Bible Commentary Series
An overview of Bible Commentary series available in English from highly critical to conservative. The following list identifies some of the better series and editions that are worthy of note.
The highly acclaimed Hermeneia series, "a critical and historical commentary to the Bible", published by Fortress Press, is a most beautiful example of the printer's art and caries some excellent editions. Song of Songs, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Micah, 1 Corinthians, Galatians, Colossians and Philemon, Hebrews and 1 Peter are all worth possessing. Some of the authors in the series represent European Biblical criticism, often translations, so the series will not always be appreciated by conservative students. Augsburg/Fortress also publish the Continental Commentary series, a series which preceded Hermeneia, and again often a product of highly critical European scholarship. Grab: Genesis, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Obadiah/Johah, Micah.
The scholarly Anchor Bible ranges from horror to heaven. The series still awaits completion and some early editions have been revised or replaced. When purchasing used, make sure that there isn't an updated revised edition. Grab: Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, Esther, Song of Songs, Lamentations (Hillers, 1992), Ezekiel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Jonah, Nahum Habakkuk Zephaniah and Haggai Zechariah Malachi in the Old Testament and Luke, John, Acts, Romans, 2 Corinthians, Ephesians, the Pastorals, James and 2 Peter in the New. New editions are now being printed in paperback and the series is being published by Yale University Press.
What an amazing run the International Critical Commentary by T & T Clark has had. The original series gathers dust on the shelves of secondhand bookshops, but some of the golden oldies are worth owning, eg. Romans (Sanday & Headlam), Luke (Plummer). The latest series, edited by Emerton, Cranfield and Stanton, is outstanding. Worth purchasing: Cranfields two volumes on Romans is the jewel in the crown, along with Matthew, Acts, 2 Corinthians, Ephesians and the Pastorals. A knowledge of Hebrew/Greek is required with these commentaries. Selected editions are now being printed in paperback
The Word series is one of the few maintaining an even quality for the serious, but conservative exegete, who is looking for sound exegesis and exposition, but also with an eye toward application. The verse-by-verse "Comment" section and the theological "Explanation" certainly aid the preaching task. Most editions are worth owning. It is actually difficult to fault this series, either in the quality of contributors, the scope of each volume, layout, reasonable pricing and above all, the "evangelical critical scholarship" that infuses each edition. The following are some of the key editions: Genesis, Leviticus, Numbers, Joshua, Ruth-Esther, Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, Ezra-Nehemiah, Job, Psalms, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea-Jonah, Luke, John, Romans, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, Hebrews, James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter & Jude, John's letters, Revelation. Many editions fail to consider readers who are not fluent in Greek (eg. Colossians), or Hebrew.
The Old Testament Library, published in England by SCM and in America by Westminster Press, produced a range of critical theological commentaries on the Old Testament along with a number of "must have" titles, particularly those penned by John Bright and Ernest Wright. Conservative students have often considered burning some translated titles from European scholars, but some works are definitely worth purchasing: Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy, Chronicles, Ezra-Nehemiah, Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Isaiah (Westerman), Hosea, Amos, Micah, Nahum Habakkuk and Zephaniah, Haggai Zechariah and Malachi. As many of these works have been around for 30 years or so they can usually be purchased secondhand.
The New International Commentary on the Old Testament is still in the process of publication and is certainly a serious commentary series. The following are recommended: Genesis (note the move toward a much weightier treatment of the text with this two volume offering), Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Ruth, Song of Songs, and Isaiah. Reprints in the larger format are not necessarily new editions. It pays to check! The later editions often require a knowledge of Hebrew if using the notes.
The New International Commentary on the New Testament is a fairly even exposition of the New Testament for the less advanced, but serious student of the New Testament. The NICNT grew out of The New London Commentary on the New Testament and as Eerdmans has continued to replace or revise and expand editions, it is best to buy the latest printing. For example, it is well worth buying: Matthew (France), Mark, Luke, Romans (Moo), 1 Corinthians (Fee), 2 Corinthians (Barnett), Galatians (Fung), Thessalonians (Morris, 1991), Pastorals, Hebrews (Bruce, 1990), James, 1 Peter (Davids) and John's letters. As noted above, reprints in the larger format are not necessarily new editions. A knowledge of Greek is often necessary with the later editions when referring to the notes, but is usually not required in the main text.
The New International Greek Testament Commentary is a scholarly series that began life in the late 70's with Marshall's commentary on Luke, but has tended to be a bit slow getting going. It is a commentary series for those with a knowledge of Greek. It addresses modern developments in Biblical studies, but doesn't get bogged down in too much detail. Worth purchasing: Matthew, Luke, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, Colossians & Philemon, Thessalonians, Pastorals, Hebrews, James and Revelation. An unwillingness to offer a translation of the text, or to systematically examine textual detail, word studies, syntax etc. in a Greek text commentary, at times mitigates against some editions in this series. For example, compare the limited detail in France's Mark with Harris' 2 Corinthians. Dr. Lightfoot would not be amused.
