romans, BST series: Every commentary by John Stott is worth reading. I’ve read no commentator who surpasses Stott at observing, interpreting, and applying, while remaining reasonably concise and engaging. Get it. Now.
Timothy Keller, Galatians for You. Close observation and great at tracing the author’s train of thought.
1 & 2 Thessalonians
G.K. Beale, 1-2 Thessalonians, IVPNTC series: Constantly and explicitly focused on Paul’s main points. Few commentaries say, “The main point of this section is…” Go, Dr. Beale, go! Good observation, interpretation, and application. A rare gem as far as commentaries go. My only beef is that the font and typesetting are not the easiest to read, though they may have fixed this problem in recent printings.
Philip Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus, NICNT series: If you want something more thorough and researched than Stott. You’ll get farther, faster with Stott. But if you prefer to go deeper and longer, Towner is a great choice.
Alan M. Stibbs, The First General Epistle of Peter, TNTC series: I haven’t yet gotten hold of Wayne Grudem’s volume that replaced this one. Stibbs’s work does well with observation, themes, and main points.
1, 2, & 3 John
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