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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

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

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

Introduction. 1-2 Timothy & Titus are known collectively as the Pastoral Epistles because they are addressed to individuals rather than churches and seem to address issues of interest to pastors of local churches. As Gordon Fee has commented, if these are letters on how to “do church,” the are not very successful. There is less in these letters on “doing church” that we might expect. They are certainly not “pastoral handbooks,” Paul is addressing real problems among the churches in Ephesus (1 Timothy) and hoping to prevent similar problems on Crete (Titus).

Authorship is main issue introductions to these letters must treat. The traditional view that Paul wrote the letters after his imprisonment in Acts 28 is routinely challenged in the commentaries. Even among contemporary evangelicals there is the suspicion that these letters were written in the name of Paul by a close disciple (an amanuensis who faithfully represents Paul, for example). Most commentaries treat the three Pastoral Letters together despite the differences between the two letters to Timothy. Potentially one could argue for Pauline authorship of 1 Timothy and Titus but reject it for 2 Timothy.

One non-commentary I ought to mention is the collection of essays edited by Andreas J. Köstenberger and Terry Wilder, Entrusted with the Gospel: Paul’s Theology in the Pastoral Epistles (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2010). Wilder deals with the problem of authorship in one of the first essays, and I. Howard Marshall contributes an essay on the Pastorals in Recent Study. On the issue of Paul’s statement on women see the essays collected in by Andreas J. Köstenberger, Thomas R. Schreiner, and H. Scott Baldwin, Women in the Church: A Fresh Analysis of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1995).

I. Howard Marshall, The Pastoral Letters (ICC; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2004). Marshall’s contribution is perhaps the most detailed exegetical commentary on the list, as is to be expected from an ICC volume. Marshall replaced Walter Lock’s 1924 commentary in the series. The book caused a stir when it was released since Marshall (beloved by many evangelicals) rejected Pauline authorship of these letters. The introduction to the commentary develops Marshall’s view of authorship. The body of the commentary contains detailed bibliographies for each section followed by an overview of the text. The format of the commentary is a phrase-by-phrase unpacking of the Greek text, including textual, lexical and syntactical issues. He interacts with a broad range of scholarship, with Marshall includes a number of excellent excursuses (on Household Codes, in Titus, for example).

Philip H. Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus (NICNT; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2006); 1-2 Timothy & Titus (IVPNTC; Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity, 1994). Towner’s recent commentary in the New International Commentary series is an excellent exegetical commentary. The body of the commentary proceeds through the text phrase-by-phrase, with Greek treated in the footnotes in detail.  Towner has excellent exegetical notes and also demonstrates a expertise in Greco-Roman literature as well, especially in the virtue / vice lists.  I also mention here his IVP volume, written more than ten years before the larger commentary. This series is designed for busy pastors who need a basic commentary, although an interested layman would find this a very readable commentary. His comments are on the English Bible and all references to Greek are in footnotes.

Luke Timothy Johnson, The First and Second Letters to Timothy (AB; New Haven: Yale University, 2001). Johnson is one of the more prolific New Testament scholars, and his Anchor Bible volume on the letters to Timothy is one of the best of the series. He spends about fifty pages on the authorship of the Pastorals, fairly describing and assessing the “conventional approach.” He offers five problems which this consensus view rarely discusses, and finally settles on the view that these letters are genuinely Pauline. He knows that authenticity cannot be demonstrated, but he sees these letters are representing Paul’s own thinking even if they are written through a delegate of some kind. As with all the Anchor commentaries, the body of the commentary includes a fresh translation followed by phrase-by-phrase notes, all Greek is transliterated. After the notes, Johnson provides a comment section which deals with the overall themes of the section, usually including the special contribution of the section to a kind of “pastoral epistles theology.” Johnson does not include Titus in this volume. The Anchor Bible series has a separate volume for Titus, Jerome D. Quinn, The Letter to Titus (AB; New Your: Doubleday, 1990). Quinn, who died before finishing this commentary, includes an introduction on all three pastoral letters. (Ben Witherington calls Quinn’s commentary the “only real standout” commentary on Titus.  He may be right, since there are precious few commentaries on Titus alone!)