The Pillar New Testament Commentary is a brand new and scholarly series focused on the Greek text, but with reference to the NIV. It is concerned with sound exegesis and exposition. Donald Carson, the series editor, is attempting to blend exegesis with exposition, while keeping an eye on "the contemporary relevance of the Bible, without confusing the commentary and the sermon." Carson's justification for this approach is that mere objectivity, when addressing holy writ, is "profane". Some good volumes are already produced. Matthew, Mark, John, Romans, Ephesians (it's nice to find an author who thinks the apostle may have written this letter) and John's letters are especially recommended. Greek words and syntax are confined to the notes, allowing an undisturbed read for those who are not into the original.
The Baker Book House series of individual commentaries, their easy to read Expositors Guide to the Historical Books, Guide to New Testament Exegesis and their critical exegetical series based on the Greek New Testament, the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, are recent and worthy participants in the scholarly segment of Biblical Commentaries. Of the BECNT series the editors seek "to provide, within the framework of informed evangelical thought, commentaries that blend scholarly depth with readability, exegetical detail with sensitivity to the whole and attention to critical problems with theological awareness." In the BECNT series grab: Luke, Romans and 1 Corinthians.
For those either reviving their Greek or beginning to develop the art of Greek exegesis, the Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament series, published by Eerdmans, beginning life in 1991, is a worthy "commentary" series, in that it intends to provide the information necessary to understand and expound the Greek text. The series is a great idea, but was stalled with Colossians for some years. Broadman and Holman have taken over the project with much of the New Testament now in preparation - James was released in 2013. A Handbook on the Greek Text initiated by Parsons and Culy and published by Baylor University Press, moves in the same direction as the EGNT series, although less detailed, but more user-friendly. Up to 2011 some 5 editions had been published and new editions have followed. The series is a must for the serious exegete. A Translator's Handbook series, published by the UBS as Helps for Translators, is a useful reference tool in meaningfully expressing the Greek text. This series was produced in the 60's +, and can be found secondhand. The series is a useful, even for those of us who don't really want to translate the text into Black Bobo of the Upper Volta. Newman's Matthew is particularly worth purchasing, while the originals on Mark and Luke are excellent handbooks for translating the Greek NT. The updated series (just the covers! [sorry, 1 Corinthians has been updated]) goes by the name the UBS Handbook Series. The later editions often work off the TEV, as well as quoting other major translations, all of which are tested against the Greek for meaning and accuracy. Bratcher and Hatton's Revelation (1993) is well worth purchasing, but it should be noted that most of the later editions in the series make little comment on the Greek text. Some Old Testament volumes are now available. Also very helpful in the translating department is the series produced by The Summer Institute of Linguistics. Their Exegetical Summaries of Biblical books are well worth purchasing.
The now aged Cambridge Greek Testament Commenatry, published by Cambridge University Press (CUP), never really got going, but Mark and Colossians/Philemon are a must. The series was intended to replace the earlier Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges which began its life in 1877. A knowledge of Greek is required for these commentaries. The Cambridge Bible Commentaries are worth purchasing used. They were based on the New English Bible and produced in the 60's and 70's. Grab: The Minor Prophets - Obadiah.
A recent series by Cambridge University Press, New Testament Theology, is very useful at filling out the limited space given to theology by most commentaries. Getting the "big picture" right is an essential for sound exposition. Most of the New Testament is now covered, but definitely grab Galatians, Hebrews and Revelation. Another, "big picture" series is New Testament Readings published by Routledge/Taylor & Francis, with an introductory volume and separate volumes covering a number of New Testament books. This is a great series for assessing the different ways commentators interpret the text. Grab the intro. and Mark. While on the big picture, it is worth noting that Graeme Goldsworthy's "Gospel and Wisdom" is a brilliant introduction to the Wisdom literature and his "Gospel in Revelation" again a brilliant little introduction to the book of Revelation. Both were published by Paternoster, but can only be obtained secondhand.
The New American Commentary, produced by Broadman and Holman, is a new series of commentaries based on the New International Version of the Bible. This series started production in the 1990's and so is up to date on the theological issues of the day, eg. Timothy George's commentary on Galatians proceeds with an awareness of the debate concerning the New Perspective. The series rests on contemporary evangelical scholarship, focusing on the theological and exegetical concerns of the scriptures, while lending itself to the business of preaching and teaching. The exposition is thorough, but not overly technical, eg. Greek syntax/words are confined to end notes. Stein's commentary on Luke is excellent.
