In Christian art, she is usually depicted as a meek maiden and a passive figure. This taming, this domestication of Jesus’ Mother, Miriam (whose name we Anglicize as “Mary”) falsifies her. I think in most of Church History, the bigwigs have been afraid of Mary. Her song of praise (the Magnificat) after the angel’s announcement is almost always sung in Latin–to keep ordinary people from realizing just how revolutionary her words are. Now Mary doubtless sang in Aramaic and we don’t have the Aramaic original. Luke’s Greek text (given below) may have been informed by a Christian community in which Mary was a member or even a leader, but in its present form was clearly modelled on Hannah’s Song (1 Samuel 2:1-10). Mary expects her Son’s birth to lead to a “Great Reversal,” the scattering of the proud, the putting low of the rich and powerful, and the lifting of the poor and filling of the hungry. This is no meek maiden nor anyconservative defender of the status quo: Mary is a prophet of social justice who would be called “Commie” by Fox News and the Religious Right! Bring it on, Sister Mary!
- My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour;
- he has looked with favour on his lowly servant.
- From this day all generations will call me blessed;
- the Almighty has done great things for me and holy is his name.
- He has mercy on those who fear him,
- from generation to generation.
- He has shown strength with his arm
- and has scattered the proud in their conceit,
- Casting down the mighty from their thrones
- and lifting up the lowly.
- He has filled the hungry with good things
- and sent the rich away empty.
- He has come to the aid of his servant Israel,
- to remember his promise of mercy,
- The promise made to our ancestors,
- to Abraham and his children for ever.
1 & 2 Peter, Jude
The canonical order, of course, is for the 3 Epistles of John to be placed between 2 Peter and Jude. But Peter and Jude are obviously connected literarily and theologically in great detail and both are so brief they are almost always treated together.
Once more, a confession: These books have played only a small part in my theology and I have usually only read them when teaching NT survey courses. So, I have not read many commentaries on them and my “favorites” here should be given much less weight than in areas of Scripture (indicated in previous posts) where I have done far more study.
- Erland Waltner & J. Daryl Charles, 1-2 Peter, Jude (Believers Church Bible Commentary) (Herald Press, 1999). Shows the application of Jesus’ command to love enemies to the churches in Asia Minor under persecution.
- J. Ramsey Michaels, I Peter (Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 49) (Thomas Nelson, 1988).
- Michael Green, The Second Epistle of Peter and the Epistle of Jude: An Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries) (Send the Light, 1987).
1, 2, 3 John
In pre-critical times, it was nearly universally believed that the Apostle John wrote the Gospel of John, all 3 Epistles ascribed to him, and the Apocalypse or Book of Revelation–the only one of these books to name an author. But literary and theological differences make it unlikely that all 5 books were written by one person, though they all seem to be related closely enough that scholars have posited a “Johannine School” or “Johannine tradition.” I’m a cautious sort and believe that weight ought to be given to ancient tradition unless overwhelmed by contrary evidence. I think at least an early version of the Gospel was written by John the Apostle (the double endings suggest revision after the apostle died, but I wouldn’t go with a stronger word than “suggest”), and that the same hand wrote the Epistles. Revelation is very different and, although it is possible to ascribe the differences to use of a different “amaneunsis” or secretary, it is likely that “John of Patmos” was an exiled elder from the Johannine churches with the same (common) name as the Apostle. But I don’t think authorship opinions should take on creedal status or deeply affect the interpretation of the material. My 2 cents.
- Rudolf Bultmann, The Johannine Epistles (Hermeneia: A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible) (Augsburg-Fortress, 1973). Bultmann sees Johannine Christianity as sectarian and proto-gnostic. I disagree, but everyone should wrestle with this classic commentary.
- Rudolf Schnackenburg, The Johannine Epistles (Herder & Herder, 1992). A contemporary critical Catholic perspective.
- D. Moody Smith, First, Second, and Third John (Interpretation: A Commentary for Teaching and Preaching) (Westminster/John Knox Press, 1992).
- Marianne Meye Thompson, 1-3 John (IVP Commentaries) (IVP, 1992).
- David Rensberger, First, Second, and Third John (Abingdon New Testament Commentaries) (Abingdon Press, 1997).
The Apocalypse or Revelation to John
Growing up, I hated the Book of Revelation. It was the 1970s, and Hal Lindsey’s Late, Great Planet Earth nonsense was all the rage. TV preachers used it as a reason to preach hate and war or for endless speculation on “the end times.” I watched churches become obsessed and began to think that Reformers like John Calvin showed great wisdom in refusing to write commentaries on it. I believed (and still do) in the parousia or “Second Coming” of Jesus, but I had no desire to take sides in debates over premillenialism vs. postmillenialism vs. amillenialism.
Later, learning more about Revelation as a form of apocalyptic writing and designed as both reassurance and instruction for nonviolent resistance to the Roman empire, I came to love the Book of Revelation. It is very practical and helpful for the church today–even if constantly abused by Dispensationalists and “Christian Zionists.”
- Ray Summers, Worthy is the Lamb: Interpreting the Book of Revelation in its Historical Background (Broadman & Holman, 1999). Originally published in 1951, this is a classic amillenialist exposition from a conservative Baptist scholar. Light on the political implications, but excellent in exposition.
- George Elden Ladd, A Commentary on the Revelation to John (Eerdmans, 1972). A classic commentary from a non-Dispensational (or “historic”) Premillenialism.
- George R. Beasley-Murray, The Book of Revelation. (New Century Bible) (Greenwood Press, 1974). Another classic premillenial account.
- James L. Blevins, Revelation as Drama. (Broadman Press, 1984).
Commentaries that highlight the socio-political dimensions of Revelation:
- David E. Aune, Revelation 1-5 (Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 52a) (Thomas Nelson, 1997); Revelation 6-16 (Word Biblical Commentary vol. 52b) (Thomas Nelson, 1998); Revelation 17-22 (Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 52c) (Thomas Nelson, 1998). Excellent critical commentary that is almost too detailed.
- Brian K. Blount, Revelation: A Commentary (New Testament Library) (Westminster/John Knox Press, 2009). An excellent commentary by the President and Professor of NT of Union Seminary-Presbyterian School of Christian Education. He previously taught at Princeton Theological Seminary.
- Brian K. Blount, Can I Get a Witness? Reading Revelation through African American Culture (Westminster/John Knox Press, 2005).
- Allan A. Boesak, Comfort and Protest: The Apocalypse from a South African Context (Westminster/John Knox Press, 1987). The experience of oppression, as in apartheid-era South Africa, often leads to insights into Revelation since it grew out of similar context. It’s in the hands of rich and powerful people that Revelation becomes a dangerous book.
- G. B. Caird, The Revelation of St. John the Divine (Black’s New Testament Commentaries) (A & C Black Publishers, Ltd., 1966). In the U.S. this was published by Harper & Row as part of Harper’s New Testament Commentaries, but I found mine in a used theological bookstore from the original British printing. Long out of print, I’ve found this older commentary to be very useful, especially in highlighting the nonviolent, peacemaking, aspects of the book. (I must also say that I miss “Theologue” the used bookstore in Louisville that specialized in buying and selling used books on religion and theology related topics. With 2 seminaries in town, it was a pearl of great price!)
- Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, The Book of Revelation: Justice and Judgment (Fortress Press, 1985) and Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, Revelation: Vision of a Just World (Proclamation Commentaries) (Fortress Press, 1991, rev. ed., 1998). Two excellent commentaries by the pioneer of feminist New Testament studies. Even if you have many objections to her other writings, you should not miss Schüssler Fiorenza’s excellent work on the Book of Revelation.