William D. Mounce, Pastoral Epistles (WBC; Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2000). While he is better known for his ubiquitous Greek Grammar, Mounce has produced a fine commentary on the Pastoral Epistles. His introduction is very well written and is a good overview of the methodological issues which stand behind the problem of authorship. Mounce settles on a form of amanuensis theory to explain the differences between the Pastorals and the other letters of Paul. He includes an excursus on Pseudepigraphy and Canon which is one of the better overviews of the problem I have read. (The introduction is 136 pages; I wish that the Word series would dispense with Roman numerals for introductions when they run this long!) The body of the commentary follows the pattern of the Word series: Bibliography, followed by a fresh translation with textual notes, form/structure, formal commentary and explanation. The Formal commentary is on the Greek text without transliteration, and like the rest of the series, there are no footnotes, all sources are cited in-text. As might be expected, Mounce’s comments on the syntax of the Greek are detailed, but he does not merely identify forms, he consistently draws out theological conclusions based on his exegesis.

Ben Witherington III, Letters and Homilies to Hellenized Christians. Volume 1 (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2006). Witherington’s socio-rhetorical commentary for the Pastoral Epistles was published by IVP rather than Eerdmans, and under the title this more verbose title. If you do not read the subtitles, you might miss the fact that there three volumes are commentaries. They are roughly the same style as the other socio-rhetorical commentaries, providing notes on the English text with Greek transliterated. As with his other similar commentaries, Witherington attempts to read these letters as examples of Greco-Roman rhetoric categories. An interesting wrinkle in this series is that he starts with Titus, rather than 1 Timothy. Usually commentaries start with Timothy and give Titus too little attention. I do find it odd that he includes the letters of John in this volume, making it impossible for me to put the book in a proper place on my OCD shelf.

Conclusion. There are a few books I left off this list to keep it to five.  Even though I slipped a few extras into mix, there are a number of good commentaries I know I have omitted.  What have you found useful?  What is the “classic” every pastor and teacher ought to read?

 

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

Introduction.  There are less special problems when approaching the letters to the Thessalonians than with other Pauline letters. Authorship of 1 Thess is rarely doubted, although 2 Thess is sometimes thought to be written by later writer with a decidedly apocalyptic world view. Another issue which is usually covered in the introductions to these letters is the possibility that the order ought to be reversed. It is well known that the Pauline letters collection is not chronological, but according to size (longest to shortest). Since 2 Thess is shorter and far more apocalyptic, it has been suggested that the order has been reversed when the letters were collected into a “Pauline canon.”

Unfortunately many evangelicals who study 1-2 Thessalonians move too quickly 4:13-5:11. This section concerns eschatology and is the primary text for the Rapture the relationship of this event to the Second coming. There is far more in this letters than “end times” and there is nothing in them that will help predict the end of the world or anything like that. Twice Paul says his purpose is to comfort the church and to encourage them to comfort one another. I believe that these books teach a “Rapture” of some kind, but I would like to find another word for it to separate my belief from the weirdness popular today.

There are two other books which will be very helpful for students of 1-2 Thessalonians.  Karl Donfried and Johannes Beutler edited a collection of essays on methodological issues produced by the SNTS Thessalonian Correspondence Seminar, The Thessalonians Debate (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2000).  The main thrust of these essays is the current popularity of rhetorical analysis of Paul’s letters, a method which has been particularly fruitful for reading Thessalonians.  There are two articles in the collection by Frank Hughes, the scholar who should  be considered an early pioneer of this method.  Donfried’s Paul, Thessalonians, and Early Christianity (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2002) is collection of essays from a variety of sources (journals and festschrifts) written as early as 1974. This is a very useful book since it covers many of the historical and “background” issues commentaries often treat only briefly.

