In the work of preparing sermons and Bible lessons, Bible commentaries are necessary tools. It is my privilege to review books and have now done a few commentaries and plan to do more. Plus I will be doing blog posts on sets and individual books of the Bible. This post will be the index for all such posts going forward.
There are several commentary series being published today. Pastors certainly will not find them to be of equal value. To make it worse, many of these volumes are overly expensive. Only in a few sets do I have all the volumes, but in most I have some volumes and have arrived at an opinion. Such as it is, I will share it here. I plan to update this article going forward as I acquire additional volumes. Here is a discussion of each series with some individual reviews attached.
MAJOR SERIES ON THE WHOLE BIBLE:
1. New American Commentary
The NAC is the pastor’s best option for an exegetical commentary series. The volumes are conservative, of appropriate length, engaging, and helpful. They “interact” with other scholarship without getting bogged down. All the volumes are satisfactory while some of them are standout. Sometimes a few elitist scholars regulate them to little-brother status, but those ministering on the front lines will find them totally superior. In some cases, the scholarly world must confess certain individual volumes stand out. Some criticism turns out to really only a thinly veiled barb at some volumes’ premillenialism. I rejoice that my set is currently complete. The series only lacks a Psalms and Ephesians volume which I hope comes out soon. They should be commended for putting out the series in a timely fashion. In addition, they have the best price structuring of any major series. You can’t miss with this series!
2. Kregel Exegetical Commentary
Here is a rival to the NAC in its reach to pastors. The series is in the early stages, but if it can continue its quality I predict it will be popular. Slightly more expensive than the NAC, but containing the same helpful qualities. Probably a good priority on your purchasing list.
3. Word Biblical Commentary
A little more scholarly than the NAC and worth owning. My set is complete and I have used many of the volumes. While there are some duds, several volumes are held in high regard. The theological spectrum is a little too broad for my taste, though I love several volumes.The infamous layout is probably not the problem most claim since the series has been around 30 years and we are all used to it. It actually makes it easier for the reader to skip the part pastors would find least helpful and just read the real commentary. This poor series has been snake bitten in delivering us the Acts and 1 Corinthians volumes. Good to see, though, a near complete series and one with a sensible revision schedule. More reasonably priced than many series. You might only want some of the volumes in this series.
4. New International Commentary (NICOT & NICNT)
This series has been around almost since Bible times (or so it seems). As a series it is mostly conservative, friendly to pastors, highly respected, but poorly managed. Some of its earlier volumes (which are quite good and worth picking up used) were replaced decades ago. On the other hand, several books of the Bible have never been blessed with a volume from this series. The volumes are good, but priced a little too high. Bargain shoppers like me are never able to get around to acquiring several of its volumes. (I have looked for a deal on certain volumes for years!). This series is well worth getting, if you can find volumes reasonably priced.
5. Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Old series)
I have the set edited by Frank Gaebelein and really love it. it has been wildly successful though often criticized. If you probe the criticism, it really isn’t about scholarship failures, though that is claimed. Its unapologetic conservatism revolts some while its premillennial theology “where it counts” alienated even more. It is very helpful and geared to pastors yet undergirded with great scholarship. You have find used sets for around $100-125 if you watch carefully.
Note: There is a newly finished revision (some authors were replaced) that I do not yet have. I would love to get it and imagine it would be a good set. It would be fun to review.
6. Anchor Bible Commentary
Famous for archaeology and deep detail. Always fairly liberal and becoming more so with a new editor. Older volumes are easy to pick up second hand. Newer ones are priced way too high to ever have a wide readership. Sometimes you will find a detail that will amaze you and you will find no where else while at other times you will be horrified by what you read. Very technical.
7. International Critical Commentary
There is a rumor this series exists but it is priced so high that they apparently were not written to actually be read. You could perhaps mortgage your home or sell a few children and pick up a few copies to rank this one for yourself. The older volumes (pre-1952) can be found used. Think liberal and very technical.
MAJOR SERIES ON THE NEW TESTAMENT
1. Pillar Commentary
This fine series, edited by the eminent D. A. Carson, only tackles the New Testament. Pastors will find its volumes accessible and enjoyable in most cases. (I own and have used about half of them). It is not complete either and I will never understand why its Romans volume by the preeminent scholar Leon Morris would be replaced before we get a first volume on several books of the New Testament. Another series with a little too high pricing structure, but one you will enjoy having and likely the very best for a series only on the NT.
2. Zondervan Exegetical Commentary
I’m just getting into this series, but so far I’m really loving it. There’s some Greek, but it’d easy to follow.