- Mitchell G. Reddish, Revelation (Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentaries) (Smyth & Helwys Press, 2001) with CD Rom. Very well done. Counteracts much terrible writing and preaching on Revelation, tackles many tricky technical issues, but is accessible to the general reader.
- Pablo Richard, Apocalypse: A People’s Commentary on the Book of Revelation, trans. Philip Berryman (Orbis Books, 1995; Repr. Wipf and Stock, 2005). Brilliant commentary from a Latin American Liberation Theology perspective.
- Charles H. Talbert, The Apocalypse: A Reading of the Revelation to John (Westminster/John Knox Press, 1994).
- John R. Yeatts, Revelation ( A Believers Church Bible Commentary) (Herald Press, 2003).
Additional studies (not commentaries) that are helpful:
- Mitchell G. Reddish, editor, Apocalyptic Literature: A Reader (Hendrickson Publishers, 1995). Training in how to read Revelation, by reading other works, canonical and non-canonical, of the same genre.
- Richard Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation (Cambridge University Press, 1993).
- Wes Howard-Brook and Anthony Gwyer, Unveiling Empire: Reading Revelation Then and Now (Orbis Books, 1999).
- J. Nelson Kraybill, Apocalypse and Allegiance: Worship, Politics, and Devotion in the Book of Revelation (Brazos Press, 2010). I have this on order on the strength of Kraybill’s previous work, The Upside-Down Kingdom, one of the best volumes for helping laity understand that Christian discipleship will put them radically at odds with their culture!
Final thought: If, you are a pastor or other minister responsible for regular preaching of the Word and you shy away from preaching on the Book of Revelation because of bad associations with the “Left Behind” crowd, you are NOT doing your people good. The only cure for bad theology is better theology. So, read up, and preach Revelation as the radical guide to nonviolent discipleship in a context of imperial persecution that it is and always has been!
The unsigned document (may be more of a sermon than epistle) known as Hebrews is one of the most fascinating and controversial in the New Testament. Readers either seem to love it or hate it with it’s high Christology, connections to Hellenistic Judaism (e.g., Philo), sacrificial and temple imagery–and its depiction of the life of faith as a journey or pilgrimage. Some, including the famous German liberal church historian, Adolf von Harnack, thought the writer might be a woman while others have argued for the author of Luke-Acts as the author of Hebrews.
- Thomas G. Long, Hebrews (Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching) (Westminster/John Knox Press, 1997). Long is a homiletician who was also trained as a biblical scholar, so he is well qualified to write a commentary for pastors.
- Marie Isaacs, Reading Hebrews and James: A Literary and Theological Commentary (Smyth & Helwys, 2002). Excellent literary critical work.
- Robert Jewett, Letter to Pilgrims: A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews (Pilgrim Press, 1981).
- Edgar V. McKnight and Christopher Church, Hebrews-James (Smyth & Helwys, 2004). McKnight pioneered the literary critical and reader response approaches to NT interpretation.
- William L. Lane, Hebrews 1-8 (Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 47a) (Thomas Nelson, 1991). William L. Lane, Hebrews 9-13 (Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 47b) (Thomas Nelson, 1991). Lane’s work is a must for the biblical scholar and the series format allows the less technical student to skip to the conclusions.
- Alan C. Mitchell, Hebrews (Sacra Pagina) (Michael Glazier Books, 2007). Best volume from a Catholic perspective; also addresses the history of Gentile Christians using the Book of Hebrews in an anti-Jewish fashion.
- Edgar V. McKnight and Christopher Church, Hebrews-James (Smyth & Helwys, 2004). Full disclosure: Chris Church and I are good friends, were next-door neighbors in seminary, were on the same church staff together in the 1980s and he was even in my wedding party. So, I am probably biased(!), but I think his commentary on James is brilliant and even better than McKnight’s on Hebrews.
- Peter H. David, The Epistle to James: A Commentary on the Greek Text (New International Greek Text Commentary) (Eerdmans, 1982).
- C. Freeman Sleeper, James (Abingdon New Testament Commentaries) (Abingdon Press, 1998). A commentary on James written by a Christian ethicist also trained in New Testament? Why hasn’t someone thought of this sooner? Great work.
- Frances Taylor Gench, Hebrews and James (Westminster Bible Companion) (Westminster/John Knox Press, 1996). Gench’s work is good, better on James than on Hebrews.
- Marie E. Isaacs, Reading Hebrews and James: A Literary and Theological Commentary (Smyth & Helwys Press, 2002).
The Book of Acts:
Although I love the Book of Acts, I confess to having very few commentaries on it. It has not played the role for me that it has for some Mennonites and most Pentecostals and Charismatics, nor the different role that it has many Catholics. Yet, it’s not that I have neglected this work, but simply that I have approached it more devotionally than academically–and have never been asked to preach through it.
- F. F. Bruce, The Acts of the Apostles: The Greek Text with Introduction and Commentary. 3rd rev. ed. (Eerdmans, 1990) First published in 1951, I just realized that my edition was published the year of Bruce’s death.
- Hans Conzelmann, The Acts of the Apostles (Hermeneia: A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible) (Augsburg-Fortress, 1987). A major contrast with Bruce, Conzelmann sees the book as an apologetic to Roman officials that Christianity is not subversive of the empire. I disagree completely, but all should wrestle with Conzelmann’s case.
- Frank Stagg, The Book of Acts: The Early Struggle for an Unhindered Gospel (Broadman Press, 1955).
- William H. Willimon, Acts (Interpretation: A Commentary for Teaching and Preaching) (Westminster/John KnoxPress, 1988).
Richard J. Cassidy, Society and Politics in the Acts of the Apostles (Orbis Books, 1987). Not a commentary, but a monograph that directly takes on Conzelmann and shows that Acts is far from a pro-Roman apology, but, rather, depicts the early church as constantly in conflict with Rome and the empire acting unjustly in dealing with the earliest Christians.
- Martin Luther, Commentary on Romans trans. J. Theodore Mueller (Luther Classic Commentaries) (Kregel Classics, 2003). My copy is to a translation and edition long out of print, but I linked to this new translation because every Protestant should read Luther’s Commentary on Romans.
- John Calvin, Commentary on Romans trans. John King (Forgotten Books, 2007). I picked up my copy (an 1834 translation by Francis Sibson) in a used bookstore 20 years ago, but, once more, I think we should not neglect the classics when interpreting Scripture.
- Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans trans. Edwyn C. Hoskyns (Oxford University Press, 1968). A book that literally changed the life of the Church in the 20th C.
- Ernst Käsemann, Commentary on Romans. trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Eerdmans, 1994). My favorite critical commentary on Romans.
- John E. Toews, Romans (Believers Church Bible Commentary) (Herald Press, 2004). Excellent commentary from an Anabaptist-pacifist perspective.
- Luke Timothy Johnson, Reading Romans: A Literary and Theological Commentary (Smyth & Helwys, 2008). Good close reading from a rhetorical-critical perspective. It’s also a fascinating Roman Catholic perspective on a book of the Bible that has been central to the Protestant Reformation.
- Paul J. Achtemeier, Romans (Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching) (Westminster/John Knox Press, 1985).
I & II Corinthians
Commentators on the Corinthian correspondence sometimes treat the books separately and sometimes together.
- Richard B. Hays, First Corinthians (Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching) (Westminster/John Knox Press, 1997). A fine commentary by one of the best New Testament scholars today.
- Charles H. Talbert, Reading Corinthians: A Literary and Theological Commentary on I and II Corinthians (Crossroads Publishing, 1987).
- Linda L. Belleville, 2 Corinthians (IVP New Testament Commentary) (IVP, 1996). A brief commentary, but very helpful for preaching and teaching.