Abraham J. Malherbe, The Letters to the Thessalonians (New Jersey: Doubleday, 2000). Malherbe’s commentary is a detailed exegetical commentary that takes seriously forms of ancient letter writing. He presents Paul as a model letter-writer who follows the standard forms of letter writing in the Greco-Roman world. He illustrates this throughout the commentary by citing other letters that have similar rhetorical style or vocabulary to 1 Thess. His knowledge of this literature is encyclopedic, yet it is not too distracting to the reader interested in Paul’s meaning these letters. This is true even in discussion the “rapture” in 1 Thess 4:17, where he illustrates the use of the word harpazo in non-biblical Greek by Cicero and Seneca. I find his comments on this apocalyptic section excellent, since he works very hard to show how the Rapture (whatever it is) was intended as a consolation for the church, not a scare-tactic to keep the behaving properly. This is a very readable expert-level commentary, with Greek appearing in transliteration.

Charles A. Wanamaker, 1 & 2 Thessalonians (NIGTC; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1996). This was a textbook for a class on Exegesis of Pauline Epistles when I was in seminary. Like Malherbe, Wanamaker makes full use of rhetoric studies to unpack Paul’s argument in the letters. He is guided by Malherbe’s earlier work on rhetoric, Malherbe’s commentary then interacts with Wanamaker’s. His seven page essay on the rhetorical analysis of the letters is a good introduction for those who are new to this approach to Paul’s letters. The body of the commentary is based on the Greek text with no transliteration and all citations are in-text. This is true for the NIGTC in general and makes for a challenging read. Like Malherbe there are numerous comparisons to other Greco-Roman letters, although Wanamaker does not quote them at length.

F. F. Bruce, 1 & 2 Thessalonians (WBC; Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982). It seems strange to say that this commentary is now thirty years old! Bruce is always worth reading, and this early entry in the Word series is an exceptional commentary on the Greek text of the Thessalonian letters. Bruce is an efficient exegete. He comments on the Greek text of these letters briefly yet there is always a depth of understanding. Since Bruce wrote before the explosion of rhetorical studies on Thessalonians, the commentary itself is not concerned with “forms” or style of argument. A particular highlight of this commentary is Bruce’s nine-page excursus on the Antichrist in the context of his commentary on 2 Thess 2:1-12.

Leon Morris, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, Revised Edition (NICNT; Grand Rapids, Mich.: 1991); 1 and 2 Thessalonians, Revised Edition (Tyndale; Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1984); 1 and 2 Thessalonians (Word Biblical Themes; Dallas: Word, 1989). I suppose this should count as cheating on my own rule of “only Five Commentaries,” but all three of these books are from Morris are worth reading. The Tyndale commentary is a revision of Morris’s 1956 commentary in the Tyndale series. Morris covers both books in a mere 152 pages, but does a good job highlighting what is important for reading and understanding the text of these letters. The commentary is based on the English text with Greek appearing in transliteration. The NICNT is also a revision of an earlier volume from the early 1960s. This is definitely the “first off the shelf” commentary. The newer commentary updates the bibliography and interacts with Ernest Best’s work on Thessalonians. The main body of the commentary is based on the English text, Greek and other details are in the notes. It is also worth seeking out Morris’s contribution to the Word Biblical Themes series written in 1989. This is little book is a biblical theology, drawing out several key themes of importance in the letters. I find his comments on the eschatology of 1-2 Thessalonians refreshing, and judging from the underlining in my copy of the book, I have stolen learned a great deal from Morris.

Greg Beale, 1-2 Thessalonians (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2003). This commentary is in the IVP New Testament Commentary series and is intended for pastors and teachers. The body of the commentary is based on the English, with occasional key Greek words appearing in transliteration. All citations are in-text; he interacts with a range of scholarship although it is weighted towards evangelical commentators. Beale treats more technical details in a footnote-like section at the bottom of the page. With respect to eschatology, Beale has a chart summarizing his belief that Paul is commenting on the Olivet Discourse (Matt 24) in his eschatological section (p. 137).

Conclusion. I cheated a bit on this one by including three by Morris and adding the Donfried books in the introduction.  But I did leave off a few very handy commentaries to at appear to obey my own rules – what did I miss?  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

Introduction. The letter to the church at Colossae is one of the lesser-studied books in the Pauline letters. Because it is quite short it can be overshadowed by Romans or 1-2 Corinthians, yet the book has a great deal of theological depth, especially as Paul presents Jesus in the first chapter. A major concern of most commentaries on the book is the Christology. Some find it too advanced and therefore date the book to a later writer within the Pauline circle (similar to Ephesians). This is not necessary, however, since Paul’s view of Christ in Col 1 is quite similar to that of Philippians 2:5-11.

