Top Five Revelation Commentaries

Introduction.  Revelation commentaries can be frustrating to many readers because they do not always answer the questions people have about the final book of the New Testament. There are some excellent commentaries on Revelation, but a great many more which are just plain bad. I have commented in the past about reading Revelation as an example of apocalyptic literature which uses metaphors and other imagery to convey some sort of “literal truth.” The problem is that most people are not very good at interpreting metaphors in the context of the first-century Greco-Roman world. A good commentary will help unpack these metaphors, a bad one will twist the metaphor around and make it something unintended by the author.

Presuppositions are a major factor for selecting a commentary on Revelation. If one assumes that the book is about the future return of Jesus, then the imagery in the book takes on a prophetic value. If one assumes that the book is a veiled description of events of the first century (whether the fall of Jerusalem in A. D. 70 or persecution of Christians later in the century), then there is no “future” in the book. It is possible to read the book as a graphic description of the struggle between good and evil at any time in history, so that there is nothing in the book which is specifically predictive. (I have several posts on futurist, preterist, and idealist interpretations of Revelation.) Most recent commentaries reject a single view of the book preferring to blend two views, producing a commentary which grounds Revelation in the first century yet emphasizes the value of the book for every Christian throughout church history even to the second coming of Jesus.

One aspect of Revelation commentaries which might be frustrating is the preoccupation with John’s allusions to the Hebrew Bible or other Second Temple Period literature. This is certainly true for Aune and Beale. Both of these books are rich with potential allusions to other texts, often listing dozens of possibilities. Older commentaries are not as worried over the allusions to older books and some (especially evangelical) commentaries are not interested in parallel material in 1 Enoch or other apocalyptic literature. While I continue to find this sort of work fascinating, it is possible that the “search for allusions” has run out of steam.

David Aune, Revelation (3 Vol.; WBC; Dallas: Word, 1997). At more that 1200 pages, this commentary is the most detailed written in the Word series on any book and sets the standard for Revelation commentaries for years to come. His exegesis of the Greek text is excellent. He places the book in the context of the first century and demonstrates that much of the imagery in Revelation is at home in the apocalyptic writings popular among Jews and Christians at the end of the first century. He offers detailed textual comments and syntactical observations. Aune has an encyclopedic knowledge of Greek and Jewish source which he brings to bear on every line of the book of Revelation. For example, when he interprets the sixth seal in Rev 6, he provides a summary of “ancient prodigies,” or unnatural occurrences in Greek and Roman literature. In the space of two pages, dozens of primary sources are cited. It is possible that some (or, many) of the texts Aune cites are not particularly helpful. For example, in his comments on the angel coming down from heaven with chains to bind Satan in Rev 20:1, he lists 1 Enoch 54:3-5, 2 Apoc. Baruch 56:13, Sib. Or. 2.289, as well as Jude 6 and 2 Peter 2:4. Since all of these are examples of Jewish apocalyptic literature known in the late first century, they are all legitimate “parallel” material. But then he goes on to list several examples of chaining gods (Apollodorus 1.1.2), the Titans (Hesiod, Theog. 718) and even the chaining of Prometheus (Odyssey 11:293). While it is certain that binding Satan is a common “apocalyptic motif,” whether it is “derived” from Greco-Roman myths is more tenuous. Nevertheless, Aune’s awareness of the literature of the Second Temple Period enriches his commentary greatly.

Greg Beale, Revelation (NIGTC; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2000). Beale’s mammoth commentary followed Aune’s and is equal in size and value to scholarship. Beale has written a great deal on “Old Testament in the New” issues, so it is no surprise to find large sections in this commentary devoted to John’s Hebrew Bible sources. His interest is in John’s use of the Hebrew Bible so there is less reference to Greek and Roman sources than in Aune’s commentary. Beale includes a twenty page summary of his view of what constitutes an allusion and his controlling method for deciding what may be an allusion and what is not. He describes his approach to the book as a “redemptive historical form of modified idealism” (48). By this he means that the symbols of the book of Revelation had some specific referent in the first century which will provide some comfort or teaching to Christians throughout history, but will find ultimate fulfillment in the future. In the commentary proper Beale works through the Greek text phrase-by-phrase, commenting on syntactical issues where appropriate. The style of the commentary tends to use a smaller font for textual details, allowing a reader to skip over these elements. Like most readers of the Greek of Revelation, Beale puzzles over some aspects of John’s style, finding in many cases that he employs a Semitic syntax more than Greek. Beale has a number of excursuses devoted to how specific metaphors functioned in Judaism. For example, after his commentary on Rev 9:19, he has a page on serpents and scorpions in Judaism. While a page does not seem like much, there are dozens of references to the Hebrew Bible and rabbinic texts unpacking the metaphor of a scorpion. One criticism: a single 1200+ page volume is unwieldy to use, even with the lighter paper. I would have liked Eerdmans to publish this book in at least two volumes. The spine of my copy has split near the center.

Grant Osborne, Revelation (BECNT; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2002). It is hard to imagine that an 800+ page commentary should be considered brief, but in comparison to Aune and Beale, Osborne’s commentary more efficient and user-friendly. I find his introductory material very well written and insightful, celebrating what he called the “hermeneutics of humility” (16). Osborne is aware that reading Revelation generates more questions than answers and advises students of Revelation to be humble in their exegesis, willing to not understand everything in the book. He includes about 18 pages on the theology of the book. He includes two pages on Mission in Revelation, a topic which is not among the first things one thinks of when reading Revelation! Osborne’s approach to the book is to combine futurist and idealist readings of the book, with an emphasis on the future. He defines apocalyptic as “the present addressed through parallels with the future” (22). In the commentary proper, Osborne moves phrase-by-phrase through pericopes, commenting on the Greek text with transliterations provided. Greek does appear in the footnotes, where he makes more detailed syntactical observations. After the exegetical section, Osborne offers a “summary and contextualization” section, drawing out theological insights of major sections.