- Craig S. Keener, 1-2 Corinthians (New Cambridge Bible Commentary) (Cambridge University Press, 2005). Very good on the Greco-Roman background, including epistolary practices.
- Anthony C. Thistleton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (New International Greek Testament Commentary) (Eerdmans, 2000).
- Murray J. Harris, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (New International Greek Testament Commentary) (Eerdmans, 2005).
- Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians trans. Theodore Graebner (repr. Book Jungle, 2008). His classic commentary on the Epistle Luther called “my wife.”
- John Calvin, Commentaries on Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians trans. and edited by David W. Torrance and Thomas F. Torrance (Eerdmans, 1996). I have my differences with Calvin’s theology, but he was a superb expositor of Scripture.
- Hans-Dieter Betz, Galatians: A Commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Churches in Galatia (Hermeneia) (Augsburg-Fortress, 1979).
- Richard N. Longenecker, Galatians (Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 41) (Thomas Nelson, 1990).
- Frank J. Matera, Galatians (Sacra Pagina) (Michael Glazier Books, 2007). A contemporary Catholic perspective on a book that Protestants have called “the Charter of Christian liberty.”
See also: Michael Bachman, Anti-Judaism in Galatians?: Exegetical Studies on a Polemical Letter and on Paul’s Theology (Eerdmans, 2009).
- Tom Yoder Neufeld, Ephesians (Believers Church Bible Commentary) (Herald Press, 2002). The Book of Ephesians comes alive with power in Yoder Neufeld’s commentary for the life of the church. It challenges both mainline and Anabaptist traditions.
- Markus Barth, Ephesians 1-3: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (The Anchor Bible vol. 34) (Doubleday and Co., 1974). Markus Barth, Ephesians 4-6: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (The Anchor Bible vol. 34a) (Doubleday and Co., 1974). The best critical commentary of the 20th C.
- Andrew T. Lincoln, Ephesians (Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 42) (Thomas Nelson, 1990).
- Pheme Perkins, Ephesians (Abingdon New Testament Commentary) (Abingdon Press, 1997). Excellent for pastors.
- Markus Barth, The Broken Wall: A Study in the Epistle to the Ephesians (Regent College Publishing, 1959).
- Tet-Lim Yee, Jews, Gentiles, and Ethnic Reconciliation: Paul’s Jewish Identity and Ephesians (Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series) (Cambridge University Press, 2008).
- Thomas Yoder Neufeld, Put on the Armor of God: The Divine Warrior from Isaiah to Ephesians (JSNT Supplement Series 140) (Sheffield Academic Press, 1997).
- Karl Barth, Epistle to the Philippians 40th Anniversary Edition with a New Introduction by Bruce L. McCormack and Francis Watson (Westminster/John Knox Press, 2002). I was so excited when this new edition was published because I had never read Barth’s commentary on Philippians.
- Gordon Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians (New International Commentary on the New Testament) (Eerdmans, 1995). This is an excellent commentary from the best Pentecostal Neutestamentler active today.
- Fred B. Craddock, Philippians (Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching) (Westminster/John Knox Press, 1985).
- Ralph P. Martin, Philippians (New Century Bible) (Eerdmans, 1980). This is a slim commentary, but Philippians is a slim book and Martin has spent his career working on its problems.
- Carolyn Osiek, Philippians, Philemon (Abingdon New Testament Commentaries) (Abingdon Press, 2000). Excellent use of socio-historical and newer literary methods with an eye to relating the social worlds of the text to those of contemporary churches.
The canonical order separates these two books by the Thessalonian correspondence, but there are numerous literary and historical connections that tie the two books together. Since both are small books, they are often placed together in one commentary.
- James D. G. Dunn, The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon: A Commentary on the Greek Text (New International Greek Testament Commentary) (Eerdmans, 1996). This is Dunn at his best.
- Eduard Lohse, Colossians and Philemon (Hermeneia: A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible) (Augsburg-Fortress Press, 1972).
- Marianne Meye Thompson, Colossians and Philemon (Two Horizons New Testament Commentary) (Eerdmans, 2005). This commentary series takes its name from the philosophical hermeneutics of Hans-Georg Gadamer (and its appropriation for NT studies by Anthony Thistleton) with it’s twin focus on “the horizon of the text,” and “the horizon of the reader,” and their intersection. Thompson fulfills such high ideals admirably.
- Ernest D. Martin, Colossians and Philemon (The Believers’ Church Bible Commentary). (Herald Press, 1993).
- N. T. Wright, The Epistles of Paul to the Colossians and to Philemon: An Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries) (Send the Light, 1988).
I and II Thessalonians
- F. F. Bruce, 1 & 2 Thessalonians (Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 45) (Thomas Nelson, 1982).
- I. Howard Marshall, 1 & 2 Thessalonians (The New Century Bible) (Eerdmans, 1983).
- Ben Witherington III, 1 & 2 Thessalonians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Eerdmans, 2006).
- Victor Paul Furnish, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians (Abingdon New Testament Commentaries) (Abingdon Press, 2007).
The Pastoral Epistles: I and II Timothy, Titus
- William D. Mounce, The Pastoral Epistles (Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 46) (Thomas Nelson, 2000).
- Martin Dibelius and Hans Conzelmann, The Pastoral Epistles (Hermenia: A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible) (Augsburg-Fortress, 1972). The classic German critical approach.
- Paul Zehr, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus (Believers Church Bible Commentary) (Herald Press, 2010). Brand new. What makes this work so helpful is that, in addition to the verse-by-verse commentary, Zehr includes numerous essays on the special problems of the Pastorals and relates them to contemporary issues in the church today.
- W. Hulitt Gloer, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus (Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary) (Smyth & Helwys Press, 2010). Includes CD-Rom with searchable text.
Overviews and Special Topics for the Gospels:
- Mark Allan Powell, Fortress Introduction to the Gospels. (Fortress Press, 1998).
- Kurt Aland, Synopsis of the Four Gospels: Greek-English Edition (United Bible Societies, 1976).
- Joel B. Green, Scot McKnight, and I. Howard Marshall, eds., Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (InterVarsity Press, 1992).
- Craig L. Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels 2nd ed. (IVP, 2008). 1st edition published in 1988. Though I think this work overreaches in a conservative direction in places, it is far more accurate than the overly skeptical “Jesus Seminar” approach.
- James D. G. Dunn, ed., Jews and Christians: The Parting of the Ways, A. D. 70 to 135. (Eerdmans, 1999).
- William R. Farmer, ed., Anti-Judaism and the Gospels (Trinity Press International, 1999).
- Jacob Neusner and Bruce Chilton, eds., In Quest of the Historical Pharisees. (Baylor University Press, 2007).
Serious students of the First Gospel will need to consult the older 3 vol. ICC Commentary by W.D. Davies and C. Dale Allison and/or the massive 3 volume commentary by Ulrich Luz. But both are too dense and detailed for the needs of the ordinary pastor.
- David E. Garland, Reading Matthew: A Literary and Theological Commentary on the First Gospel. (Smyth & Helwys Press, 1993). Full disclosure: Garland was one of my NT profs. at seminary (the old SBTS, not Truett where he is now), but I honestly think this is one of the best examples of the strength of the newer literary criticism.
- Robert H. Gundry, Matthew: A Commentary on his Literary and Theological Art. (Eerdmans, 1982). This was one of the first commentary-length examples of an American evangelical scholar making full use of genre and redaction criticism. Not all elements are equally persuasive, but the storm of controversy which greeted this commentary in U. S. conservative evangelical circles was completely unjustified and Gundry has some excellent insights. The revised 2nd edition (which I have on order) is called: Matthew: A Commentary on His Handbook for a Mixed Church Under Persecution.
