Introduction. This blog began in 2008 when I was teaching through Acts both at my Church and in a semester class at Grace. Since I have had the chance now to teach through Acts several times, I have put together a huge collection of commentaries and other resources for studying the Book of Acts. Along with Luke, there are a number of excellent monographs on the theology of Luke and Acts as well as literary studies which focus on Luke as an author. To complicate matters, the study of Acts invites historical study, especially the Greco-Roman background of the Pauline mission. I would highly recommend the five-volume series published by Eerdmans on Acts, including Paul in Roman Custody by Brian Rapske. The second volume of Eckhard Schnabel’s Early Christian Mission (IVP) is also essential for the history and background of the various cities which Paul targets as he moves west.
Perhaps more than any other installment in this series so far, I have been tempted to add to my “top five.” I could easily double this list, but that is what the comments are for. I invite the readers to add a few that I have skipped here.
Ben Witherington III, Acts: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1998). This commentary is one of the best for cultural background material for reading Acts and has been the “first off the shelf” for me for several years. Witherington provides some exegetical commentary, although the general reader will have no problem reading the commentary since this is not the main thrust of the book. Where the commentary excels is the massive amount of Greco-Roman material which is brought to bear on the text of Acts. As with all the Socio-Rhetorical commentaries, Witherington uses lengthy excursuses in a slightly smaller font to develop special themes. These “closer looks” are worth the price of the book alone! For example, after introducing Aquila and Priscilla in Acts 18, he provides five pages on Judaism as a religio licita. This detailed section is worthy of a major Bible Dictionary article. One of the criticisms I have of other volumes in this series is the somewhat forced use of Greco-Roman rhetorical forms, but this is not a problem here in Acts.
Joseph Fitzmyer, Acts (AB; New York: Doubleday, 1997). As a companion to his two-volume Luke commentary, Fitzmyer’s Acts commentary is readable and useful for scholar, pastor or layman. The Anchor Bible format begins with a fresh translation followed by a comment on the text and then a “notes” section for exegetical detail. All Greek is transliterated and all citations are in-text. What is remarkable to me is how efficient Fitzmyer’s commentary is. He is able to cover the necessary issues in the text in a few paragraphs, despite having an encyclopedic knowledge of the Greco-Roman world! While the commentary is 800+ pages, it is not overly burdensome. For each section there is a bibliography covering secondary literature in English, German, and French. This makes the commentary invaluable for the scholar.
James Dunn, Beginning at Jerusalem (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2009). This is the second volume of Dunn’s epic Christianity in the Making, so technically speaking it is not a commentary on Acts. Dunn wrote a brief commentary in the Epworth series (1996) and it appears to me that most of that commentary has been assumed into this larger book on the origins of Christianity. (There are some passages which are word-for-word the same, and a handful where significant changes have been made). I find Beginning at Jerusalem to be the most highly detailed commentary on Acts available today (pending Keener’s due summer of 2012). After 130 pages of introduction, Dunn steps through the book of Acts dealing with each pericope on an exegetical level, but much more attention is paid to historical and theological matters. Dunn’s style is not a verse-by-verse commentary, but rather a series of questions which need to be addressed in order to come to a full understanding of Acts. Each of these subsections are important, but a reader may skip over some if that particular question is not of interest. One of the features of this book I appreciate are chapters on topics which cannot be included in most commentaries. For example, chapter 30 is on Paul’s Churches. This sixty page essay on churches in the middle of the first century is excellent and will help any interpreter of Acts (or the epistles) unpack Pauline mission more accurately. The average commentary simply cannot spend the effort on such detail.
John Polhill, Acts (NAC; Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1992). This is an efficient commentary on Acts. By far the smallest on this list, Pohill does an excellent job covering exegetical details in the text along with providing cultural and historical background. The introduction is a only 50 pages, yet manages to give the reader a basic orientation to major issues for reading and understanding Acts. Most of the background material is found in the footnotes, although even these are not so copious that a casual reader will become overwhelmed. All Greek is transliterated. A possible criticism here is that Polhill did not write the NAC commentary on Luke, so there is less awareness in the commentary of overarching Luke-Acts themes.
Darrell Bock, Acts (BENTC; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2007). Bock also write the BECNT on Luke, so this commentary has the same look and feel as his previous work. Bock also has a work on the Theology of Luke / Acts due from Zondervan in the Summer of 2012. His 46 page introduction briefly covers essential issues, and while I particularly like his theology of Acts section, I look forward to more detail and expansion in his upcoming biblical theology text. As with his previous commentary, each section begins with a summary of the larger unit and a translation of the text. The exegesis section includes both Greek and a transliteration of the Greek. He deals with both lexical and syntactical issues in the body of the commentary, spending more time on identifying grammatical categories than other commentaries on this list (I think that is a DTS thing!) Unlike the Luke commentary, Bock does not have a final summary at the end of the pericope, by guess is that these were dropped by the commentary series.
Conclusion. What have I left out? What commentaries on Acts have you found useful? Once again the classics are missing (no F. F. Bruce?) Let me know what I have missed!
Index for the Top Five Commentary Series
Matthew Mark Luke John Acts
Romans 1 Corinthians 2 Corinthians
Galatians Ephesians Philippians Colossians
1-2 Thessalonians Pastoral Epistles Philemon
Hebrews James 1 Peter 2 Peter & Jude
Letters of John Revelation