Robert Mounce, The Book of Revelation, Revised Edition (NINTC; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1977, 1997). Mounce’s commentary is brief because he does not spend the time searching for John’s sources or worrying over potential parallels. While the commentary is quite aware that John stands on the foundation of the Hebrew Bible and that there is parallel material in other Jewish apocalypses, Mounce wrote his initial version of this commentary prior to the rise of scholarly preoccupation with sources. Mounce reads Revelation as reflecting his own culture, but understands that “the predictions of John…will find their final and complete fulfillment in the last days of history” (45, first ed.). He finds this blending of John’s present and future consistent with the nature of prophecy in the New Testament. In the preface to the revised edition of commentary Mounce states that he still has the same basic approach to the book and he remains a premillennialist, but he has a deeper appreciation for other views of the book. (Another difference between the editions is that the Revised uses the NIV rather that the 1901 ASB). The body of the commentary is based on the English text, with details of Greek grammar relegated to the footnotes. I think that this is a good commentary for the busy pastor or layman who wants a bit more in-depth study without the details of Aune or Beale.

George Ladd, A Commentary on the Revelation of John (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1972). If the measure of a classic commentary is wear and tear, then Ladd’s commentary on Revelation certainly qualifies for me. My copy 1983 reprint is fairly well marked, the spine is broken and pages are falling out. I suppose it is possible that the paperback binding was not designed to last, but I have used this book often over the years. This is a brief, easy to read commentary, but there is a great deal of depth to the book as well. With only 14 pages of introduction, Ladd is focused on the text rather than method. (In his defense, he treats the theology of the book of Revelation in his New Testament Theology.) He blends preterist and futurist methods as a representative of what is now known as ‘historic premillenialism” (see page 261 for his millennial position). Ladd reads the books as applicable to the first century, but also as a prophecy of the return of Jesus in the future. Occasionally he weighs alternate views of the book in the commentary, as he does in treating the measuring of the Temple in Rev 11, for example. The commentary proper is on the English text, only rarely does he deal with Greek directly and always in transliteration. This makes for an easy-reading commentary for the laymen.

Conclusion. There are quite a few quality studies I have left off this list to keep it to “five top commentaries.” I still consult R. H. Charles ICC Commentary, even though it is a rather dated.  I reviewed Gordon Fee’s recent commentary here, and Elaine Pagels book on early Christian apocalyptic, Revelations, here.  I am looking forward to Paige Patterson’s commentary on Revelation due in September in the NAC series. What have I omitted which you have found helpful for your study of this difficult book of the New Testament? What is the “classic” every pastor should have on their shelf?

 

Index for the Top Five Commentary Series

 

Introduction to Series on Commentaries

On Using Commentaries 

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

Conclusion:  Last Thoughts on New Testament Commentaries

Top Five 1, 2, 3 John Commentaries

Introduction.  Authorship is an issue most introductions the Letters of John must treat, but usually the Gospel of John and the Letters are viewed as coming from the same person or persons, often a “community” living in Ephesus near the end of the first century. More critical commentaries will leave open the question of whether the author is the Apostle John (the traditional view) or a community formed around the teaching of the Apostle.

A second issue which commentaries must deal with in an introduction is the identity of the opponent in 1 John. Since John calls then “antichrists” because they deny that Jesus came in the flesh, they are frequently associated with Docetism, an early attempt by Jewish Christians to understand Jesus as fully divine, only appearing to be human. Brown surveys every suggested opponent and concludes that there are similarities to several groups, but we simply do not know enough about the target of John’s polemic to be certain they are “early Gnostics” or any other known teacher.

Since 1 John is usually the first book of the New Testament that most beginning Greek students read through, there are several handbooks for reading the letters. In general, these books move through the Greek text word by word with detailed comments on grammar aimed at helping the beginning Greek student learn how exegesis works. I will mention three of these here before moving on to commentaries proper.

Marvin Wilson and Chris Alex Vlashos, A Workbook for New Testament Greek: Grammar and Exegesis in First John (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1998). This little book is broken up into assignments, with unusual vocabulary / parsing at the beginning of the assignment. The student is then given a series of questions which point them to the major Grammars (Zerwick, Moule, Turner, Winbery) as well as exegetical commentaries. There are a few “for further study” questions which require a bit more thought and discussion. The book has a handy “vocabulary of 1 John” as well as a parsing guide for the book. This book would be good for someone trying to work through John on their own, but it is best used in a classroom setting.

Martin M. Cully, I, II, III John: A Handbook on the Greek Text (Waco: Baylor, 2004). This book is a running commentary on the syntax of the letters of John, identifying grammatical categories for virtually every word. The English paragraph is printed, followed by each verse in Greek, then each phrase in the verse with commentary. For some words or phrases Cully points out that “scholars differ,” providing the various options for the student to sort out. Only rarely does Cully cite a particular grammar, which has the advantage of allowing professors to use whatever intermediate grammar they choose. The book is certainly a handy size, making it an easy read along side the Greek New Testament.

Herbert Bateman, IV, A Workbook for Intermediate Greek: Grammar, Exegesis and Commentary on 1-3 John (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel 2008). This is a workbook for the serious student of New Testament Greek. At over 600 pages, it would be difficult to finish the book in a single semester! The text of the letters of John is broken into 35 sections, beginning with 3 John, then 2 John. Each section features some syntactical category (the perfect tense, infinitives, etc.) Bateman has a twelve-step exegetical process (16) which he uses in each pericope of the Letters, although not every step appears in every chapter.  Since this is a workbook, there are questions and space for answers. For syntax questions, Bateman provides pages in several major grammars to review elements of grammar. He asks syntactical, lexical / semantical, and theological questions. By the time a student worked through this book, they will have written their own commentary on the Letters of John!

