16 Commentaries (and Bibles) to help you study the Bible this new year
As you enter the new year, no doubt you are setting goals, making plans, and starting new resolutions. Reading the Bible should be one of them, but you should not read the Bible alone. Recruiting the help of those who have studied the Bible longer than you have is always wise. Whether you are a student, pastor, or scholar, here are 16 commentaries (and Bibles) you will benefit from as you study God’s Word.
Richard P. Belcher, Jr. Ecclesiastes: A Mentor Commentary. Christian Focus, 2017.
I have enjoyed reading whatever Richard Belcher writes. I remember when I was pastoring, I started preaching through the book of Genesis. The mountain of commentaries on Genesis can be daunting but I quickly found solace in Belcher’s commentary, for it was concise yet profound. He now has a new commentary out on Ecclesiastes, a book of the OT I think more pastors need to preach through given the unique challenges Christians face today. Belcher explains why his approach to Ecclesiastes is so different than other commentaries when he writes in the Preface, “The distinctive approach of this commentary is that it argues for Solomonic authorship combined with a negative, ‘under the sun’ approach to the message of the book. These two ideas are related to each other because the book reflects the struggles of Solomon during the period of his life when his heart was turned away from the Lord (1 Kings 11:9). The purpose of the book is to warn against speculative wisdom, which is a wisdom that no longer operates from the right foundation of the fear of the Lord. The struggles of Solomon are laid out as a warning to all that even someone as wise as Solomon can operate on the wrong basis. Of course, the answer to the struggle comes at the end of the book. However, if most of the book is written from an ‘under the sun’ perspective, it becomes imperative for the preacher or teacher of the book to point people to the right perspective along the way.”
Thomas R. Schreiner. Romans. 2nd ed. BECNT. Baker Academic, 2018.
There is no end to the number of commentaries published on the book of Romans. Why? Because it’s Romans, of course. But out of them all, Tom Schreiner’s is an absolute necessity. That was true of his first edition; it remains true nearly 20 years later. Yet with how much scholarship that has been published in two decades, a second edition is readily welcomed. While he has not attempted to be exhaustive, Tom has incorporated updated scholarship on Romans throughout his own commentaries. Has he changed his views on anything? Yes. “I have moved in a different direction in defining the righteousness of God, on whether the gentiles in 2:14-15 are Christians, and in my interpretation of 5:12. My reading of 7:13-25 has also changed in some respects. I have changed my mind on a number of smaller interpretive issues as well, so that what is written here represents a thorough revision.” These changes are a mark of humility, and if you know Tom that will not surprise you. This second edition only makes this massive contribution all the better and I trust it will be a resource that is timeless in many respects.
Douglas J. Moo. The Letter to the Romans. Second Edition. Eerdmans, 2018.
This must be the season for second editions, because Douglas Moo has also updated his monumental commentary on Romans. I will say something similar to what I said about Schreiner’s: in the ocean of Romans commentaries, Moo’s is up there toward the top somewhere. Schreiner says in his commendation of this second edition that Moo’s is at the top. “Moo’s first edition of Romans is the best commentary on Romans available, and the only volume that surpasses it is his second.” So there you have it. Has much changed in this second edition? Yes and no. Moo has added a full bibliography that was not provided in the first edition (thank you!), which is important given the legions of works published on Romans since the mid-1990s. Moo has also rearranged some material. However, Moo says in his preface that he has changed his mind on “relatively few points of exegesis or theology.” All that to say, this second edition is worth the investment; Moo has improved an already top-notch commentary.
Frank Thielman. Romans. Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Zondervan, 2018.
Frank Thielman, professor of NT and Greek at Beeson Divinity School, has written for decades now on all things related to Paul. Thielman’s Paul and the Law is a necessary read for anyone wrestling with how Paul interpreters the Mosaic law in light of Christ; Thielman’s Theology of the New Testament, as well as his commentary on Ephesians in the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the NT series, are both essential resources to have on your shelf. Personally, I have returned to his commentary on Ephesians many times in my own research. Now Thielman has added to his already impressive publications a commentary on Romans . Will Thielman’s be the fourth horseman in the Romans apocalypse, next to Schreiner, Moo, and Morris? Not sure; time will tell. There are many other competitors (like Murray, Edwards, Kruse, Longenecker, etc.). I will say this, while many commentaries on Romans begin with a massive introduction, Thielman’s is concise and introductory. If you are a pastor, Thielman’s introduction may be the place to start before you dive into the deep waters of Romans commentaries.