3. Baker Exegetical Commentary
A series that lacks the fame of the above series, though some are ranked high. I have the two volumes of Luke and the one on Matthew that are good. Not priced as well as some. At this point, I do not rank as high as the other series above. Still, you will probably want several of the volumes.
4. New International Greek Testament Commentary
This is a major series. It’s one of the most detailed, scholarly that we have. For that reason, scholars may love it more than pastors. Still, it is impressive.
MAJOR SERIES ON THE OLD TESTAMENT
1. Apollos Old Testament Commentary
This is a fine series. On the technical side it seems a little below the Word Biblical Commentary series but far better on commentary. Worth checking out, though some volumes may be less conservative than others from reports I have seen. Still, my opinion rises with every new volume I get!
2. Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on OT
This is a newer series that looks so promising. It may soon be the best.
3. Baker Old Testament Commentary on OT Wisdom & Psalms
I have only used the volume on Proverbs and it is really good. The other volumes have a good reputation though some have thought the 3 volumes on Psalms went farther left than expected. Only covers five books of the Bible, but the series is complete.
Other Major Series:
My experience with the Hermeneia and Old Testament Library series is that they will not please pastors with their overly technical and liberal offerings. Eerdmans Critical Commentaries are somewhat similar to the Anchor series and will not get much love. The digital-only format they have now switched to will drive away even more. The Black’s NT series (formally Harper’s) has some worthwhile volumes, but would not be my first pick. The New Interpreter’s Bible is a big, expensive set that I feel few actually use. The old Broadman’s set is trash dump material. A series entitled Bible Student’s Commentary has excellent volumes translated from Dutch scholars. They are well known for theology, but only cover Genesis-Ruth, Isaiah, Matthew, and John.
MID-LEVEL SERIES (More expositional & less technical)
Not only will Sunday School teachers use these types of volumes, but pastors may find them good to arrive at the big picture, or to pick up a few more hints.
1. Tyndale Commentary Series
These are exceptional and I can recommend to anyone. The OT volumes are being reassigned. These are a real help. Work at getting them all. I have loved my complete sets. Several OT volumes have recently been revised and I find the them especially helpful. The NT is under revision as well. Economical.
2. The Bible Speaks Today
Another outstanding set with some really good contributors. The series is now complete and economical. I enjoy these commentaries and am glad my set is complete. I recommend them all.
3. NIV Application Commentary
Think help with application with solid scholarly foundation. Far better on the whole than others of its kind.
4. Cambridge Bible For Schools And Colleges
This old series from the late 1800s and early 1900s is well worth looking up on the used market. Solid as the Tyndale series and you will enjoy having both.
5. God’s Word For You series
6. New International Biblical Commentary
A little too brief at times, but still valuable. There are a few standout volumes.
7. Daily Study Bible
This is really two sets. William Barclay does the entire NT. He is incredibly interesting, but oddly anti-supernatural at times. The OT set ( I have them all) greatly varies both in the level of help and orthodoxy.
8. Communicator’s Commentary
These give homiletic help and are easy to find used. Written by scholarly pastors.
The New Century series (and the old one actually) are rather bland, brief, and liberal. My limited interaction with the Abingdon series has not excited me. The Interpretation series can provide interesting theological comment at times and nonsense at others. If you find cheap used copies of the following, they are worthwhile: Bible Student’s Commentary (Zondervan), Shield Bible Study commentaries, Everyman’s Bible Commentary, Jensen’s Bible Commentaries. They are all older, smaller paperbacks and are worth a dollar or two each.
Though not part of an official series, Cyril Barber has written on most of the historical books. Find them if you can as they are hidden jewels.
SPECIAL EXPOSITIONAL SERIES
Here are some series that are especially helpful to expositors and are less well known. They overlap some with categories above, they make for especially enjoyable reading. Some of them come from the UK and are harder to track down. They tend to be reformed, but all are warm and hold a high view of Scripture. They are strong exactly where exegetical commentaries are weak. Hard to find bargains, but valuable for sure.
The ones I have had the privilege to use are exceptional.
2. EP Study Commentary
Very similar to Mentor. John Currid is highly regarded in the volumes he did, as are several others. Which is better: Mentor or EP? It is 50-50, and you will be a winner either way.
3. Focus On The Bible
Smaller but containing a few of my favorites including, especially, the wonderful volumes by Dale Ralph Davis on most of the OT historical books. SS teachers will love, but pastors will too.
It takes time and money to build a good commentary library. Happy searching!