Raymond Brown, The Epistles of John (New York: Doubleday, 1982). Along with his commentary on the Gospel of John and his Introduction to the Gospel of John (completed by Maloney after Brown’s death), this commentary is one of the most significant contributions to the study of the Johannine literature in the twentieth century. Brown introduced his views on the Johannine community in his commentary on the Gospel of John and develops it further in this commentary. I highly recommend the 130 page introduction to the commentary as required reading for anyone working seriously in John. While interest in his theory of the “Johannine Community” has waned, it is hard to read a commentary on John’s Gospel or Letters which do not engage Brown on nearly every page. At almost 800 pages, this commentary on the Epistles of John is the most detailed exegetical commentary available. The commentary proceeds through the text word-by-word, dealing with lexical and syntactical matters. Greek appears only in transliteration, all sources are cited in-text. After the detailed note section, Brown provides a “comment” in the overall theology of the pericope, often connecting it to his previous work on the Gospel of John. These comments all assume his Johannine community theory. Sections end with a bibliography pertinent to that section.

Ben Witherington, Letters and Homilies to Hellenized Christians, Volume 1 (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity, 2006). Witherington treats the letters of John in his socio-rhetorical commentary along with the Pastoral Epistles. The commentary argues that hte letters were written at the end of the first century to serve a “Johannine community” which had recently suffered a schism based on a view of Jesus which differed from the Beloved Disciple. In general, Witherington finds these letters to be amenable to his form of rhetorical study. Second and Third John are “deliberative discourse” while 1 John is epideictic, “a sermon” (409-10). The commentary is based on the English text, with transliterated Greek treated in the footnotes. Because of the style of the commentary, Witheringtom makes occasional grammatical comments in the footnotes, the main text is interested in the flow of the argument. Like other socio-rhetorical commentaries, Witherington provides sometimes lengthy “Closer Look” sections. Of particular interest is his section on “Avoiding Sin and Going On To Perfection” (501-5), a refreshingly non-Calvinist view of the issue, even if in the end I disagree with his conclusion.

Colin G. Kruse, The Letters of John (PNTC; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2000). Cruse beings his commentary by suggesting a plausible scenario for the production of these letters. Assuming the Letters and the Gospel of John were produced by the apostle John (“the fairest way to read the evidence,” 14), Kruse argues that the letters were written after a first form of the Gospel was written in response to a successionist group which differed from John on the nature of Jesus. This group appears to have been aggressive in that they sought to bring others into their circle. First John is a circular letter to all of the congregations in and around Ephesus, 2 and 3 John are to specific house churches advising them directly what to do with traveling teachers “peddling their new and heretical teaching” (3). After the letters were written, John died, and the final form of the gospel as we have it today was published. What happened to the successionists is unknown, but they may develop into Gnosticism. The body of the commentary is based on the English text, with Greek details in the footnotes. The style is very readable, with occasional excursuses. For example, Kruse briefly comments on the use of chrisma in 1 John 2:20; in another place he has a useful summary of the New Testament teaching on antichrist.

Daniel Akin, 1, 2, 3 John (NAC; Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2001). Akin affirms the traditional view that John the Apostle wrote both the Gospel and Letters which bear his name in the New Testament. Like most, Akin understands that John was writing in response to an attack from a specific false teaching concerning Jesus, but also a defective morality and arrogant spirituality (31). In the introduction he has a brief overview of the theology of the letters, including a paragraph on the overlooked eschatology of the letters. The body of the commentary prints the English text followed by detailed comments with Greek in transliteration. This makes for a readble commentary which will be useful for preparing to preach these letters.

Conclusion. There are a new missing here, such as I. H. Marshall’s 1978 commentary in the NICNT series or F. F. Bruce’s brief 1970 commentary. I omitted Robert W. Yarbrough contribution in the Baker Exegetical series simply because I do not own a copy and have not used it yet. I also cheated a bit on my “five commentary” rule to get the exegetical guides in.  What have you found useful for teaching the letters of John?

 

Index for the Top Five Commentary Series

 

Introduction to Series on Commentaries

On Using Commentaries 

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

Conclusion:  Last Thoughts on New Testament Commentaries

Top Five 2 Peter and Jude Commentaries

Introduction.  Commentary series almost always combine 2 Peter and Jude for obvious reasons. They share quite a bit of material so publishers are inclined assign one author to both books. Both books are often considered examples of late first century Christianity, usually an emerging “early catholic” Christianity. As such, the identity of the opponents in both letters is an important consideration. If the letters are late, then an early form of Gnosticism may be in the background. If the letters were written by Peter and Jude, then the opponents cannot be Gnosticism, but perhaps Pauline theology gone bad or an “incipient Gnosticism.”  Jude’s use of non-canonical material is usually a feature of introductions to the letter of Jude.

Since the traditional authors of these letters are regularly challenged, commentaries need to evaluate the evidence and take a position on the possibility that Jude and Peter are pseudonymous. It is possible that 2 Peter, for example, was written by someone “in the tradition of Peter.” For the evangelical, it is possible to understand the genre of the letter as requiring a pseudonym and not consider this as a “error” in the New Testament.

Richard Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter (WBC; Dallas: Word, 1983). This commentary is the most important contribution on these two letters in modern times. All commentaries after Bauckham will need to deal with his understanding of the letters. The introductions to the letters are perhaps more important that the commentary sections. Bauckham treats Jude first because he dates the book very early, no later that A.D. 50. He does not see any evidence of “Paulinism” nor the “early catholicism” found in later letters. Jude is the brother of Jesus and the letter reflects an apocalyptic Palestinian Judaism. Whether this is really Jesus’ brother or someone writing in his name is an open question for Bauckham, but he thinks that all the evidence is “consistent with authorship by Jude the brother of Jesus” (16). Second Peter, on the other hand, Bauckham thinks is a pseudonymous example of the literary genre testament. Like the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, 2 Peter was written using the character Peter in order to give a moral exhortation to a new generation of believers. He argues that the original audience would have understood this as a common literary convention. The readers (living at the end of the first century) would have expected the writer to do an accurate job of reporting “the essence of Peter’s teaching” but they would not have expected that Peter wrote the letter himself (134). Bauckham is an expert in the literature of the Second Temple Period and he uses this literature to interpret these two letters as apocalyptic literature consistent with the literature being produced by Jews in the middle of the first century. His section on 2 Peter’s literary influences is excellent. The commentary proceeds phrase by phrase through the Greek text without transliteration. As expected, the commentary interested in the various allusions to the Hebrew Bible or other literature. This makes for a challenging read, but ultimately rewarding to the diligent student.

