Tips on Building Your NT Commentary Collection

When I worked at Christian Book Distributors and Hendrickson Publishers, I got great discounts on academic books of all kinds, but I ended up spending quite a bit on commentaries (which I do not regret). Most (in fact almost all) seminary students cannot afford to buy several commentaries, so I have seen people like Don Carson make a list of the best reference resources if you only have one commentary to buy per NT book. Here I humbly offer my favs.

NB: As for the all-in-one commentary of OT/NT, I am partial to the Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible (ed. Dunn and Rogerson). You get great balanced sane comments from some of the best exegetes. For evangelicals you can hardly do better than the New Bible Commentary (IVP). Both have been helpful to me. On occasion I consult the Oxford Bible Commentary, especially on Paul’s epistles. For the Oxford commentary, Bauckham does Revelation, Judith Lieu on the Johannines, Rainer Riesner on James, Jerome Murphy O’Connor on COlossians, Dunn on Ephesians, G. Stanton on Galatians, John Barclay on 1 Corinthians, Loveday Alexander on Acts, and Lester Grabbe on Leviticus (among many others).

So, here goes…I will try to limit my recommendations to 1-2 commentaries per book of NT.

Matthew – I have found Hagner’s WBC to be top-notch in terms of detailed analysis and theological insight. I have not had time to interact with R.T. France’s new NICNT commentary (2007), but I imagine it rivals Hagner.

Mark – I confess that I have not worked much in Mark, but Morna Hooker’s BNTC work has been very useful to me. Also, Craig Evans has done the latter half of Mark for the WBC (2001) and I trust his work is sound and cogent.

Luke – One need not look further than Bock’s work (Baker), though Joel Green’s NICNT (1997) is really impressive theologically as he has done so much research on the meaning of the death and resurrection of Jesus according to the Gospels.

John – I have always been a big fan of Don Carson’s Pillar commentary, but Bauckham is working on the NIGTC which I think will be the one to top them all. For Jewish and Greco-ROman contextual comparison, definitely check out Keener’s two-volume from Hendrickson, but it is probably too expensive to just go out and buy.

Acts – I have long felt that there are no really good works on Acts commentary-wise, partly because we need a good 3-volume commentary that can really dig in and nothing like that has appeared in commentary form. In terms of what is out there, I am quite happy with Witherington (1998) and I like Richard Longenecker’s Expositor’s volume on Acts. I am excitied about Loveday Alexander’s forthcoming commentary, but the Black’s series is not known for length. Nevertheless, I think it will achieve much. [Incidently, I had a chat recently with Steve Walton who is working on the WBC of Acts; he recommended Beverly Gaventa’s short commentary on Acts for the Abingdon series as a must-have]

Romans – Dear me, this is tough. Despite the protest of some, I think Dunn has offered a great lengthy detailed study that is all around sane and worthwhile even for those hesitant about the New Perspective. To balance Dunn out, perhaps Moo is useful. Of course you should make a trip to the library to consult Barth, Kasemann, Wright, Barrett, and Jewett.

1 Corinthians – hands down Gordon Fee (NICNT). To supplement theologically Richard Hays (Interpretation) and Thiselton (NIGTC) who also will give great history of interpretation and hermeneutical issues.

2 Corinthians – here, as with Acts, I think we are still awaiting a magisterial commentary. In terms of what is out there, Murray Harris (NIGTC) and Hafemann (NIVAC) make the greatest contributions all around. I wish someone in the apocalyptic-interpretation-of-Paul family (Lou Martyn, Doug Campbell, John Barclay, Beverly Gaventa, Charles Cousar, etc…) would write a good commentary on 2 Cor. because of how one deals with the language of death in the earlier chapters. Oh well. Make due with Harris and Hafemann… BTW – David deSilva will be working on 2 Corinthians for a new series and that should be quite useful.

Galatians – For detailed exegesis I would probably consult R. Longenecker (WBC), but he does not interact with the New Perspective much. Actually, Richard Hays has a Galatians commentary in the New Interpreter’s Bible Series (Vol. 11) which is not detailed, but really excellent on theological interpretation. I look forward (long down the road) to NT Wright’s Two Horizons commentary.

Ephesians – Here Andrew Lincoln (WBC) and Peter O’Brien (Pillar) are especially good. IF I could only get one, I would go for WBC. We expect an NIGTC volume eventually from Max Turner – that will set a new standard, I think!

Philippians – There are so many good commentaries here. I would say I am repeatedly drawn to Fee (NICNT), but for a briefer guide try Bockmuehl (Black’s). On theological interpretation, definitely interact with Stephen Fowl (Two Horizons).

Colossians – Once again, I like Dunn (NIGTC) for his depth on a variety of issues and his care and caution with authorship issues. Otherwise, O’Brien (WBC) is solid on most exegetical matters.

1-2 Thessalonians – There are a number of excellent things in these books. Certainly look at Charles Wanamaker (NIGTC) who is great on the rhetoric of these letters. On theology and eschatology, Beale’s brief IVPNT contribution is good, and on the same issues so is Beverly Gaventa (Interpretation).