Sacra Pagina is an interesting series of commentaries, produced by Liturgical Press. The series is a product of Roman Catholic scholarship. Johnson's Luke and Acts are definitely worth purchasing.
The Expositor's Bible Commentary is a middle-of-the-road commentary produced by Zondervan, with the volumes containing Psalms, Matthew and Acts well worth the purchase price. Zondervan is now publishing this series as paperbacks of individual Bible books.
The NIV Application Bible Commentary is another publication by Zondervan and as it is a recent series and uses such greats as Snodgrass, Bock, Guthrie and Moo, it is well worth a look. It aims at expounding the message of the text, but also seeks a contemporary application. It seeks to explain the Bible and consider how it speaks to us today. As a series it is in the less technical middle ground.
Sheffield Academic Press produces two interesting series, i] Guides to the Old and New Testament, grab Samuel, and ii] Readings, A New Biblical Commentary on the Old and New Testament, grab John. They also produce their regular never-ending supplement series: Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, (JSOT). Worth chasing on the used market, for those with a knowledge of Hebrew: Webb's study "The Book of Judges" #46, Clines' "The Esther Scroll" #30 and Fox's study on Ecclesiastes, "Qohelet and his contradictions" #71.
The New International Biblical Commentary, published by Peabody: Hendrickson, is a not too hard, not too easy commentary that seeks to explain and expound the NIV English text. The approach of this series is described as "believing criticism" where the text is examined critically, but with the eye of faith. Grab: Deuteronomy, 1 & 2 Kings, Philippians and the Pastorals.
Black's/Harper's New Testament Commentaries have been around for 30 years or so, but as most of the editions have been revised or even rewritten, it is best to buy the latest edition. They are an uncomplicated, but sound series of commentaries. Particularly worth using are Mark (Hoeker), Romans (new edition) 1 & 2 Corinthians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, The Pastoral Epistle, James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter & Jude and Revelation.
The New Century Bible Commentary, was originally published by Oliphants, Marshall Morgan & Scott, Marshall Pickering, Eerdmans and today by Sheffield Academic, although the series is now quietly fading away. Publication began in the 60's as The Century Bible, reformatted as the New Century Bible, and has continued with new editions, revised and replacement volumes. The commentary series is based on the RSV. Many of the titles can only be purchased used, but watch out for the early "failures". Worthy editions, grab Kings, Chronicles, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Isaiah 1-39, Lamentations, Haggai-Zechariah-Malachi, Matthew, Luke (Ellis - 2nd. edition, interesting!), Romans (the revised edition in 89 is still very dated), Thessalonians (Marshall), Hebrews (Wilson) and Revelation (the hidden jewel!).
Interpretation, a Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, is another commentary series that began life over 20 years ago and has continued in publication through till today. A recent offering is Creach's commentary on Joshua, 2003. The earlier editions are easily purchased secondhand. It was a worthy experiment as it attempted to relate the text to contemporary life. At the time, expository writing was thin on the ground and so a commentary series that gave thought to the hermeneutic end-game is to be commended. Worth purchasing: Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel and The Minor Prophets.
The Focus on the Bible (FOB), Series of commentaries, published by Fearn in Scotland. Christian Focus Publications, emphasize the 3 'R's, Readability, Reliability and Relevance. These commentaries are simple, and take a conservative and evangelical standpoint. The series is intended to be completed in 2007. The series seeks to "find a way into the text." Grab Matthew and John. Fearn also publish the new Mentor series of Old Testament commentaries. These are more scholarly in their approach, although again conservative and evangelical.
The Tyndale series is excellent for the lay student, being both simple and sound. The series aims at sound exposition that moves the text toward contemporary relevance and application. Every church should own a complete set in their lending library. Originally based on the AV, the New Tyndale updated, or replaced editions, are usually based on the NIV. With the revision of this series, it is far wiser to purchase the new editions than secondhand earlier editions. Many of my conservative brothers tend to feel that the Tyndale series has now been surpassed by the Welwyn Commentaries and the slightly more detailed EP Study Commentary Series published by Evangelical Press, or the Focus on the Bible series, or the Let's Study series by Banner of Truth. Certainly, like Tyndale, they are conservative and non-technical. With New Tyndale, editions that are worthy of special mention are: Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, Ezra & Nehemiah, Esther, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Solomon, Daniel, Minor Prophets, Mark, John, Acts (Marshall), 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Colossians-Philemon, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, Pastoral Epistles, 1 & 2 Peter and Jude and Revelation.
A very useful series, similar in difficulty to the Tyndale series, is the Bible Speaks Today published by IVP. The quality is high, but rather than serve as a reference work, this series focuses on exposition related to contemporary life. There are some useful works, grab: Judges, Ruth, Chronicles, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Isaiah, Hosea, Amos, Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 2 Timothy, 1 Peter, Revelation.