Thomas Schreiner, 1-2 Peter, Jude (NAC; Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2003). While this volume covers 2 Peter and Jude as well, Schreiner’s commentary is worth reading as an example of evangelical scholarship. He supports the traditional view that Peter and Jude are the authors of the respective letters. In contrast to Bauckham, he argues that the evidence for accepting pseudepigraphical letters is weak. He cites the punishment of the author of Paul and Thecla, for example, as evidence that the early church considered writing in the name of Paul was not accepted, even if the intentions were good (271). Bauckham did not say that 2 Peter was a letter written under a pseudonym, but rather that it is a testament, which were always written as if the historical person were addressing contemporary needs. Schreiner deals with this argument in detail, pointing out that not all testaments are fictional; Acts 20:17-38 is a “testament” created by Paul himself (274). With respect to Jude, Schreiner finds the evidence that the brother of Jesus wrote the short letter compelling. In the commentary portions, Schreiner moves through paragraphs, commenting on the English text, Greek is found in footnotes. Both of these books make heavy use of the Hebrew Bible and other Second Temple Period literature, Schreiner does an excellent job showing how these allusions function in the letter.

Peter H. Davids, 2 Peter and Jude (PNTC; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2006). This commentary begins with Jude (despite the title!), a letter which may have been written by Jesus’ brother, but Davids does not find compelling evidence for this. It is the opponents which the letter deal with which are determinative for Davids. Jude certainly comes from Palestine, but the opponents reflect a libertine attitude toward the Law which implies Paul’s law-free gospel is being misunderstood. But there is no way to be sure, so any date afer 50-55 could be defended (23). His conclusions on 2 Peter are similar, there is not enough evidence to state with certainty that the book is pseudepigraphic or not. I would recommend reading this commentary along side Bauckham, Davids interacts with Bauckham’s arguments. The commentary proper is rich with allusions to the Hebrew Bible and Second Temple Period literature, treating the English text with all references to Greek in transliteration.

Ruth Anne Reese, 2 Peter, Jude (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2007). This commentary is in the Two Horizons series from Eerdmans and is a bit more theological than exegetical.  Reese accepts the traditional view of the authorship of both 2 Peter and Jude. The commentary is based on the English text with sources cited in footnotes. After the commentary for each book, Reese provides a section entitled “Theological Horizons” which identifies a number of themes found in the book and connects them to larger canonical theology. The style of the commentary emphasizes this sort of biblical theology; these sections are as long as the traditional commentary sections! Since Jude makes use of the Hebrew Bible, she includes several pages on allusions to the Hebrew Bible in Jude and how they function as metaphors for salvation. The final section of this theological commentary attempts to bring the teaching of Jude and 2 Peter forward to the “contemporary context.” In the case of Jude, she engages Volf’s Exclusion and Embrace to discuss how the modern church deals with “outsiders.” In her comments on 2 Peter, Reese asks how 2 Peter’s eschatology impacts our ethical thinking.

J. N. D. Kelly, The Epistles of Peter and of Jude (London: A. C. Black, 1969). The Black’s Commentary series is well traveled: it was picked up by Hendrickson which sold it to Baker. Nevertheless, there are quite a few valuable volumes in the series, including this commentary by Kelly, usually associated with early church history. Kelly treats both 2 Peter and Jude in a single introduction, concluding that 2 Peter “belongs to the luxuriant crop of pseudo-Petrine literature which sprang up around the memory of the Prince of Apostles” (236). For Jude, there is simply not enough evidence for Kelly to decide for or against Jude’s authenticity. The commentary proper proceeds through the text phrase by phrase, all sources are cited in-text. Greek appears in transliteration. While Kelly is aware of some of the literature of the Second Temple Period, he writes before the massive collection from Charlesworth was published. This means that there is less reference to potential allusions to other literature and more attention to the text!

Conclusions. What have you found useful in your teaching of 2 Peter and Jude?

 

Index for the Top Five Commentary Series

 

Introduction to Series on Commentaries

On Using Commentaries 

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

Conclusion:  Last Thoughts on New Testament Commentaries

Top Five 1 Peter Commentaries

Introduction.  Introductions to commentaries on 1-2 Peter tend to spend a great deal of time on the authorship of the letters. While many scholars will accept the traditional view that the apostle Peter is the author of the first letter, the second letter is routinely dismissed as pseudepigraphal. I will deal with that in the next installment of the series (on 2 Peter / Jude commentaries). For 1 Peter, authors who support the traditional view that Peter wrote the letter draw comparisons between the Gospel fo Mark and 1 Peter, as well as a number of allusions to the gospel story (the Transfiguration in 1 Peter 5:1, for example).

A second issue which most commentaries will treat is the original audience. Were the churches Peter addresses primarily Jewish or Gentile Christians? Since the regions mentioned in 1:1 are in Asia Minor, older commentaries assumed that the readers were Gentiles. But the description of the churches as elect, exiles and diaspora imply strongly that they are Jewish Christian readers, albeit Hellenzed Jews.  It appears that commentaries written after 2000 have been more willing to take the description in 1:1 literally and are more likely to read the letter as addressed to Jews in Asia Minor.