- Eduard Schweizer, The Good News According to Matthew. Trans. David E. Green. (Westminster/John Knox Press, 1975). Written for ordinary readers but thoroughly informed by critical scholarship.
- Craig L. Blomberg, Matthew: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture. (New American Commentary, vol. 22). (Broadman & Holman, 1992). Full disclosure: I am not a fan of the New American Commentary series as a whole, but it has some good volumes, especially in the New Testament and this is one. Blomberg was my NT professor in my undergrad days, but he is more conservative than I am on critical and theological issues. This is still a good choice for working pastors.
- Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Rev. Ed. (Eerdmans, 2005). In all his work, Keener’s great strength is how thoroughly he knows 1st C. Greco-Roman culture. Here that is combined with the latest evidence on Jewish-Christian relations in the 1st C. to get at the shock-value of Matthew to his first readers.
- John Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew: A Commentary on the Greek Text (New International Greek Testament Commentary) (Eerdmans, 2005). The most serious work directly on the Greek text since Davies and Allison.
- Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 1-13 (Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 33a) (Thomas Nelson, 1993) and Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 14-28 (Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 33b) (Thomas Nelson, 1995).
In addition, several studies on aspects or portions of Matthew are essential for serious students:
- Michael H. Crosby, House of Disciples: Church, Economics, & Justice in Matthew (Orbis Books, 1989; Repr., Wipf and Stock, 2004).
- Michael H. Crosby, Spirituality of the Beatitudes: Matthew’s Vision for the Church in an Unjust World (Orbis Books, rev. ed., 2005).
- Glen H. Stassen, Living the Sermon on the Mount: A Practical Hope for Grace and Deliverance. (Jossey-Bass, 2006).
- David E. Aune, The Gospel of Matthew in Current Study (Eerdmans, 2001).
- Donald Senior, C. P. , The Passion of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew (Michael Glazier Books, 1985).
- Ched Myers, Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus (Orbis Books, 1988). The link is to the 20th Anniversary edition. Myers’ commentary on Mark was as revolutionary as Karl Barth’s on Romans. Most commentaries are works to be consulted as one studies Scripture. This is one to be read from beginning to end–but while reading the Gospel of Mark, simultaneously!
- R. Alan Culpepper, Mark (Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary) (Smyth & Helwys Press, 2007). Comes with CD Rom. Culpepper has been primarily a Johannine scholar, but he does excellent work on the “action Gospel” of Mark. Full disclosure: Culpepper was my teacher in seminary so I may show some bias in choosing his work.
- Sharyn Dowd, Reading Mark: A Literary and Theological Commentary on the Second Gospel (Smyth & Helwys Press, 2000).
- Robert H. Gundry, Mark: A Commentary on His Apology for the Cross I: Chaps. 1-8 (Eerdmans, 2009) and Robert H. Gundry, Mark: A Commentary on His Apology for the Cross II: Chaps. 9-16 (Eerdmans, 2009). Originally published in 1993 as one volume, it’s size argued for republishing in two volumes.
- Ben Witherington III, The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Eerdmans, 2001).
- John R. Donahue, S.J. and Daniel J. Harrington, S. J., The Gospel of Mark (Sacra Pagina series) (Michael Glazier Books, 2002). Best Catholic commentary I’ve yet seen on Mark.
Additional important Markan studies:
- Joan Mitchell, Beyond Fear and Silence: A Feminist-Literary Approach to the Gospel of Mark (Continuum, 2001).
- Willard Swartley, Mark: The Way for All Nations (repr., Wipf and Stock, 1999).
- David Rhoads, Mark as Story 2nd. ed. (Fortress Press, 1999). Classic narrative study that shows Mark as a master storyteller.
- David Rhoads, Reading Mark, Engaging the Gospel. (Augsburg Fortress, 2004).
- Joel B. Green, The Way of the Cross: Following Jesus in the Gospel of Mark (Wipf and Stock, 2009).
- I. Howard Marshall, The Gospel of Luke: A Commentary on the Greek Text (New International Greek Text Commentary) (Eerdmans, 1978). The best technical commentary on the Greek text.
- Luke Timothy Johnson, The Gospel of Luke (Sacra Pagina) (Liturgical Press, 2006).
- Charles H. Talbert, Reading Luke: A Literary and Theological Commentary, rev. ed. (Smyth & Helwys Press, 2002).
- John Nolland, Luke 1:1-9:20 (Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 35a) (Thomas Nelson, 1989) ; John Nolland, Luke 9:21-18:34 (Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 35b) (Thomas Nelson, 1993); John Nolland, Luke 18:35-24:53 (Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 35c) (Thomas Nelson, 1993). This huge 3 volume commentary is the most complete and comprehensive.
- Joseph A. Fitzmeyer, The Gospel According to Luke I-IX: Introduction, Translation and Notes (The Anchor Bible, vol. 28) (Doubleday and Co., 1982) and Joseph A. Fitzmeyer, The Gospel According to Luke X-XXIV: Introduction, Translation, and Notes (The Anchor Bible, vol. 28a) (Doubleday and Co., 1985). Massive 2 volume commentary from a contemporary Catholic perspective. Especially valuable for its translation.
Additional valuable studies on Luke:
- Richard J. Cassidy, Jesus, Politics, and Society: A Study of Luke’s Gospel (Orbis Books, 1978).
- I. Howard Marshall, Luke: Historian and Theologian 3rd edition (IVP, 1998).
- Donald Senior, C.P., The Passion of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke (Liturgical Press, 1992).
- Joseph Grassi, S.T.L., S.S.L., Peace on Earth: Roots and Practices in Luke’s Gospel (Liturgical Books, 2004).
- Rudolf Bultmann, The Gospel of John: A Commentary (Westminster/John Knox Press, 1971). I have several strong disagreements with Bultmann, but this large commentary set the agenda for 2 1/2 generations and serious students need to wrestle with it.
- C. K. Barrett, The Gospel According to St. John: An Introduction with Commentary and Notes on the Greek Text 2nd. edition (Westminster/John Knox Press, 1978). Excellent centrist British counterpoint to Bultmann.
- George R. Beasley-Murray, John, rev. ed. (Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 36) (Thomas Nelson, 1999). Probably the best evangelical commentary on John in English. (I know that J. Ramsey Michaels has a brand new commentary that may change that estimate, but I haven’t seen it, yet. Nor have I seen Craig Keener’s 2 volume work.)
- Ben Witherington III, John’s Wisdom: A Commentary on the Fourth Gospel (Westminster/John Knox Press, 1995). Very few commentaries take on nearly all the major scholarly issues (surveying the field) while also working to provide practical help for the contemporary preacher and for churches seeking to be guided by John’s Gospel. Unfortunately, Witherington is a bit snide concerning the practices of Christians who, e.g., practice footwashing as a sacrament/ordinance in light of John’s Gospel.
- Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John I-XII (The Anchor Yale Bible Commentaries) (Yale University Press, 1995; repr. from 1970); The Gospel According to John XIII-XXI (The Anchor Yale Bible Commentaries (Yale University Press, 1995; repr. from 1970). Classic contemporary Roman Catholic perspective.
Additional helpful works on John’s Gospel:
- R. Alan Culpepper, Anatomy of the Fourth Gospel: A Study in Literary Design (Fortress Press, 1983). Pioneering work in literary criticism. Full disclosure: Culpepper was my teacher in seminary.
- Robert Kysar, John, the Maverick Gospel (Westminster/John Knox Press, 2007). 3rd. ed., The first edition was published in 1976.