Another unique feature in Colossians is the identity of the “opponent.” Clearly Paul has some false teaching in mind in the second chapter, but there is a wide range of views as to the identity of these agitators. Clint Arnold wrote a monograph on the topic and there are many articles attempting to describe this early defective view. See Arnold’s The Colossian Syncretism: The Interface Between Christianity and Folk Belief at Colossae (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1996).

Colossians Commentaries are often combined with Philemon since the two letters are related. Unfortunately this means that the brief note to Philemon gets tagged to the end of a larger commentary like an appendix and is not given the full treatment it deserves. It also bothers me that I cannot sort my books in canonical order, but that might just be me.

James Dunn, Colossians and Philemon (NIGTC; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1996). Dunn is always interesting to read and the New International Greek Text series is always excellent. Based on the theology of the book, Dunn thinks that the book was not written by Paul, even if it is “Pauline.” The issue of authorship is not as critical an issue as for other books, Dunn refers to the writer as Paul despite expressing doubts that he was the actual author. He is warm to the possibility that the book was written from a hypothetical Ephesian imprisonment, but cannot state this (or any alternative view) with certainty. The opponents addressed by the letter are from the local Jewish synagogue. As Dunn says, to call this a “heresy” is “quite inappropriate” since the “competing philosophy” does not come from within the church. The body of the commentary is based wholly on the Greek text, with detailed lexical and syntactical comments. Dunn is well-versed in Second Temple Period Jewish literature as well as Greco-Roman works and integrates this material into his commentary well. In particular, material from the Dead Sea Scrolls is used to illustrate the “Jewishness” of Paul’s opponents.

Douglas Moo, Colossians and Philemon (PNTC; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2008). Moo’s commentary is fairly traditional with respect to introductory matters (Paul wrote the letter during his Roman imprisonment). He deals with objections to Paul as the author, primarily perceived differences in theology when Colossians is compared with Romans, Corinthians and Galatians. The main problem with non-Pauline authorship, for Moo, is that he is not comfortable with pseudepigraphical authorship. It would be quite remarkable that the author would prohibit lying in 3:9 then claim to be Paul! With respect to the opponent, Moo engages Dunn’s arguments that Paul has a “standard Judaism” in mind. The fact that Colossians lacks the sort of engagement of the Hebrew Bible found in Galatians is a good argument that the opponents are not Judaizers in the Galatians-sense of the word. Moo prefers to see a kind of syncretic philosophy behind the opponents, mixing Judaism and mysticism. The body of the commentary is based on the English text (various translations are compared), Greek words appear transliterated. Moo engages a wide range of scholarship, including Dunn and Wright. The result is a very useful commentary for a pastor or teacher preparing to present Colossians to their congregations.

Peter T. O’Brien, Colossians, Philemon (WBC; Dallas: Word, 1982). O’Brien’s introduction has one of the more detailed survey’s f the “Colossian Heresy,” but since he writes before Wright and Dunn, his section on Judaism as the source of the problem is light. In the end, he sees a Jewish / mystical syncretism as the problem Paul addresses in the letter. With respect to authorship, O’Brien is not particularly dogmatic. While he rejects most of the non-Pauline arguments, he is aware of the problems associated with Paul as the author. He is happy enough to consider the letter authentic, even if Paul was the source and someone else (Timothy) was the author. The body of the commentary is based on the Greek text, all sources are cited in-text (with frequent references to TDNT for lexical studies). As with all the Word series, the bibliography at the head of each section is invaluable, although now twenty years out of date. I would love to see this excellent commentary updated along the lines of Martin’s update to Hawthorne’s Philippians WBC commentary.