One book that I ought to mention on Peter that I have found helpful is Martin Hengel, Saint Peter: The Underestimated Apostle (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2010). In this little book Hengel draws together scripture and tradition in order to come to a more developed view of who Peter was. It seems strange to call Peter an “Underestimated Apostle,” but it is true that Peter is rarely considered a “theological thinker” in the same breath as Paul or John. Nevertheless, Hengel provides a great deal of data which points to Peter as one of the two “premier Christian teachers” of the early church (102).

John Elliott, 1 Peter (AB; New York: Doubleday, 2000). At over 900 pages, Elliot’s commentary on 1 Peter has to be one of the longest written on a short book. The introduction runs to 304 pages alone, half of which is bibliography. For Elliot, 1 Peter was written sometime between A. D. 73 and 95 by someone who was associated with Peter, probably living in Rome. Consequently, he understands the readers as a mixed audience of Jewish and Gentile Christians. The language of the first verse as using Jewish language to describe the increasingly Gentile church. This commentary is one of the first in recent years to take the “resident alien” language literally, seeing it as an allusion to people who are outside of Roman society. This status as “resident alien” makes them susceptible to persecution. The commentary itself follows the Anchor Bible pattern by offering a fresh translation followed by detailed notes on the English text. In this case, the notes proceed almost word-by-word through the book, with Greek in transliteration. Elliot is masterful at drawing out allusions to other texts; virtually the whole of Greco-Roman and Second Temple Period Jewish literature is mined for potential allusions or parallel texts in 1 Peter. Occasionally he offers “Detailed Notes” (an excursus) on a particular point. This commentary will challenge readers, but it is worth the effort – all later writers on 1 Peter will have to take Elliot’s views into consideration.

Karen H. Jobes, 1 Peter (BENTC; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2005). Jobes considers the question of whether the letter is addressed to Jews or Gentiles of no real consequence, although she argues at length that the letter is addressed to Jewish Christians who have moved into the regions listed in 1 Peter 1:1 by Roman colonization (or as a result of the Edit of Claudius). The colonization theory helps to explain some of the metaphors in the book, especially the motif of foreignness found in the letter (39-41). She accepts the traditional view that Peter is the author of the letter. Throughout the text of the commentary how Peter alludes constantly to the Hebrew Bible. The text of the commentary is less cluttered than others in the BENTC series, with Greek appearing in text with transliteration. All sources are cited in-text, only a few footnotes appear in the book. Textual critical issues are relegated to the “additional notes” at the end of each section. This ought to be a “first off the shelf” commentary for most pastors teaching through 1 Peter.

Ben Witherington III, Letters and Homilies for Hellenized Christians, Vol. 1: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1-2 Peter (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity, 2007). Witherington follows Elliot and others who argue that the phrase “strangers and aliens” ought to be taken as a reference to Jewish Christians. This commentary therefore sees the recipients as Hellenized Jews who have accepted Jesus as messiah and now are Christians. Peter is writing to these Jews living in Asia Minor, contra Peter Davids (for example), who cannot understand how 1:14-18 could ever be applied to Jews. The body of the commentary is based on the English text, Greek words appear only in transliteration. As with other commentaries in Witherington’s Socio-Rhetorical series, there are numerous references to Greco-Roman sources, especially with respect to rhetorical categories. These may not be helpful to everyone, but Witherington works very hard to place the letter in a proper rhetorical context. He has several interesting excursuses, entitled “A Closer Look.” For example, his short essay on “Ascending Enoch; Jesus and the Falling Spirits” provides insight into a very difficult problem in 1 Peter 3.

J. Ramsey Michaels, 1 Peter (Dallas: Word, 1988). Michaels reads 1 Peter as a letter addressed to Gentiles, although the letter he says “sends mixed signals.” He recognizes that the opening verse could very well refer to literal Jews, but 1:14-18 seems to imply rather strongly that the readers are Gentiles. Since the commentary was published in 1988, Michaels can say there is a “near consensus” that Peter was writing to Gentiles. For Michaels, 1 Peter is an “apocalyptic diaspora letter to ‘Israel.’” While James was written to (real) messianic Jews in the Diaspora, Michaels thinks 1 Peter was written to (metaphorical) Jews in the Diaspora, ie., Gentiles. He surveys at length the problems with the historical Peter as author and concludes that we cannot be certain simply because the evidence is thin. In the body of the commentary, each section begins with a bibliography and fresh translation followed by textual notes. Since 1 Peter use the Hebrew Bible a great deal, Michaels often uses these notes to delve into the complicated matter of Peter’s used of Septuagint versus Hebrew Bible. The textual notes are followed by a “Form/Structure/Setting” section, often commenting on possible pre-Petrine forms (hymns, traditional formulae, etc.) The comment section proceeds phrase-by-phrase in Greek, no transliteration is provided. Michaels makes detailed lexical and syntactical comments; it is here that the commentary excels. Following the long comment sections is a more brief “explanation” which ties the pericope to the overall themes of 1 Peter.

Ernest Best, 1 Peter (NCC; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1971). Best is well known for his ICC commentary on Ephesians, but this little commentary on 1 Peter is quite good, although a bit dated. His 66 page introduction reflects the state of thinking about 1 Peter in the 1960s, much has happened in the last 50 years. For Best, the book is pseudonymous, but it emerged from a Peterine school of thought sometime in the final two decades of the first century (63). Elliot cites Best as the “rudimentary form” which he develops in more detail in his commentary (Elliot, 127). With respect to recipients, Best comments that “the majority of the members of these congregations were of Gentile origin,” but then he backs off a bit and says that “a superficial glance at the letter might suggest that the author had Jewish Christians in mind” (19). Best also deals with various literary issues (pre-existing material, liturgy, household codes, etc.) Exegesis is based on the English text and all Greek appears in transliteration. In fact, the explanation of the text is done with very little reference to syntax and grammar, only occasionally does Best address a lexical issue. The style of the commentary required no footnotes, and in-text citations are light. This makes for a fairly readable commentary.