The Daily Study Bible is a well-worn series published in England by St.Andrew's Press and in the USA by Westminster Press. The series initially contained the works of William Barclay who wrote a series of New Testament commentaries in the 50's and 60's. I have to say, I cut my teeth on Bill's commentaries. Work on the Old Testament began in the 80's and has continued into the 90's. Some of the Old Testament commentaries are very useful at the non-technical level of study, eg. 1 & 2 Chronicles, Esther, Ezekiel.
In passing, I should mention two other simple oldies that are worth a look. First, the Torch Bible Paperbacks produced by SCM. This series is past its use-by date and is a touch liberal, but one-the-less there are some worthy editions. For myself, I do like A.M. Hunter's Mark, but then, any of A.Ms potted works are worth owning. Then there is the Pelican New Testament Commentaries, published by Penguin in paperback, with some reissued in hardback (but with glued spine!!!) by Westminster Press. Caird's Luke is a must.
Finally, the most concise of all commentaries and yet one of the most useful and accurate works, is the single volume New Bible Commentary produced by IVP. Every believer should be encouraged to own this commentary.
As a footnote on Biblical commentaries, mention should be made of the works of J.B. Lightfoot, who in the second half of the nineteenth century wrote Greek text commentaries that have stood as standards for commentary writers ever since. His commentaries on Galatians, Philippians and Colossians and Philemon are a must. We should also mention his friend B.F. Westcott whose commentaries on John (1881, Gk. 1908) and Hebrews (1889) are also classics. These works set the standard for modern technical commentaries and therefore are a worthy addition to any library. All these works are easily obtained used.
Building a commentary library
Commentaries are expensive, yet for a pastor who intends to faithfully teach the Word of God, a library consisting of something like the suggested Select Commentaries List would be a worthy aim. After this, the sky is the limit. Start out with one middle order commentary that considers the preaching end-game (eg. the Pillar series), and one technical commentary, for each book of the Bible. Don't ignore the simple, less technical, commentaries; they are often the preacher's friend, especially after a busy week!! Make sure that one of the commentaries is a recent publication that reflects the latest Biblical research. A Bible study leader, on the other hand, could aim at purchasing the first suggestion in the "Select Commentaries List" for the particular book they are studying, along with the single edition New Bible Commentary published by IVP. It's when we have extra time on our hands, or we want to come to grips with a particular Bible book, that we then purchase three or more commentaries. Depth in our commentary collection is a bonus when we strike that tricky verse that the commentators often nonchalantly slip over.
As for the new/used debate, it is important to obtain the latest revised edition of any commentary, but there is often value in purchasing a used copy. Book houses such as Dove have extensive new and used libraries easily accessed on the web. For a used electronic repository try abebooks.com, or the more general BOOKFINDER. To research past pubications, access any major theological library, eg. Moore Theological College Library
Building a useful commentary library is all about selecting a balanced set of quality commentaries that approach the Bible as God's word to us, rightly interpreted. It is hoped that the Select Commentaries provided on this site serve this end.
A word on bindings
Ever since the blight of economic rationalism, business has moved its focus from customer based management to the bottom line (profit). The question is no longer "how can we best serve our customers?", rather "how can we best improve our profits?" Richard Branson rightly observed that business works when we first focus on the customer, then the staff, and finally the shareholders. If the customers and staff are satisfied, then the business works and so the shareholders are satisfied.
You will note that from the late 1980's, nearly all the commentary publishers began to move from hardcover (cased) stitched bindings to hardcover adhesive bindings - the bottom line rules! They are very proud of their "notched adhesive" technology, happily quoting the page pull test standards (4# of "pull" per binding inch) and arguing that the bindings are now common to college and university publishers throughout the world. In my correspondence with them I have suggested they aught to rename it "loose leaf" technology. For those of us who use our commentaries regularly for reference purposes, the covers are breaking away, material backing separating and the spines cracking, particularly from the extra strain of the hard covers. Soft covers are technically better suited to adhesive bindings. Even careful flexing when new helps little and of course, getting them to lay flat or stand in a reading frame is quite an art, particularly where the adhesive has aged. A hardcover reference book should be serviceable for the life of the owner. I have commentaries with stitched bindings I have used for 35 years and they are still perfectly servicable, whereas at the moment I have an increasing number of hardcover editions which use the latest notched adhesive technology, all with broken spines. Hardcover reference books should have stitched bindings. Where economy is desirable, soft cover adhesive, yes; cased adhesive, definitely not.
If a binding fails, write to the publisher and COMPLAIN and demand a replacement, even after many years (Zondervan stands out as a consumer friendly company in their replacement policy). It's a sad comment about our age that in the dying moments of book publishing we should resort to producing expensive Biblical refrence volumes bound to fall to pieces. Hasten on DVD...
Index of studies. Resource file.