N. T. Wright, Colossians and Philemon (TNTC; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1986; now published by Intervarsity, 2008). The Tyndale series has been around for many years, Wright’s little commentary replaces 1960 Tyndale commentary by Herbert Carson. At only 192 pages, Wright’s commentary is brief, yet extremely helpful. The style is stimulating to read and will be helpful for any pastor or teaching preparing a sermon on Colossians. As expected, Wright has a fairly unique view of the Colossian heresy. He thinks that Paul is writing against the same sort of Judaizers he encountered in Galatia, considering Judaism as if it was just another philosophy in the marketplace of ideas of first-century Colossae. (This approach is similar to Dunn’s, Wright’s commentary pre-dates Dunn by a decade). This observation allows Wright to read the letter with the lens of the New Perspective on Paul (pages 24-30 make this point clear). As the commentary progresses, Wright consistently highlight’s Paul’s polemic against Judaism, as opposed to other suggested sources. The commentary is on the English text with occasional Greek appearing in transliteration. There is awareness of other scholarship, but the style of the commentary limits interaction with other commentaries.

Brian J. Walsh and Sylvia C. Keesmaat, Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2004). This is an unusual book, and I was initially hesitant to include it in a list of commentaries. It is an important book to me since this book was the first evangelical post-modern commentary I encountered. In fact, I am not sure I want to call it a commentary in the traditional sense of the word. As the authors imply by the title, they are “remixing” the letter in order to present it to 21st century America. As such, this is part sermon, part commentary, and part prophetic indictment. I recommend a careful study of Colossians, then reading this book from cover to cover – you will be challenged!

Conclusion. Dunn’s commentary is my first choice, but there are others which are worthy of attention. I have not spent sufficient time with Eduard Lohse’s commentary in the Hermenia series. The same is true of Jerry Sumney’s recent volume in the New Testament Library. I like Charles Talbert’s volume in the Paidia series as well.  So, what have I missed?  What “classic” would you add to this list?

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


Introduction. The short book of Philippians is a favorite for many Christians. The book contains one of the most important theological texts in the New Testament, the Christ-Hymn in Phil 2:5-11. Exegesis of this incredible piece of theological worship ought to be central to any commentary on Philippians. Ralph Martin wrote a monograph on this text which surveys recent interpretation of the song and is longer than most commentaries on the whole book (A Hymn of Christ, Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarstiy, 1983, 1997).

Commentaries on Philippians usually deal with the suggestion that the letter combines two (or more) shorter letters. There is a rough transition after 3:1, from warm and friendly to a rather strong polemic against Judaizers. There are many suggested solutions to the problem, usually suggesting some sort of interpolation of one or more shorter letters in the book. Just who these opponents are is an issue related to the date of the book. If the letter comes from an earlier point in Paul’s career rather than from Roman imprisonment, then the opponents may be the same people targeted by Galatians.

Peter T. O’Brien, Philippians (NIGTC; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1991). Like most of the New International Greek Text Commentary, O’Brien’s contribution on Philippians is excellent and well worth the price. He finds interpolation theories lacking, causing more problems than they solve. The book was written by Paul during the Roman imprisonment to thank the church for their support and to warn them against Judaizing false teachers. He proceeds through the Greek text of Philippians phrase-by-phrase without transliteration, making both syntactical and lexical comments. He integrates into the body of the commentary theological observations as he interacts with a wide range of contemporary Pauline scholarship. He includes three short excursuses on the Christ Hymn (which he oddly called appendices). His comments on the phrase “taking the form of a servant” and Isaiah 53:12 are judicious, ultimately rejecting a certain connection between the two texts.

Gerald F. Hawthorne and Ralph P. Martin, Philippians. Revised and Expanded (WBC; Dallas: Word, 2004). Ralph Martin updated the original WBC volume on Philippians by adding to the bibliographies and expanding the explanations at the end of pericopes. Martin is the New Testament editor for the series and has written an excellent monograph on the Christ Hymn, as well as a short commentary on Philippians in the New Century series (Eerdmans, 1976). In fact, this section is where the commentary excels. The bibliography is extensive (up to 2003), the comments on the structure of the hymn are detailed and interact well with contemporary rhetorical studies of the hymn. The comments proceed almost word-by-word through this section since virtually every word has theological importance. There is a brief “review” after the main commentary on 2:5-11 summarizing the exegesis of the six verses.