Conclusions. Because commentaries on 1 Peter are often grouped with 2 Peter, I can cheat a bit on these two posts. There are a few commentaries which could be included here which will appear on the 2 Peter post, mostly because “solo” 2 Peter commentaries are quite rare. What have you found useful in your teaching of 1 Peter?

 

Index for the Top Five Commentary Series

 

Introduction to Series on Commentaries

On Using Commentaries 

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

Conclusion:  Last Thoughts on New Testament Commentaries

Top Five James Commentaries

Introduction.  Commentaries on James necessarily must deal with the potential conflict between James and Paul. This is a well known problem, since James says that faith without works is dead (James ) while Paul says that one is justified by faith, not by good works. There are a number of later apocryphal stories which develop this conflict well beyond the biblical data. The reformation stream of Christianity struggled with James, Luther’s disdain for the book is an example of a preference for Pauline theology over and above James.

Another issue with James is the genre. The book is very loosely structured, almost as if it is a compilation of sayings and short teachings rather than a book with a clear argument. (Again, this is in contrast to Paul’s style of writing.) Many commentaries observe that James is not unlike the book of Proverbs, but few develop this idea that much because (in truth) it is not that much like Proverbs! One option is to read James as a late-compilation of James’s sayings, written after his death in the mid-60’s A.D. My preference is to read this book as very early, perhaps predating Paul (or at least written at the same time as Galatians or Thessalonians).

I should mention a couple of other books which I have found helpful for studying James.  Bruce Chilton and Jacob Neusner edited a volume of essays on James: The Brother of Jesus (Louisville: Westminster John Knox: 2001).  Richard Bauckham’s essay in this book James and Jesus is excellent, and I have found Craig Evans’s article on James and Qumran very helpful.  John Painter’s Just James (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1999) is a highly detailed monograph on James in Christian tradition, beginning with Acts and Paul, then Eusebius, Nag Hammadi, and the Christian Apocrypha.  Painter concludes with a brief review of the idiosyncratic James, The Brother of the Lord by Robert Eisenman.  Eisenman’s book is massive and develops a view that Paul and James represent a major rift in the earliest church.  I am not convinced by Eisenman, but the book is an interesting read.

Luke Timothy Johnson, The Letter of James (AB; New York: Doubleday, 1995). Johnson’s commentary replaced the rather slender volume by Bo Reicke (remarkable for including the epistles of Peter and Jude in a mere 221 pages!) By contrast, Johnson’s commentary begins with 164 pages of introduction to the letter of James alone. In fact, the introduction is worth the price of the book. I find his description of the similarities and differences between Paul and James helpful, concluding that the contrast is distorted by focusing on a single topic (justification by faith). Johnson dates the book early, written by a Jewish Christian in Palestine who had access to an early form of Jesus tradition (perhaps Q). The introduction has a long section on history of interpretation, asking the question, “How was the voice of James heard” by the church?” The commentary itself is based on the Greek text, but all Greek is transliterated. All citations in the commentary portion are in-text. Johnson draws parallels to Second Temple Period Jewish literature as well as Greco-Roman moralists. As with most of the recent volumes in the Anchor series, John includes detailed bibliographies at the end of each section, including German and French scholarship.

Scot McKnight, James (NICNT; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2011). Scot McKnight is an unusual in that he is a respected biblical scholar yet is able to write with a pastor’s heart on topics which speak to important contemporary issues. McKnight’s commentary is another excellent contribution to the NICNT series, replacing James Adamson’s 1976 volume. While Adamson is still a useful commentary, McKnight’s contribution goes far beyond what the NICNT series expected thirty-five years ago. After a brief introduction (55 pages, defending a generally traditional view of the letter), the commentary proceeds phrase by phrase, Greek appears in transliteration, but in footnotes it is not. Most of these notes are lexical or textual. McKnight fully develops the wisdom-aspect of the letter of James, occasionally citing at length parallels to Jewish wisdom drawn from the Hebrew Bible, especially Proverbs but also Sirach. He has a short excursus on Paul and James, concluding that James is responding to Paul (or some of Paul’s early followers who distorted Paul’s teaching). As with most of McKnight’s work, this is a very readable commentary. While readers familiar only with The Jesus Creed will find McKnight’s scholarship taxing, this commentary will be the “first off the shelf” for many years to come.

Ralph P. Martin, James (WBC; Dallas: Word, 1988). The introduction to the book of James is about one-third of the book, and well worth reading despite being a bit dated. Martin sees a two-stage process for the production of the letter, first a collection of sayings going back to “James the Jerusalem Martyr” was made. These sayings were then edited (polished?) by a Hellenistic writer to produce the letter as we have it. This accounts for the Jewish / Wisdom aspects of the books as well as the Hellenistic / Moralists aspects. Martin’s commentary is one of the better on this list for treating the Greek text. Throughout the commentary the Greek is cited (without transliteration), Martin comments on both lexical and syntactical elements of the text. The Word series concludes each commentary section with an “Explanation,” here Martin draws on his exegesis to draw theological and pastoral conclusions.

Douglas Moo, James (PNTC; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2000) and James (Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 1985, 2009). Doug Moo wrote the replacement in the Tyndale New Testament commentary on James in 1985 (originally published by Eerdmans, now Intervarsity). This little commentary is very handy, treating Greek in transliteration and dealing with the more controversial issues only briefly. His more recent Pillar Commentary is much more substantial, developing his arguments for the traditional view that James was written by the Lord’s brother in the mid-40’s in more detail. I find his section on the theology of James quite helpful since it goes beyond the usual “works vs. faith” issue. The body of the commentary proceeds phrase by phrase, treating Greek in transliteration. Moo judiciously draws parallels to other Second Temple Period literature, showing that James stands in the Jewish tradition without cluttering the commentary with external sources. The text is quite readable, making this an ideal commentary for the busy pastor preparing to preach through James.