- Craig L. Blomberg, The Historicity of John’s Gospel: Issues and Commentary (IVP, 2001). As a corrective to the skeptical approaches which see little or no historical accuracy in the 4th Gospel, this is excellent. But Blomberg may go too far in the other direction, failing to let John be the creative artist and theologian that was less concerned with historical concreteness. Full disclosure: Blomberg was my teacher as an undergrad.
- Marrianne Meye Thompson, The God of the Gospel of John. (Eerdmans, 2001).
- Wes Howard-Brook, Becoming Children of God: John’s Gospel and Radical Discipleship (Orbis Books, 1994; repr., Wipf and Stock, 2004). Corrects readings which see the 4th Gospel as apolitical and individualistic.
- D. Moody Smith, The Fourth Gospel in Four Dimensions: Judaism and Jesus, the Gospels and Scripture (University of South Carolina Press, 2008). Readers should race to buy this, not so much for the answers given (though many are persuasive), but for the way the issues are carefully considered.
Elizabeth Achtemeier, Minor Prophets I (New International Biblical Commentary) (Hendrickson Publishers, 1996).
John Goldingay and Pamela J. Scalise, Minor Prophets II (New International Biblical Commentary) (Hendrickson Publishers, 2009).
Daniel Berrigan, S. J., Minor Prophets, Major Themes. (Wipf and Stock, 2009).
Marvin A. Sweeney, The Twelve Prophets, vol. I: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah (Berit Olam Series) (Liturgical Press, 2000).
Marvin A. Sweeney, The Twelve Prophets, vol. II: Micah, Nahum, Habbakuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi (Berit Olam Series) (Liturgica Press, 2001).
Henry McKeating, The Books of Amos, Hosea, and Micah (Cambridge Bible Commentaries on the Old Testament) (Cambridge University Press, 1971).
John D. W. Watts, The Books of Joel, Obadiah, Jonah, Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah (Cambridge Bible Commentaries on the Old Testament) (Cambridge University Press, 1975).
James Luther Mays, Hosea: A Commentary. (Old Testament Library) (Westminster/John Knox Press, 1969).
Joel is such a small book that commentaries on it are usually published with other books.
Bruce C. Birch, Hosea, Joel, and Amos (Westminster Bible Companion) (Westminster/John Knox Press, 1997).
John Barton, Joel and Obadiah: A Commentary (Old Testament Library) (Westminster/John Knox Press, 2001).
James Luther Mays, Amos: A Commentary. (Old Testament Library) (Westminster/John Knox Press, 1969).
Paul R. Raabe, Obadiah (The Yale Anchor Bible Commentaries) (Yale University Press, 1996).
James A. Limburg, Jonah (Old Testament Library) (Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993).
Juan I. Alfaro, O.S.B., Justice and Loyalty: A Commentary on the Book of Micah (International Theological Commentary) (Eerdmans, 1989).
Duane L. Christensen, Nahum: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. (The Anchor Yale Bible Commentary) (Yale University Press, 2009). Before this, I’ve only own commentaries on Nahum that were combined with one or more other minor prophetic books. Just started this, but am very impressed with the translation and Christensen’s grasp of the notorious difficulties of the small book.
Maria Eszenyei Szeles, Wrath and Mercy: A Commentary on the Books of Habakkuk and Zephaniah. (International Theological Commentary) (Eerdmans, 1987).
Adele Berlin, Zephaniah (The Anchor Yale Bible Commentaries) (Yale University Press, 1994).
Caroll Stuhlmueller, C.P., Rebuilding with Hope: A Commentary on the Books of Haggai and Zechariah (International Theological Commentary) (Eerdmans, 1988).
Rex Mason, The Books of Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. (Cambridge Bible Commentaries on the Old Testament) (Cambridge University Press, 1977).
Andrew E. Hill, Malachi (The Anchor Yale Bible Commentaries) (Yale University Press, 1998).
The books listed in the Protestant Canon as “The Prophets” mostly coincide with the Jewish canon’s Nevi’im (Prophets), with a few exceptions. As I mentioned before, what Jews refer to as “the Former Prophets” (Joshua, Judges, Samuel [=1 & 2 Samuel], and Kings [=1 & 2 Kings]) are placed in Christian canons together with some of the Writings (Ketuvim) as “Historical Books.” Also, the Hebrew Bible places both Daniel and Lamentations in the Writings and not in the Prophets. Catholic Bibles add the book of Baruch to the Prophets and Eastern Orthodox Bibles include both Baruch and The Letter of Jeremiah. In what follows I’ll continue to follow the Protestant canon, but in the future, I may post on helpful commentaries for the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical books.
There is an informal division among the Prophets into “the Major Prophets”–books large enough to take up their own scroll (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekial, Daniel, Lamentations) and the “Minor Prophets,” called in Hebrew “The Scroll of the Twelve” because all 12 books are small enough to fit on one standard-size scroll. This post will cover the Major Prophets.
- Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Prophets (HarperCollins, 2007). Originally published in 1962, this edition contains a new introduction by daughter, Susannah Heschel (a Jewish feminist theologian). There is no better introduction anywhere.
- Gerhard von Rad, The Message of the Prophets. (Harper & Row, 1972). German edition 1967. A classic that is still well worth consulting.
- James Luther Mays and Paul J. Achtemeier, eds., Interpreting the Prophets. (Augsburg-Fortress Press, 1987).
- Joseph Blenkinsopp, A History of Prophecy in Israel. Revised and Enlarged (Westminster/John Knox Press, 1996).
- Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination. 2nd edition. (Fortress Press, 2001).
Many modern scholars believe that this was originally not one book, but an edited scroll containing the works of two, or even three, prophets greatly separated in time. Chapters 1-39 were written by Isaiah of Jerusalem who lived in the 8th C. B.C.E. (see 2 Kings chaps. 15-20) and ends just prior to the fall of Jerusalem to Babylon. Chapter 40 begins at the end of the Exile and looks to the soon return of the Exiles to the Land. Those who view Isaiah as written by two authors, see chaps. 40-66 as belonging to “Second Isaiah” a convenient term for the unknown prophet of the Exile who is the author. Those who see the book as written by three authors, assign chaps. 40-55 to “Second Isaiah” (the prophet of the Exile) and chaps. 56-66 to “Third Isaiah,” an unknown prophet of the post-exilic period. Those seeing 2-3 authors often divide write 2 or 3 volume commentaries divided along these lines. Isaiah is my favorite book of the Old Testament (and seems to have been Jesus’ favorite!). I agree that there are at least 2 authors, but those interpreting the book in the life of the church should focus on the redacted unity of the canonical form of the book.
- Daniel Berrigan, S. J. Isaiah: Spirit of Courage, Gift of Tears (Augsburg-Fortress, 1996). A powerful interpretation of Isaiah to revitalize the church in imperial America.
- Brevard S. Childs, Isaiah (Old Testament Library) (Westminster/John Knox Press, 2001). Childs “canonical interpretation” means that while he accepts the 3-fold authorship, he finds it irrelevant for normative interpretation. The focus is on the canonical form of the book. Best critical one volume commentary.
- John D. W. Watts, Isaiah 1-33 (Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 24) (Thomas Nelson, 1985).
- John D. W. Watts, Isaiah, 34-66 (Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 25) (Thomas Nelson, 1987). Watts was my teacher. Influenced both by Childs and by the newer literary critical approaches (that put more emphasis on close reading of the text than on reconstructing historical events “behind” the text), Watts also focuses on the final form of the book. He reads the entire book from the perspective of the post-exilic redactor. (We students used to kid him that Watts didn’t believe in 1st or 2nd Isaiah, just 3rd Isaiah!) Thus, the division here is simply because of length; Watts does not break the two volumes along traditional critical lines.