Moisés Silva, Philippians. Second Edition. (BENTC; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2005). Silva’s commentary was one of the earliest in the Baker series, originally a reprint of the 1988 Wycliffe Exegetical Commentary. The second edition adds two sections to the introduction (“Literary Structure” and “Exegetical History”) and the footnotes are expanded to include scholarship since the first edition was printed. The commentary proceeds phrase-by-phrase, with Greek appearing along with transliteration. Text critical notes are included in “additional comments,” which strike me as longer than in other volumes of this series. In fact, at times these notes look more like a Greek-Text commentary than the main body of the work!

Gordon D. Fee, Philippians. (IVP New Testament Commentary; Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1999). This is the first volume from this series I have included thus far, although it is not because others in the series are weak. For the most part, this commentary is more brief than the others and perhaps for that reason more accessible for the layman or busy pastor. What sets this commentary apart is Fee’s use of the Greco-Roman ideal of friendship as a model for understanding the letter. In this he follows closely the work of Stanley K. Stowers (“Friends and Enemies in the Politics of Heaven” in Pauline Theology edited by J. M. Bassler [Minneapolis: Fortress, 1991]), 105-121 and Ben Witherington, III (Friendship and Finances in Philippi [Trinity, 1994]). The body of the commentary is based on the English text, Greek appears only in transliteration, with only light comments on syntax only when necessary. Fee interacts with other scholars, but for the most part these are his observations on the text. This makes for a very readable commentary which will be quite useful for sermon preparation.

Conclusion. Other commentaries ought to be included I am sure, but I have limited myself to five for this series – what are your favorites? What “classic” should be on every pastor or scholar’s shelf? Moule perhaps?

 

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

Introduction.  Ephesians is a small book which makes a very large contribution to Pauline Theology. Yet one of the first problems one encounters with commentaries on Ephesians is a discussion of authorship. For many contemporary scholars, Ephesians is post-Pauline, perhaps written as a summary of Paul’s theology by a disciple of Paul.  This unknown disciple may (or may not) have been authorized by Paul to write the letter.  Commentaries on Ephesians often have lengthy, complicated surveys of the various options for authorship before settling on either the traditional view that Paul wrote the letter or some form of pseudonymity.

While I do not use Pauline authorship as a litmus-test for a good commentary on Ephesians, it is interesting that three of my choices support the traditional authorship, two do not. Hoehner observes that the scholarship is fairly evenly divided on the issue, although some prefer to remain agnostic on the issue. Others have changed their views over the years, in Lincoln’s case from Pauline authorship to non-Pauline.

Sometimes commentary series will include Ephesians with the other Prison Epistles, usually Colossians, in a single volume. The parallels between Ephesians and Colossians make this a convenient combination. This obviously reduces exegetical details, but also obscures the unique contribution of the letter to the Ephesians. I have given preference to single-volumes on Ephesians here, but there are a few combined commentaries which are also good. Brevity is not necessarily a bad thing in a commentary.

Harold Hoehner. Ephesians (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2002). Hohner’s commentary on Ephesians is magisterial, demonstrating a mastery of the massive secondary literature on Ephesians. At 930 pages, this is the one of the most detailed modern commentaries on Ephesians available. His detailed examination of the Greek text is excellent, yet not overly technical. He steps through the text of the book phrase-by-phrase, with the Greek text provided without transliteration. He makes occasional text-critical observations in footnotes. The commentary has 130 pages of introduction, half of which concerns authorship (including 16 pages of bibliography on authorship alone!) This includes a chart with virtually every major commentary on Ephesians and New Testament introduction indicating whether they are for or against Pauline authorship (up to 2001). He supplements the commentary with a number of excursuses on technical details, particularly good are his comments on “Mystery” (pages 42–34) and “Slavery” (pages 800-4). Both include extensive bibliographies in the notes.

Ernest Best, Ephesians (ICC; T&T Clark, 2004). Best’s commentary on Ephesians is an excellent replacement to the classic ICC volume by T. K. Abbot (Ephesians and Colossians, available free at Google Books). Best is more or less agnostic on authorship, called the author AE (author of Ephesians). This exegetical comments on the Greek text are excellent, perhaps the best example of how a Greek text commentary ought to work. Best does not stop at reading the Greek, however, his comments draw out implications for the theology of the letter. T&T Clark published a Shorter Commentary on Ephesians which reduces the exegetical detail, this version of the commentary would be more helpful for the busy pastor.