Leon Morris. The Epistle to the Romans. Eerdmans, 2018.
John Murray. The Epistle to the Romans. Eerdmans, 2018.
Since we are on the subject of best commentaries on Romans, you will be interested to know that Eerdmans has reproduced in paperback the works of both Leon Morris and John Murray in what they are calling the Eerdmans Classic Biblical Commentaries Series. What a blessing this is; I find it frustrating when publishers allow some of their best publications from past generations fade into the background until they go out of print. Eerdmans is bringing their best commentaries to the front lines and few of them compete with the stellar scholarship of Morris and Murray. Before you dig into Moo, Schreiner, or Thielman, I would suggest reading Morris and Murray. While they will not deal with current literature, their commentary on the text is second to none.
Desmond Alexander. Exodus. Apollos Old Testament Commentary Series, eds. David W. Baker and Gordon J. Wenham. IVP, 2018.
I have benefitted in the past from two books by Alexander: From Paradise to the Promised Land: An Introduction to the Pentateuch and From Eden to the New Jerusalem: An Introduction to Biblical Theology. With ease and understanding, Alexander will open your eyes to intertextual connections throughout the OT, ones that are then picked up by the NT authors. In his latest volume, and a very large one at that, Alexander zeroes in on the book of Exodus. This commentary is ideal, not only providing exegesis and explanation, translation and notes on the text, but also many excursuses on the text. For example, when Alexander comes to Exodus 12, his gives an excursus on the Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread, engaging the work of some of the best OT scholars, but giving you his own analysis as well. I am a constant advocate for preaching from the OT; next to Genesis it is hard to think of a book that could be so foundational for our understanding of who God is and how he has acted covenantally than the book of Exodus.
D. A. Carson, ed. NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible: Follow God’s Redemptive Plan as it Unfolds throughout Scripture. Zondervan, 2018.
It was only a matter of time before a study Bible came out that focused on the discipline of biblical theology. This is an exciting advancement, helping Bible readers connect the dots from Adam to the last Adam. D. A. Carson explains his approach: “we have tried to highlight the way various themes develop within the Bible across time. We hope to encourage readers to spot these themes for themselves as they read their Bibles, becoming adept at tracing them throughout the Scriptures.” Furthermore, the scholars who have contributed are committed evangelicals, devoted to the authority of Scripture. But their aim is more than academic: “All of us who have worked on this project will be satisfied if readers come away from the Bible with increased understanding, greater grasp of the gospel, greater, confidence in Scripture, more love for the Lord Jesus, renewed fear of sin and renewed love for the church, and greater joy in God.” Other than Carson, the executive committee is made up of T. Desmond Alexander, Richard Hess, Douglas Moo, Andrew David Naselli.
The Greek New Testament, produced at Tyndale House Cambridge. Crossway, 2018.
Reader’s Edition: The Greek New Testament, produced at Tyndale House Cambridge. Crossway, 2018.
I will admit, I really like the new Greek NT Crossway has put out, and not only the Greek text but the Reader’s edition. The former is your standard Greek NT, with an apparatus listing all variations. The latter excludes the apparatus to provide Greek-to-English vocabulary for the text above it, as well as surface forms to Lemmas and a glossary at the back. Thanks to Peter Williams and his team, we have the Greek readily available for students and scholars alike. Quite the achievement.
Douglas Estes. Questions and Rhetoric in the Greek New Testament: An Essential Reference Resource for Exegesis. Zondervan, 2018.
Estes has tapped into a lacuna in Greek studies, which happens not all that often. He has noticed that students of the NT often ignore the power of questions by Jesus and the NT authors or misinterpret them. Using the categories of syntax, semantics, and pragmatics, Estes establishes the proper function of questions in the NT. I like how Estes not only argues for the rhetorical effect, and power, of the question in the Greek NT, but he provides case studies so students can see it for themselves. For example, in his chapter on Questions driven by Semantics, Estes walks the reader through a case study from 1 John 5:5 (“But who is the one overcoming the world if not the one believing that Jesus is the Son of God?”). This example is an instance of what Estes calls “interrogative pressure.”
p.s., if you are itching to get your hands on Estes’s volume, you should also read Murray Harris’s Prepositions and Theology in the Greek New Testament: An Essential Reference Resource for Exegesis.