Pastorals – I confess that I have not done a lot of work here, but Gordon Fee’s brief NIBC (Hendrickson) is a solid evangelical (paul = author) take on the texts as well as good on theology. I also like Howard Marshall (ICC) for detailed exegesis though he takes an allonymous view (someone other than Paul wrote them). I would also consult Luke Timothy Johnson’s Anchor volume.

Hebrews – without a doubt I endorse David deSilva’s socio-rhetorical work (Eerdmans) for overall consistent interpretation of the letter; in terms of a more detailed analysis, Craig Koester (Anchor).

James – honestly I have done little to nothing in James, but I would trust Doug Moo’s (Pillar) work and also Luke Timothy Johnson (Anchor).

1 Peter – Again, lots to work with here. I definitely recommend Paul Achtemeier’s (Hermeneia) commentary, though it is in a format that is less than ideal and quite expensive. Also, Karen Jobes’ relatively recent BEC commentary is superb all around (and a must-have for pastors). The new work by Joel Green (Two Horizons) is a must-have as well; especially the appended items on theology and identity.

2 Peter – I know very little on this, but Peter Davids seems quite capable (Pillar, I think). Same for Jude.

1-2-3 John – This is tough because I think there is much more to find in the johannine than has been explored in the existing commentaries. I would say Howard Marshall (NICNT) offers trustworthy exegesis.

Revelation – hands down the award goes to Beale (NIGTC). Aune (WBC) has some great stuff as well. The new Black’s commentary by Ian Boxall would be great for preachers who want a distillation.

I’m sure others will disagree with me here or there, but this is my take, whatever it is worth.

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7 thoughts on “Tips on Building Your NT Commentary Collection

  1. “Gordon Fee’s brief NIBC (Hendrickson) is a solid evangelical (paul = author) take on the texts as well as good on theology.”

    Interesting to see your definition of evangelical here, Nijay. Problem is, I am not sure how widely this would be accepted. I am especially interested to see you then recommend Lincoln’s Ephesians commentary,which does not see Paul as author. Isn’t that an issue for you in some way?

    Best wishes,

    John

  2. Celucien and Paul, thanks for the info.

    John, I guess I could have said “traditional,” but I do think it is distinctive of evangelicals that they defend pauline authorship (generally). I think Howard Marshall (who thinks the Pastorals are allonymous) is an exception (i.e., he is evangelical, but does not argue for Paul = author) that proves the rule.

    As for Lincoln, he is direct and clear about his attitudes towards authorship, but at times throughout the commentary he notes that certain passages bear hints of genuine pauline authorship. Also, he claims that the exegetical comments are often equally relevant if Paul is seen to be the author. I would recommend Lincoln’s commentary, though, because of his insight into Jewish backgrounds, eschatological texts, and incisive theological reflections.

    BTW- I don’t think an “evangelical” is defined by holding to Paul = author, but I do think it has long been a distinct mark of evangelical scholarship to continue to show concern for the problems of pseudonymity.

  3. One that is set to be published sometime this year is on 1 Corinthians by Dr. William Baker (my MA thesis advisor). He and I talked about it on several occasions, and it seems to be quite rewarding. He says it’s more or less a re-evaluation and/or critique of scholarship on 1 Corinthians–and no one is safe. :-) I’m not sure what the series is, as he did not divulge that information; but as soon as a I know, I will certainly send you a note.

    As far as your comments regarding Lincoln’s commentary on Ephesians, I could not agree with you more. My exegetical course on Ephesians had five people (excluding our prof) and we each had to choose a commentary to use and critique throughout the course. Lincoln was my choice. Outside of authorship, there was very little where we disagreed; and I say that not because he is my (soon-to-be) PhD supervisor. ;) His work on Ephesians is truly a resource to consult and to “chew on” by anyone who wants to wrestle with that Epistle.

  4. Nijay, thanks for this, always great ideas in a post like this.

    Thrall and Garland are excellent on 2 Corinthians as well, the former full and the latter full-ish with good pastoral discussion as well. You might point out that Fee on 1 Cor has the older view (‘over-realized eschat’) challenged by Hays et al. (and what is your take on that discussion?)

    Two texts on Mark: Joel Marcus (only first half) and Lane, which is old but was ahead of its time and still well worthwhile.

    Matthew commentaries: Hagner is prob not the top of the heap; Davies and Allison take the top spot. France is good; David Garland provides a nice short, sound commentary I rec. to pastors and lay folks (Reading Matthew).

    Have you used any of the NIVAC commentaries for Pauline epistles? In my experience (mostly gospels and later NT) it’s spotty but occasionally good.

  5. J.B.
    Thanks for the advice.
    As for the NIVAC, I am a huge fan in terms of good devotional commentaries or ones for sunday school or bible study use. McKnight on Galatians is good, Snograss on Ephesians, Thielman on Philippians, Keener on Revelation, and Hafemann on 2 Corinthians. All of these are excellent.

    On the issue of whether Paul was countering those with an accelerated apocalyptic timetable (over-realized = Fee/Thiselton) or more a common philosophical attitude (Hays), the evidence could go either way. Either frameworks, I think, can account for the evidence. I think Mike Bird is right that we need to see a PhD thesis on this; or perhaps a couple of them.

    As for Hagner on Matthew; though I am not a Matthean scholar, I take some comfort that Denver Seminary Journal (edited by Craig Blomberg) lists Hagner at the top. But D & A are certainly magisterial!

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