Frank Thielman, Ephesians (BENTC; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2010). Thielman is well-known for his book Paul and the Law and a New Testament theology from Zondervan, but this is his first exegetical commentary. He deals with the problem of authorship in only a few pages, finding pseudonymity too unusual in the early Christian community to be a viable option. The commentary follows the user-friendly design of the Baker series, offering exegetical comments on the Greek text with transliteration. Compared to other volumes in the BENTC, Thielman’s commentary has more syntactical detail. I particularly appreciate his use of Greco-Roman sources, especially in the “Household Code” section of the letter.

A. T. Lincoln, Ephesians (WBC; Dallas: Word, 1990). It is perhaps strange to say, but this commentary is the ‘classic” on this list. Lincoln thinks that Ephesians is a reinterpretation of Colossians (page lv), but also that Ephesians draws on other authentic letters of Paul (page lvi). The book was written by a follower of Paul who attempted to summarize Pauline theology for his generation. His assumptions are worked out in the commentary. In his comments on Eph 2:11-22, for example, he points out several parallels to Colossians and argues that Ephesians is an expansion or commentary on the earlier (Pauline) material. This kind of argument is found in the “Form / Structure / Setting” sections standard to the WBC series. The exegesis sections are structured by longer phrases and is not overly technical in matters of syntax. That sort of material is found in the notes on the translation of each pericope. What is most helpful is Lincoln’s frequent comments on the use of the LXX or Hebrew Bible as foundational for understanding the text.

Peter T. O’Brien, Ephesians (PNTC; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1999). O’Brien has written major commentaries on each of the Prison Epistles for different series (NIGTC, WBC) and has contributed much to the study of Paul in recent years. His introduction to Ephesians is more brief than others on this list, but it is quite efficient. He defends a traditional view of Pauline authorship, pointing out that the problems created by pseudonymity are quite difficult, perhaps more so than the problems associated with Pauline authorship. The body of the commentary is based on the English text with Greek commentary relegated to the footnotes, as is the style of the Pillar series. This makes for a readable commentary which will be very helpful for the busy pastor or student preparing to preach the text of Ephesians.

Conclusion. Once again, there are a few good commentaries I was forced to omit to keep it to five.  This give you (the reader) a chance to let me know what you have found useful in your preaching and teaching.  I left off Clint Arnold’s commentary (Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament) simply because I have not used it yet (see Nijay Gupta’s comments here).  This list is “light” in the New Perspective on Paul (is there anything reflecting that view on Ephesians?), and the oldest commentary I list is from 1990 – what “classic” should the student of Ephesians 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

Introduction. Because of the situation behind this letter, Commentaries on Galatians are at the forefront of the discussion in the New Perspective on Paul. Like Romans, the main theological context of Galatians is salvation by grace through faith in Jesus. But what “justified by faith” means is a central point in the New Perspective discussion (see here on the pistis christou issue). A major implication of understanding Judaism in the Second Temple Period better is that the so-Called Judaizers may not be the proto-Pelagians they are often made out to be.

This One Did Not Make the List

Another impact the New Perspective has made on the study of Galatians is the proper understanding of the phrase “works of the Law.” Until recently, this phrase was taken to mean “The Law,” or complete Torah observance. In the light of the publication of 4QMMT and the work of Dunn and Wright, many now take the phrase to mean “boundary markers” which set Judaism apart from other worldviews. These boundary markers are circumcision, food laws, Sabbath observance and monotheism.

An additional complication is placing the letter into a chronology of Paul and the book of Acts. One problem is the relationship of Paul’s own testimony of his visits to Jerusalem and Luke’s reporting in Acts. Is the meeting Paul describes in Galatians 2 the same meeting Luke describes in Acts 15? Where does the so-called Antioch Incident fit into the chronology of Acts? A commentary usually will begin with a lengthy (and sometimes dry) discussion of the South vs. North Galatia theories. While this may seem to the layman to be a rather obscure point, it really is important with respect to the chronology of Paul’s mission, and will effect how the scholar approaches the opponent in Galatia.