Peter H. Davids, James (NIBC; Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1989). I have not included any commentaries from this series (originally published by Hendrickson, now by Baker). They are handy paperback volumes, inexpensive yet usually good for preparing a sermon. This slender commentary includes Davids’s article on the Theology of James first published in JETS in 1980. The body of the commentary is based on the NIV, although there are “additional notes” dealing with aspects of the Greek text (in transliteration). Davids includes parallels to Jewish literature in these notes, which strike me as more lengthy than other commentaries in the series.

Conclusion. There are a few missing – Blomberg and Kamell in the new Zondervan Exegetical Series should be mentioned, but I do not have a copy to review.  What else is missing?  What is the classic commentary on James which ought to be on every scholar’s shelf? What have you found useful in your teaching of James?

 

Index for the Top Five Commentary Series

 

Introduction to Series on Commentaries

On Using Commentaries 

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

Conclusion:  Last Thoughts on New Testament Commentaries

Top Five Hebrews Commentaries

Introduction.  Lane begins his introduction by describing the book of Hebrews as “a delight for the person who enjoys puzzles” (xlvii). I taught through the book of Hebrews in my evening Bible study in the fall of 2009, and I must agree with this assessment. One of the things which struck me about Hebrews commentaries when I was preparing for those sermons is that the sorts of questions and problems one encounters in Hebrews are unlike anything found in the Synoptic Gospels of Paul. In fact, I felt like teaching through Hebrews was like visiting a strange country where I did not quite know the language.

Authorship is main issue in the introduction to commentaries on Hebrews. The normal procedure is to “round up the usual suspects” and give some history of why these have all been rejected before settling on “anonymous” as the best solution. (I have a few posts on the authorship of Hebrews, if you are interested!)

The situation of the original readers is also an important matter which commentary introductions need to treat well. It is generally agreed that the audience is Jewish, living in Rome, and facing persecution. Is the “fiery trial” Nero’s persecution? Have they actually been persecuted, or is the writer anticipating a trial coming in the near future? That the readers are Jewish is assumed, but are they all Christian Jews? Is the letter something of missionary tract from a Jewish Christian to Jews in the Synagogue? Or is it aimed at Christian Jews to keep them from returning to the Synagogue in order to avoid persecution as a Christian?

Paul Ellingworth, The Epistle to the Hebrews (NIGTC; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1993). I am impressed by all the commentaries in the New International Greek Text series in terms of exegetical nuance and depth. Ellingworth provides 85 pages of introduction in addition to some 77 pages of bibliography. With respect to authorship, this commentary provides a comprehensive list of suggestions current to 1993, and settles on Apollos as the “least unlikely of the conjectures” (21). The commentary is comfortable with letting the author remain anonymous. He argues that the first readers were “predominately but not exclusively Jewish-Christian” (27), although it is only aimed as a particular group in Rome known to the writer. Like all the commentaries in this series, Ellingworth proceeds through the Greek text in a phrase-by-phrase fashion with all references cited in-text. This makes for a tough read since the language is quite technical. Commentaries on Hebrews necessarily must deal with the Hebrew Bible and Septuagint, Ellingworth demonstrates mastery of both. He regularly places the text of Hebrews in the context of Second Temple Period Judaism.

Craig R. Koester, Hebrews (AB; New York: Doubleday, 2001). This book replaces the earlier Anchor volume written by George Buchanan (1972), nearly tripling the size of the commentary. Like many of the early AB commentaries, Buchanan offered a new translation with only a light commentary. One thing I appreciated about the older commentary is that it had a Conclusion, offering several suggestions for authorship, origin, and purpose only after the book has been read exegetically. Most writers wait to writer their introductions last, but publishers always place the introduction (naturally) at the beginning of the book. Koester’s commentary offers a historical perspective absent from other studies. He begins with 63 pages on the “History of Interpretation and Influence.” He divides this introduction into several sub-sections (early church to 600; 600-1500; 1500-1750; 1750-present). This is an excellent overview of how Hebrews has been treated and will aid the reader in understanding what issues are at stake in reading Hebrews. Koester includes a “selected” theology of the book, since there are some any topics which can be covered theologically in Hebrews. The body of the commentary moves through the pericopes by offering a fresh translation, notes on the translation, and a comment on the theology of the section. Greek is treated in transliteration, sources are cited in-text, but a great deal of comparative literature appears in the footnotes as well.

James W. Thompson, Hebrews (Paideia; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2008). This commentary is by far the most brief on the list, but Thompson’s work is very readable and will be useful for both scholar and layman. I think that this commentary might be the “first of the shelf” for the busy pastor. The commentary does an excellent job with the rhetoric of the letter, attempting to read the letter in the light of Greco-Roman homiletical tradition which was popular in the Hellenistic synagogue (13). He treats much of the writer’s use of the Hebrew Bible as midrash, a decidedly Jewish way of treating scripture. Hebrews 7 for example is a midrash on Gen 17:14-20 and Ps 110 (143). Thompson is also at home in the literature of the Second Temple Period, especially Philo. Commentaries on Hebrews must deal with parallels between the writer’s style and that of Philo of Alexandria, this commentary does so without losing sight of the biblical text. The commentary treats the English text with all Greek appearing in translation, sources cited in-text. There are numerous sidebars and occasional photographs in the commentary, something not usually including in scholarly works.