- John J. Collins, Isaiah. (Collegeville Biblical Commentary, vol. 13) (Liturgical Press, 1986). Aimed at the general reader from a contemporary critical Catholic perspective.
- Ivan D. Friesen, Isaiah. (Believers Church Bible Commentary) (Herald Press, 2009). Aimed at the life of the church. Especially helpful for Christian peacemaking.
- R. E. Clements, Isaiah 1-39 (New Century Bible Commentary) (Eerdmans, 1981).
- Paul D. Hanson, Isaiah 40-66 (Interpretation: A Commentary for Preaching and Teaching) (Westminster/John Knox Press, 1995).
Jeremiah & Lamentations:
Before the rise of historical criticism, it was universally assumed among both Jews and Christians that the prophet Jeremiah wrote both the Book of Jeremiah and the Book of Lamentations. Although authorship is probably more complicated, it is still obvious that the books are related. The laments of Lamentations are written in a very similar style of Hebrew to the poetic sections of Jeremiah and seem to respond to the same events. So, very often, commentaries are written on the two books together, rather than separately.
The relation between the prose secions and poetic sections of Jeremiah has long been a critical question. The book went through several revisions, too and many critics wonder if the chapters are in the right order. The book is very closely tied to political events in Judah, but the time cues are confusing. These kinds of technical issues sometimes distract from the radical message of the book, so I look for commentaries that address the critical problems without getting lost in them.
- Leslie C. Allen, Jeremiah: A Commentary. (Old Testament Library) (Westminster/John Knox Press, 2008). I bought this when working on a Bible study series for adults called “Jeremiah the War-Resister.” This is a great volume.
- Daniel Berrigan, Jeremiah: The World, the Wound of God. (Fortress Press, 1999). Not a technical commentary, but rich in theological and ethical insights. Berrigan continues to work on curing the church’s biblical amnesia.
- Norman C. Habel, Jeremiah, Lamentations (Concordia Commentary) (Concordia Publishing House, 1968). Long out of print, this is still a very readable introduction.
- R. E. Clements, Jeremiah. (Interpretation: A Commentary for Preaching and Teaching) (John Knox Press, 1989).
- Elmer A. Martens, Jeremiah. (Believers Church Bible Commentary) (Herald Press, 1986).
- Jorge Pixley, Jeremiah. (Chalice Commentaries for Today) (Chalice Press, 2004). A Liberation theology perspective.
- Adele Berlin, Lamentations (Old Testament Library) (Westminster/John Knox Press, 2004).
As one can tell from the recent publication of the commentaries below, I started delving deeply into Ezekiel comparatively recently compared to others of the Prophets.
- Bruce Vawter, A New Heart: A Commentary on the Book of Ezekiel. (International Theological Commentary) (Eerdmans, 1991).
- Walther Eichrodt, Ezekiel (Old Testament Library) (Westminster Press,1971). This is the classic text by one of the leaders of the old version of the Biblical Theology Movement.
- Margaret S. Odell, Ezekiel (Smyth & Helwys Press, 2005) with CD Rom.
- Leslie C. Allen, Ezekiel 1-19 (Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 28) (Thomas Nelson, 1984).
- Leslie C. Allen, Ezekiel 20-48 (Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 29) (Thomas Nelson, 1990). These two volumes probably comprise the best technical commentary that I’ve consulted which don’t forget to interpret the text for the church.
- Daniel Berrigan, S. J. Ezekiel: Vision in the Dust. (Orbis B ooks, 1997). It may be that Berrigan’s late-life biblical commentaries prove to be a more lasting legacy of church renewal than his early (and continuing) political activism.
- Millard Lind, Ezekiel (Believers Church Bible Commentary) (Herald Press, 1996).
- John E. Goldingay, Daniel (Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 30) (Thomas Nelson, 1989).
- Toni Craven, Ezekiel, Daniel (Collegeville Bible Commentary, Old Testament, vol. 16). (Liturgical Press, 1986).
- Paul M. Lederach, Daniel (Believers Church Bible Commentary) (Herald Press, 1994).
- Sharon Pace. Daniel (Smyth & Helwys Commentary) (Smyth & Helwys Press, 2008).
III: The Wisdom Books
- H. H. Rowley, The Book of Job. (The New Century Bible) ( Repr., Eerdmans, 1981). The late H. H. Rowley (1890-1969) was one of the greatest O.T. scholars British Baptists ever produced. This commentary is still quite useful.
- Gustavo Gutierrez, On Job: God-Talk and the Suffering of the Innocent. (Orbis Books, 1987). Not a commentary, but quite important for a liberation theology perspective.
- Samuel E. Balentine, Job. (Smyth and Helwys Bible Commentary) (Smyth and Helwys Press, 2006).
- J. Gerald Janzen, Job. (Interpretation: A Commentary for Preaching and Teaching) (Westminster/John Knox Press, 1985).
My mother taught me to pray the Psalms and they remain close to my heart. I tend to approach them devotionally and not academically.
- Peter C. Craigie, Psalms 1-50. (Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 19) (Word Books, 1983).
- Marvin E. Tate, Psalms 50-100. (Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 20) (Thomas Nelson, 1991).
- Leslie C. Allen, Psalms 101-150. revised edition. (Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 21) (Thomas Nelson, 2002).
- John Calvin. Heart Aflame: Daily Readings from Calvin on the Psalms. (P & R Publishing, 1999).
- Martin Luther. Reading the Psalms with Martin Luther. (Concordia Publishing House, 2007).
- Mike Aquilina and Christopher Bailey, Praying the Psalms with the Early Christians: Ancient Songs for Modern Hearts. (Word Among Us Press, 2009).
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Psalms: The Prayerbook of the Bible. (Augsburg Fortress, 1974).
Robert Alter, The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary. (W. W. Norton & Company, 2009).
Jewish Publication Society, The Book of Psalms. (rev. ed., Jewish Publication Society of America, 1997).
I know this will offend many, but Proverbs is one of my least favorite Biblical books. Most of the Bible is on the side of the poor, but the Proverbs are constantly used by the wealthy and middle class to blame the poor for their poverty. If a Christian dismisses the problem of poverty with a claim that the poor are all just lazy, s/he will probably quote from Proverbs. So, I dislike this strand of wisdom writing very much.
- Roland Murphy, Proverbs. (Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 22) (Thomas Nelson, 1998).
- Leo G. Purdue, Proverbs. (Interpretation: A Commentary for Preaching and Teaching) (Westminster/John Knox Press, 2000).
- James L. Crenshaw, Ecclesiastes: A Commentary. (Old Testament Library) (Westminster/John Knox Press, 1987).
- Kathleen A. Farmer, Who Knows What is Good? A Commentary on the Books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. (International Theological Commentary) (Eerdmans, 1991).
A Jewish perspective:
Leonard S. Kravitz and Kerry M. Orlitzky, Kohelet: A Modern Commentary on Ecclesiastes. (Urjj Press, 2003).
Song of Songs/Song of Solomon (also listed in some Catholic Bibles as Canticles):
I like the Song of Songs very much, but haven’t consulted many commentaries on it. I also tend to distrust pre-critical commentaries on this book since it has been so allegorized over the centuries. Medieval rabbis interpreted this love song as describing God’s love for Israel and Medieval Christians saw it as describing God’s love for the Church. Martin Luther, who usually resisted allegory, thought it was an allegory about proper human government! (Seriously? With lines like, “Your breasts are like fawns, twin fawns of a gazelle?”) Meanwhile, critical scholars have been too absorbed over the question of whether this is one poem or many and conservative critics have spent too much energy deciding whether or not Solomon wrote it. So, despite my love for this book, I don’t have many suggestions on commentaries. I picked up the following two recent commentaries when preparing for a sermon series recently.