Robert W. Yarbrough. The Letters to Timothy and Titus. The Pillar New Testament Commentary series. Eerdmans, 2018.
Robert Yarbrough is one of the sharpest NT scholars of our day. He is notable for his incisive critiques that not only are exegetically minded but theologically astute. He has brought that theological prowess to his commentary on the pastoral epistles in the Pillar series. Besides his commentary on the text itself, Yarbrough has written a 90 page (!) introduction that is worth the price of the book itself. You will notice, as well, that his approach to the PE is trinitarian through and through, with sections devoted to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This theologically-minded approach to commentaries is commendable and how encouraging it would be to see far more NT scholars allow theology (in this case Paul’s theology) to inform their literary format.
Andreas J. Köstenberger. 1-2 Timothy & Titus. Biblical Theology for Christian Proclamation. Holman, 2017.
It has been a pleasure getting to know Andreas since he came to Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary last summer. He is an outstanding example of a scholar devoted to his craft but simultaneously mindful of how to apply it to the church and the family (note his recent book on parenting with his wife Margaret). For that reason, he is the right one to write on the pastoral epistles in a series that is meant to see through the implications of biblical theology for the pulpit. I am of the opinion that the best feature of this book (and series?) is not the commentary itself but the section titled “Biblical and Theological Themes,” which in Köstenberger’s book is nearly 200 pages. This section could be a book in and of itself.
Thomas Schreiner. 1 Corinthians. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. IVP, 2018.
Some of my best memories during my seminary years include sitting under the preaching ministry of Tom Schreiner. He was, as you might expect, exegetically insightful in the classroom, but he also applied that exegesis in the context of the church as he entered the pulpit. Tom has a gift for communicating the message of a book or passage in a concise amount of space or time. If you’ve read the TNTC series, then you know that type of skill is needed. Coming out of decades of exegetical study and pastoral experience, it’s hard to think of a NT scholar more equipped than Tom to write this commentary on 1 Corinthians. It should be on every pastor’s shelf.
W. Dennis Tucker Jr. & Jamie A. Grant. Psalms, Volume 2. The NIV Application Commentary. Zondervan, 2018.
Back in 2002 Gerald Wilson wrote the first volume on psalms 1-72 for the NIV Application Commentary series. Long at last the second volume has released, but this time by Tucker and Grant. The “Bridging the Text” and “Contemporary Significance” sections of the commentaries in this series are an excellent idea, helping pastors see the implications of what the text teaches. In over 1,000 pages of commentary, Tucker and Grant take on psalms 73-150. One thing I appreciate about this commentary is the way Tucker and Grant take time to show how certain psalms are quoted or alluded to in the NT.
Mignon R. Jacobs. The Books of Haggai and Malachi. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Eerdmans, 2018.
This advent season I have been spending time reading Malachi and how fruitful it has been to see how Malachi is referenced in the NT. Mignon Jacobs, professor of OT at Ashland Theological Seminary, has written the commentary on Haggai and Malachi in the NICOT series. One of the strengths of Jacobs’s work is his attention to the historical context, which helps readers see why the message of Malachi is so significant for Israel’s predicament. Another strength is Jacobs’s keen eye to the covenant structure of the book, highlighting the covenant curses and blessings that follow as a result of Israel’s actions.
Paul R. House. Old Testament Theology. IVP, 1998.
IVP has given Paul House’s OT Theology, first published in 1998, a new cover. As far as I can tell, this is not a second edition. But it’s fresh cover is a good opportunity to highlight this longstanding, and outstanding, treatment of the OT. This is one of the first books I point students to when they desire to understand not only the narrative of the OT but its theological framework. In clear prose, House not only brings the reader into the world of Israel but captures well the theological themes that pervade the OT. Pastors would do well to read House before they preach any book of the OT.