William L. Lane, Hebrews 1-8; Hebrews 9-13 (WBC; Dallas: Word, 1991). Lane’s commentary in Hebrews is one of the better in the Word series. He reads the letter as representing a Hellenistic synagogue, probably a loosely affiliated house church whose members are fairly typical of Diaspora Judaism. The church is located (most likely) in Rome and this letter is intended to encourage them to continue in their new faith in Jesus. Perhaps persecution is the main problem, but a kind of spiritual lethargy threatens the church as much as anything else. The introduction has a nice summary of discourse analysis as proposed by G. H. Guthrie. His summary of the theology of Hebrews is excellent, focusing primarily on the Christology of the book. The body of the commentary proceeds through each major section of the book by first providing a detailed bibliography (including many non-English works), followed by a fresh translation and notes on the text. The Word series always includes a Form/Structure/Setting section after the translation, Lane uses this section to comment on the rhetoric of the letter. The Commentary proper moves phrase-by-phrase, treating the Greek text without transliteration. Following the commentary proper is a short “explanation” drawing the exegesis back to the theology of Hebrews.

B. F. Westcott, The Epistle to the Hebrews (London: MacMillan, First ed. 1889, Second ed. 1892; Third ed. 1903).  This is a classic commentary on Hebrews, available as an e-Book through Google (a 1903 third ed.) recently reprinted by Wipf & Stock (the first ed.) Like many older commentaries, this book runs the Greek text across the top of the page, with detailed (and occasionally cryptic) notes in dual columns. There are numerous “additional notes” scattered through the commentary which give additional lexical or theological content. What is it about a one-hundred year old commentary that makes it worth reading? Commentaries of this age are notoriously brief, cutting to the heart of the matter as quickly as possible. Wescott especially has a sense for reading Hebrews in the light of the rest of scripture, which is all the more impressive since he live well before computers made finding potential parallels quite easy.  The most intimidating thing about this commentary is that all parallel texts are given in Greek!

Conclusion. There are a few books I left off this list to keep it to five. (What! No F. F. Bruce?!)  David Allen’s new commentary from Broadman & Holman is worth a look, but I do not have a copy yet (here is a great review from Brian Small).  This is why  I give only five – this give you (the reader) a chance to let me know what you have found useful in your preaching and teaching.

 

Index for the Top Five Commentary Series

 

Introduction to Series on Commentaries

On Using Commentaries 

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

Conclusion:  Last Thoughts on New Testament Commentaries

Top Five Philemon Commentaries

Introduction.   I have included a few Philemon commentaries with my Colossians post a few weeks ago, but I thought it would be interesting to find commentaries on just Philemon. This is a bit of a challenge, since there are very few commentaries written on just this letter.  I only have two additional “Philemon only” commentaries which I will include in this post.  Yes, I know the title says five…

Markus Barth and Helmut Blanke, The Letter to Philemon (ECC; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2000). This commentary likely holds the record for the largest commentary on the smallest book in the modern era. Barth and Blanke wrote the Anchor Bible commentary on Colossians and Markus Barth is responsible for the idiosyncratic two-volume Anchor commentary on Ephesians. Philemon has 330 words, this commentary has just under 500 pages, or about a page and a half for every word in the letter.

Actually, the commentary has 242 pages of introduction. Barth and Blanke begin with about 100 pages on slavery in the first century. This is practically a book in and of itself, but understanding this material is essential for properly understanding the letter, and more importantly, understanding why Paul does not request that Philemon give Onesimus his freedom. I have commented several times that one of the problems understanding slavery is that most people in the Western world have American slave trade in mind, but that is not at all what Roman slavery was like.

The second half of the introduction treats the more typical topics one expects to find in a commentary. A major concern in the type of letter and the rhetoric Paul uses to achieve his goal. In fact, Paul’s goal in the letter is not obvious unless we read the letter as an example of a Greco-Roman letter. Barth and Blanke provide a number of parallel letters from the Greco-Roman world which help illuminate Philemon. The main concern of the introduction is the situation behind the letter to Philemon. Much is assumed about Onesimus, his flight and theft, his conversion and the reasons for his return.

The actual commentary on Philemon proceeds phrase-by-phrase, treating the English text. All Greek appears in transliteration and all sources are cited in-text. This commentary is less interested in lexical issues, but that may be a result of the fairly straight-forward Greek found in the letter.  The commentary also includes twenty-two excursuses on a variety of topics from house churches to providence and free will. Most of these run only a few pages and can be skipped if desired. The excursus on brotherhood (p. 423-46) is the longest. Barth and Blanke survey the Old Testament background for this term and compare Paul’s use of brother language for fellow believers to other “brotherhoods” in the ancient and modern world.

Something I find strange with this commentary is that it does not have an introduction or forward. I was interested to know how Blanke completed the work of his teacher Barth (who died in 1994).

Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Letter to Philemon (AB; New York: Doubleday, 2000). Unlike Barth and Blanke, Fitzmyer’s commentary on Philemon is more or less the length that one would expect. At only 138 pages (78 of which are introduction), the commentary is tiny in comparison to Barth and Blanke’s girth. Fitzmyer was chosen to replace Barth who died before completing the commentary on Philemon. Fitzmyer had written the article on Philemon for both the Jerome Bible Commentary in 1968 and the revised New Jerome Bible Commentary in 1990, so he was prepared to expand his work for the Anchor volume.

His introduction has a mere 8 pages on slavery, but it is enough to set the context of the letter. More important is Fitzmyer’s survey of the occasion and purpose of the letter. Fitzmyer argues that Paul is serving as a friendly intermediary (amicus domini), attempting to exert some influence over Philemon and reconciling him with Onesimus. As evidence, he includes several letters from Pliny which serve a similar purpose. This explanation of the letter has been widely accepted.

The body of the commentary begins with a fresh translation, followed by comments and notes. He treats the Greek through transliteration, commenting on lexical and syntactical matters, as well as text-critical issues. As with Fiztmyer’s other commentaries for the Anchor series, he concludes each section with a bibliography which includes English and international scholars.

Conclusion. Are there any other “solo” Philemon Commentaries?  Perhaps there is a brief tract which has been helpful in your studies – let me know what you have found useful for reading Philemon!

 

Index for the Top Five Commentary Series

 

Introduction to Series on Commentaries

On Using Commentaries 

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

Conclusion:  Last Thoughts on New Testament Commentaries