When the Protestant Reformers decided to eliminate the Apocryphal or Deuterocanonical books from the Protestant canon (the books we consider Scripture), they were largely deciding that the TaNaK or Hebrew Bible (the Bible of Jesus and Paul) should be identical to the Christian “Old Testament.” There is much to commend this idea, but the Reformers didn’t fully follow through because instead of following the Jewish division of the TaNaK into 3 sections (Torah or Law/Teachings; Nevi’im or Prophets–subdivided into Former and Latter Prophets; and Ketuvim or Writings), the Reformers largely kept the Catholic and Orthodox 4-fold division: Pentateuch (5 Books of Moses; corresponds identically to the Torah); Historical Books (includes the Former Prophets and some of the Writings); Wisdom Books (most of the Writings); and Prophets (corresponds mostly to the Latter Prophets, but includes some books that are in the Writings). Further, some of the individual books in the Hebrew Bible are divided in two (e.g., Samuel becomes 1 & 2 Samuel; Kings becomes 1 & 2 Kings; Chronicles becomes 1 & 2 Chronicles, etc.) I think this was a mistake, but it is done. This is one reason why I continue to use the term Old Testament, awkward as it is. Because the Hebrew Bible is something different–changing the shape of the canon changes its interpretation.
II. The “Historical” Books (I use quotation marks because it is not clear that either the intention or outcome of many of these books was to provide historical accounts.)
The “holy wars” of Joshua and Judges are some of the toughest places in Scripture for pacifists like me.
- Marten H. Woudstra, The Book of Joshua. (New International Commentary on the Old Testament). (Eerdmans, 1994). Best technical commentary.
- Jerome E. D. Creach, Joshua. (Interpretation: A Commentary for Preaching and Teaching). (Westminster/John Knox, 2003).
Not a full commentary, but very helpful for Christians struggling to know what to do with the violence–even genocide–that the text claims God commands is Walter Brueggemann, Divine Presence Amid Violence: Contextualizing the Book of Joshua. (Cascade Books, 2009).
Another book full of “texts of terror” (Phyllis Trible).
- Trent Butler, Judges (Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 8). (Thomas Nelson, 2006). Best current critical commentary.
- Susan Niditch, Judges: A Commentary (Old Testament Library). (Westminster/John Knox Press, 2008.) An excellent replacement volume for the older OTL commentary on Judges by Alberto Soggin. A believing feminist perspective.
- Terry L. Bresinger, Judges (Believers Church Bible Commentary). (Herald Press, 1999). Bresinger, a minister of the Brethren in Christ (small denomination that mixed Mennonites with Wesleyan Pietism), teaches at Messiah College in Grantham, PA. He writes for ordinary Christians, but this gem is full of profound insights. The essays after the commentary proper should not be missed. They cover such topics as Ancient Near Eastern texts, archeological periods (placing Judges in the Bronze Age), Caananite, the Asherah, Ashtoreth, and Baals, hero stories, war and violence in Judges and more.
Set in the era of the Judges, Ruth was probably written after the Exile as a response to the “no foreign wives” policy of Ezra and Nehemiah, reminding Israel that King David’s own grandmother, Ruth, was a Moabite woman.
- Katherine Doob Sakenfield, Ruth. (Interpretation: A Commentary for Preaching and Teaching). (Westminster/John Knox Press, 1999).
- Carolyn Curtis James, The Gospel of Ruth: Loving God Enough to Break the Rules. (Zondervan, 2008). Reading this now on the basis of recommendations by others. Extraordinarily powerful–gets past the surface to insights too often missed and shows the relevance for both women and men of faith, today.
- Robert L. Hubbard, Jr., The Book of Ruth (New International Commentary on the Old Testament) (Eerdmans, 1989). Excellent technical commentary.
From a Jewish perspective:
- Rabbi Leonard S. Kravitz and Kerry M. Olitzky, Ruth: A Modern Commentary. (Urj Press, 2005). Gives a fresh translation of the Hebrew text into English, interacts with both traditional rabbinic and modern critical interpreters. Relates the books to such contemporary issues as mixed marriages, conversion to Judaism, the roles of women, sexuality, and rebuilding lives after extreme loss.
First and Second Samuel:
This is one book (Samuel) in the Jewish Bible and is known as First and Second Kingdoms in most Eastern Orthodox Bibles.
- Tony W. Cartledge, 1 & 2 Samuel. (Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary). (Smyth and Helwys, 2001).
- Ralph W. Klein, 1 Samuel. (Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 10) (Thomas Nelson, 1987).
- A. A. Anderson, 2 Samuel. (Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 11) (Thomas Nelson, 1989).
A helpful contemporary Jewish perspective is:
Robert Alter, The David Story: A Translation with Commentary of 1 and 2 Samuel. (W. W. Norton, 1999).
First and Second Kings:
This is one book in the Hebrew Bible and in Orthodox Bibles is known as 3rd and 4th Kingdoms.
- Daniel Berrigan, S. J. The Kings and Their Gods: The Pathology of Power. (Eerdmans, 2008). In my childhood, Fr. Berrigan was primarily known as a priest and peace activist. Some knew he was also a poet, but few realized his training and deep roots in biblical interpretation. In the last 20 years or so, he has been writing to awaken the Church and the churches by curing “biblical illiteracy” through non-traditional, theological commentaries that are informed by, but not not subservient to, critical methods. Here, as with all his commentaries, he powerfully connects the world of the text to the world of contemporary, imperial America–indicting us before the Word.
- Walter Brueggemann, 1 & 2 Kings. (Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary). (Smyth & Helwys, 2000). Comes with CD Rom version.
- Marvin Sweeney, First and Second Kings: A Commentary. (Old Testament Library) (Westminster/John Knox Press, 2007).
1 & 2 Chronicles:
This is one book and found in the Writings in Jewish Bibles. It is found here in Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox Bibles and all refer to it as 1 & 2 Chronicles. The Chronicles covers the same time period as Joshua to 2nd Kings, but the writers/editors come from a different perspective than the “Deuteronomistic historians” that cover Joshua to 2 Kings. Because of this repetition, few contemporary Christians know 1 & 2 Chronicles–missing that perspective and thus getting only “one side of the story.” To that extent, our canonical formation is distorted.
- Steven L. McKenzie. 1 & 2 Chronicles. (Abingdon Old Testament Commentary) (Abingdon Press, 2004). McKenzie writes in a lively style that lends itself to Bible studies and preaching.
- Sara Japhet, I & II Chronicles (Old Testament Library) (Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993). In addition to the translation and commentary proper there are essays on the Chronicler’s sources (named in the text and otherwise), genre and forms, themes, etc.
Ezra, Nehemiah & Esther:
In the Jewish Bible Ezra-Nehemiah is one book (called “Ezra”) and it is found in the Writings. The Orthodox canon contains a book omitted from Catholic, Jewish and Protestant canons called I Esdras. This book is combined with Nehemiah in the Orthodox canon and called II Esdras. I confess to disliking the exclusionary tone of Ezra and Nehemiah. No new perspective or powerful commentary has yet been able to help me reclaim these books as active parts of my canon. While I admire Esther’s courage, the sexism of the book as a whole and the bloodily violent “solution” at the end is disturbing. Israel’s life in Exile is precarious–even for one who is made “Queen” of the emperor’s harem.
- David J. A. Clines, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther. (New Century Bible) (Eerdmans, 1984). No longer easy to find, I still find this commentary by the Australian Plymouth Brethren scholar, Clines, (transplanted to Cambridge) a gem. I found it while in college (shortly after it had been published) and have consulted it ever since.
- Carol M. Bechtel, Esther (Interpretation: A Commentary for Preaching and Teaching). (Westminter/John Knox Press, 2002).
