Resource Materials: Tools of the Trade, Part 2

A reader asks,

Do you have a favorite New Testament commentary or do you prefer the book-by-book commentaries?  Also your current views on The Transforming Word: A One-Volume Commentary on the Bible (the inerrancy issue is not a concern of mine).  I am in need of purchasing new ones and would appreciate your opinion.

Sometime ago, I wrote a post called Tools of the Trade answering another reader’s question about how I do my study. I didn’t say much about my commentary collection, because, even though I have a pretty good one, I don’t use it that much anymore. The one I use the most is the New International Commentary on the New Testament. Most of these are quite good, even though most were written some time ago. Some of these commentaries have been highly influential. Newer commentaries routinely cite to this series.

I also own and use the Tyndale New Testament Commentary 20-Volume Set. These are shorter books, but they have a high level of scholarship and are consistently good.

More recently, I’ve largely bought individual commentaries, largely by author rather than series. I’m a fan of N. T. Wright, D. A. Carson, F. F. Bruce, Doug Moo, Leon Morris, and John Stott. And I like big, thick commentaries, because the shorter ones can’t be counted on to cover the issues that concern me. Therefore, even though they’ve been around a long time, I keep some volumes of Lenski’s Commentary on the New Testament around — long, detailed, and insightful. Nice, heavy books rich with learning.

I don’t own one-volume commentaries. They rarely cover the material in enough detail to be of much help. Therefore, I’ve not bought the The Transforming Word: A One-Volume Commentary on the Bible (and I still think it’s a bad idea for ACU to be raising the inerrancy controversy).

Now, having said all that — I’m not recommending that anyone do Bible study the way I do Bible study. Different people study for different purposes, and your approach should vary with your purpose. For example, when I was a beginning Bible class teacher, I found William Barclay’s The Daily Study Bible Series very helpful. They are rich with stories and examples. But I rarely turn to them now, because they don’t answer the questions I’m asking now.

Scot McKnight, over at the “Jesus Creed” blog, frequently posts a list of his favorite commentaries on a given book of the Bible under the caption “Pastor’s Bookshelf.” You can click over there, enter “Pastor’s Bookshelf” in the search box, and see his recommendations.

And the reader’s surely have their own recommendations. Readers — what are the best commentaries out there?

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9 Responses

  1. Haven’t yet read any of them, but the new Brazos Theological Commentary series looks interesting because it takes a more theological/reflective (“What’s the point here?”) approach than exegetical (“What does this word mean?”). Stanley Hauerwas authored the commentary on Matthew, and Jarislov Pelikan the commentary on Acts. They’re on my Wish List.

    Another new series that looks interesting is Eerdman’s “Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary,” that likewise takes a more theological (and seemingly Kuyperian) approach, so that each book is read in the context of the entirety of scripture.

  2. I don’t have a collection of modern commentaries, but I do consult multiple older commentaries from different perspectives (especially Arminian vs Calvinist). Newer does not necessarily mean better! However I do supplement those sources with some more contemporary thought through online study and discussion.

    On the Calvinist side, Albert Barnes’ commentary is readily available online and useful. On the Arminian side, Adam Clarke’s commentary makes a good counterpoint to Barnes. The Coffman commentary is also useful, providing a traditional church of Christ view.

    I also strongly recommend using a good cross reference (such as Treasury of Scriptural Knowledge). Before I become too enamored with what some uninspired commentator says about a topic, I try to find out what the inspired scriptures say about it in various related passages.

  3. Ben Witherington’s Socio-rhetorical commentaries are great.

    I also find the New Interpreter’s Bible commentary extremely up to date and helpful, barring a few all too brief commentaries by some of the contributors. Included with this is also commentary on the apocrypha.

    Word Biblical Commentary series is also top notch.

    Zach

  4. I only buy commentaries book by book, and look for the best on that one. Mostly, I use online resources, of which most WW2 or older commentaries are available.
    I’ll mention that most commentaries fall into two types: comprehensive or author’s viewpoint. Barclay is an example of author’s view whereas Leon Morris on John is comprehensive. Usually the latter will summarize the 5, 10, 15 views on a topic.
    The advantage of a newer over an older commentary are: discoveries like Dead Sea Scrolls or archeology. The newer comprehensive type will summarize more views that an older.
    Lastly, while neither a Greek or Hebrew scholar, I get lots of use out of the Englishman’s Greek and Hebrew concordances.

  5. My favorite online resources are:
    http://bible.christiansunite.com/ for commentaries, dictionaries
    http://www.biblica.com/index.php Home of International Bible Society quick search tools to NIV & other language translations
    http://www.zyworld.com/answersquestions/index.htm for other OT & NT books like Enoch, Maccabees, etc.
    http://biblepro.bibleocean.com/ good online interlinear (original languages) Bible

  6. I only buy commentaries book by book, and look for the best on that one. Mostly, I use online resources, of which most WW2 or older commentaries are available.
    I'll mention that most commentaries fall into two types: comprehensive or author's viewpoint. Barclay is an example of author's view whereas Leon Morris on John is comprehensive. Usually the latter will summarize the 5, 10, 15 views on a topic.
    The advantage of a newer over an older commentary are: discoveries like Dead Sea Scrolls or archeology. The newer comprehensive type will summarize more views that an older.
    Lastly, while neither a Greek or Hebrew scholar, I get lots of use out of the Englishman's Greek and Hebrew concordances….

  7. From simplest and easy to use to more complex:

    Simple:
    N.T. Wright’s “For Everyone Series” – a must have
    Tyndale Commentaries
    NIV Application Commentary Series
    Interpretation Commentary Series

    A little less simple:
    New International Commentary on the New (and Old) Testament (probably the one I would pick if I had to stick with just one set of commentaries) – a pricey must have
    Pillar New Testament Commentary Series
    Anchor Bible Commentary Series

    A little less simple than the previously less simple ones:
    Ben Witherington’s Socio-Rhetorical Commentaries – another pricey must have
    Word Biblical Commentary Series

    All series vary in detail from volume to volume but each of these have their stand outs and are normally pretty good. The one I least recommend here is the Word Series just because it gets too technical for most people (relying heavily on Greek and Hebrew) and also has a few volumes that are “off the wall.”

  8. I agree with just about everything listed above, especially by the Dabbs-meister.

    The only thing I would STRONGLY recommend — as highly as I would recommend anything by NT Wright, is the Bible Speaks Today Expository Commentary Series. IMHO, they’re the perfect next step after reading the “For Everyone” series — I just wish Tom would hook up with someone to do a Hebrew Scriptures For Everyone!

  9. Nick,

    Have you seen Tremper Longman’s OT books? How to Read Genesis, How to Read Psalms, etc? I am just getting into them but they look promising and might be somewhat of a parallel to Wright’s work although it looks like it tackles some of the more technical issues rather than just talking through the text.

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