- Johanna van Wijk-Bos. Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther. (Westminster Bible Companion, 1998).
- Derek H. Kidner, Ezra and Nehemiah. (Tyndale Old Testament Commentary) (IVP, 2009).
No biblical commentary series or set is equally good in every volume. Most series are quite irregular. So my advice to seminarians and others building theological libraries is always this: Pick one good commentary series to buy so that you have at least one volume on every biblical book. If I were just starting my theological library, my series would either be The New Interpreter’s Bible or The Word Biblical Commentary, but working pastors would also do well with the Interpretation series (aimed at preachers). After that, break up the other series, buying only the best volumes for your library. Only purchase commentaries that you have consulted (in a theological library) first–in preparing a sermon or an exegetical paper.
What follows are my favorite commentaries on every book in the Protestant canon, from Genesis to Revelation (as of this moment). I tend to favor perspectives that combine historical and/or literary critical methods with theological exegesis. On biblical books that are more central to my own “canon within the canon” (Käsemann). A good commentary helps you read the actual biblical text more closely, but is never a substitute for one’s own close reading of the biblical text.
I. Torah or Pentateuch:
Genesis: One of my favorite biblical books. I have several commentaries on Genesis from several different perspectives. For technical issues, everyone should consult Claus Westermann’s huge 3-volume Genesis: A Continental Commentary. (Augsburg-Fortress Press, 1994). But even in translation, Westermann is dense and cumbersome. My favorite 3 commentaries on Genesis are:
- Walter Brueggemann, Genesis. Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. (Westminster/John Knox, 1982). Brueggemann has a gift, a charism, for biblical interpretation and it is on full display here.
- Pauline Viviano, Genesis. Collegeville Bible Commentary OT Vol. 2. (Liturgical Press, 1985). This is an excellent contemporary Catholic (and mildly feminist) interpretation. It is aimed at laity and put out by the publishing arm of the Order of St. Benedict. Based on the text of The New American Bible but with due attention to the underlying Hebrew.
- Eugene F. Roop, Genesis. Believers’ Church Bible Commentary, vol. one. (Herald Press, 1987). Roop, former Pres. and Professor of Old Testament at Bethany Theological Seminary is a minister in the Church of the Brethren. The Believers’ Church Bible Commentary series highlights the Anabaptist perspective of Mennonites and Brethren and is aimed at pastors and preachers.
While not strictly commentaries, the following works on “special topics” relating to Genesis are invaluable:
- Conrad M. Hyers, The Meaning of Creation: Genesis and Modern Science. (Westminster/John Knox Press, 1984). Very helpful in explaining to laity why “creation science” (or, more recently, “intelligent design”) attempts to defend the Bible by refuting biological evolution completely miss the point of the creation narratives.
- Phyllis Trible, God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality (Overtures to Biblical Theology) (Fortress Press, 1986). A feminist reading of the Garden of Eden story as a “love story gone awry” and contrasted to the Song of Songs as a “love story healed.” Excellent introduction to rhetorical criticism and the “close reading of the texts” too.
Christian students of the Hebrew Bible or “Old Testament,” should also interact with Jewish perspectives. I find helpful:
- Nahum M. Sarna, JPS Torah Commentary: Genesis. (Jewish Publication Society of America, 1989). Gives the traditional Hebrew text, the English translation of the JPS Tanakh, and Sarna’s commentary. Sarna is a rabbi trained in both contemporary critical exegesis and traditional rabbinic approaches.
- Robert Alter, Genesis: Translation and Commentary. (W. W. Norton and Company, 1997) Alter is a literary critic whose The Art of Biblical Narrative (1983) and The Art of Biblical Poetry (1987) revolutionized literary interpretations of Scripture in both Jewish and Christian circles.
- Jacob Neusner, Genesis Rabbah: The Judaic to the Book of Genesis: A New American Translation, 2 vols. (University of South Florida, 1985). Neusner has sought to renew contemporary Judaism by de-centering the Holocaust experience (which has dominated much Jewish thought since the end of World War II) and placing traditional Talmudic and Rabbinic perspectives in conversation with modern critical interpretation. Also helpful here is Neusner’s, Genesis and Judaism and Confronting Creation: How Judaism Reads Genesis.
- Brevard S. Childs, The Book of Exodus: A Critical, Theological Commentary. (Old Testament Library) (Westminster Press, 1974). The late Brevard Childs (1923-2007) was one of the great biblical scholars of the past century and this volume out of the Old Testament Library series continues to pass the test of time.
- George (Jorge)V. Pixley, On Exodus: A Liberation Perspective. (Orbis Books, 1988). Pixley is an Old Testament scholar and American Baptist missionary in Nicaraugua who has adopted Latin American Liberation Theology. His books are published under both the English name “George Pixley” and the Spanish, “Jorge Pixley.”
- John I. Durham, Exodus: Word Biblical Commentary 3. (Thomas Nelson, 1987).
- Terence Fretheim, Exodus (Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching). (Westminister/John Knox Press, 1991).
For Jewish perspectives, I find helpful:
- Nahum Sarna, Exodus (JPS Torah Commentary) (Jewish Publication Society of America, 1991). Hebrew text, JPS English translation, and Sarna’s commentary.
- Michael Walzer, Exodus and Revolution (Basic Books, 1986). Walzer is a Jewish political philosopher. This is not a traditional commentary, but a study of the way this story of biblical political liberation has influenced numerous other political movements for freedom. Walzer concludes that 1. Wherever you are, it is probably Egypt. 2. There’s a better land/condition than slavery. 3. The only way from here to there is by joining hands and walking.
I admit it: Leviticus bores me. Except for the Jubilee laws, there isn’t much here that plays a part in my personal “canon within the canon.” When I’ve read through the Bible, I’ve had to read a few pages of Leviticus daily as I march through the rest of the Bible in order to avoid getting bogged down.
- Samuel E. Balentine, Leviticus (Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching). (Westminster/John Knox, 2003). Balentine, a Baptist biblical scholar, almost makes the book interesting and preachable.
- Frank Gorman, Divine Presence and Community: A Commentary on the Book of Leviticus. (International Theological Commentary) (Eerdmans, 1998). Very helpful in relating the thoroughly strange world of Leviticus to our era.
Numbers (“Count those Hebrews twice!”) is only slightly more interesting than Leviticus.
- Katherine Doob Sakenfield, Journeying with God: A Commentary on the Book of Numbers. (International Theological Commentary Series). (Eerdmans, 1995).
- Martin Noth, Numbers: A Commentary. (Old Testament Library). (Westminster Press, 1968 ). Dated, but still the best technical commentary by one of best German form critics of the Old Testament.
- Gerhard von Rad, Deuteronomy (Old Testament Library). (Westminster Press, 1966). This is long out of print, but if you can find a copy, get it. Not only is von Rad brilliant on technical issues, but his excellent feel for Old Testament theology comes through despite the passage of time. 20th C. German biblical scholarship at its best. The replacement volume by Richard Nelson (2004) is nowhere near as good.
- Duane L. Christensen, Deuteronomy, 2 vols. (Word Biblical Commentary Vols. 6A &6B). Thomas Nelson, 1991, 2001.
- Walter Brueggemann, Deuteronomy. (Abingdon Press, 2001). Too brief for Brueggemann’s talents, but still helpful.
- Mark E. Biddle, Deuteronomy. (Smyth & Helwys Commentary Series) (Smyth & Helwys, 2003). This is good both for preachers and those leading adult Bible studies. The technical details are there for those who want them, but they are kept from being distracting for those reading for Christian discipleship. A nice feature of this entire series by Smyth & Helwys is that each volume comes with a CD Rom version.