Richard N. Longenecker, Galatians (WBC; Dallas: Word, 1990). The introduction is excellent on the various suggestions for understanding the Judaizers, perhaps this essay should be read to orient one’s thinking. Like all commentaries in the WBC, the exegetical sections are based onthe Greek text without any transliteration, all citations are in-text. Longenecker includes several excellent excursuses, “Antioch on the Orontes,” “Abraham’s Faith and Faithfulness in Jewish Writings and in Paul,” and “The Hagar-Sarah Story in Jewish Writings and in Paul” are all particularly good. The last is rich with Jewish sources and very helpful for understanding that difficult passage.

Ben Witherington III, Grace in Galatia (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1998). This commentary is almost worth the price for the introduction alone. (It happens that I agree with much of what he says, so that may color my perceptions just a bit!) I find Witherington’s view of the agitators to be well-written and clear, informed by a dialogue with James Dunn yet not he is not simply parroting “new perspective” ideas. However, the emphasis on Paul’s rhetorical style is less helpful (to me), although it seems as though Witherington makes good use of the Greco-Roman rhetorical styles for interpreting the text. A real highlight in this commentary (and others in the Socio-Rhetorical series) is the section entitled “Bridging the Horizons.” Here Witherington attempts to apply his exegesis of Galatians to contemporary theological issues – how does tihs book really apply to the church today?

Ronald Y. K. Fung, The Epistle to the Galatians (NICNT; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1988). This commentary replaces the venerable NICNT by Herman Ridderbos (1953). That volume was written from a thoroughly traditional perspective, Fung’s approach is biblical-theological, following his teacher, F. F. Bruce. His introduction to the book is excellent, dating the book before Acts 15, written to southern Galatia.  He deals with major arguments for and against this view, creating an efficient and readable argument. Like most of the NICNT series, Greek is relegated to footnotes, permitting the layman or busy pastor to use the commentary without too much difficulty. In fact, some of his footnotes interact with other views in such detail it is hard to imagine why the material was placed there instead of the main  text! I particularly enjoy his “additional comments,” brief excursuses on topics that go a bit beyond the text. I find these brief yet extremely helpful. Fung has written a major Galatians commentary in Chinese, something which I see as extremely promising.

Timothy George, Galatians (NAC; Nashville: Broandman & Holman, 1994). This commentary is a bit different than others in the NAC series in that George is a professor of Theology and Church History. As such, his commentary is a “work of theological exposition” (p. 13). This does not mean that there is no exegesis in the commentary. On the contrary, George’s theological reflections are solidly based on the text of Galatians. Even so, the commentary is rich with observations from classic Reformation and Puritan writers.

Mark Nanos, The Galatians Debate (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2002). Similar to The Romans Debate edited by K. P. Donfried, Nanos’s collection of essays are drawn from a wide variety of journals and collections. Unlike that previous volume, these articles are collected thematically, illustrating various approaches to Galatians: Rhetorical, Epistolary, Autobiographical, and Socio-Historical. Eight essays are devoted to the “Galatian Situation.” I personally have found the four essays under the heading of Socio-Historical approaches to be the most helpful for my own research in the book of Galatians, especially Dunn’s classic essay on the Incident at Antioch (which was revised for Beginning at Jerusalem) and Nanos’s own article on Eating with the Gentiles.

Conclusion. There are a few books I left off this list to keep it to five. (What! No F. F. Bruce?! Where’s J. Louis Martyn ?) I would have liked to include Martinus C. de Boer’s recent commentary from Westminster/John Knox, but I have only recently purchased a copy and have yet to really read enough to make comments. (James Dunn reviewed the book  for RBL). Doug Moo has a commentary coming out in the BECNT series which should be good.  I know a few classics are missing, but that is why I stuck to 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

Introduction. Commentaries on Second Corinthians necessarily must deal with the relationship of the letter to First Corinthians, both in terms of the chronology implied by the letter and the somewhat difficult problem of sources. It is possible, for example, to read the books as containing two or three different letters, Bornkamm saw as many as eight smaller letters in the book! The reasons for this are obvious to the reader of the book, it has a somewhat choppy outline and there are several abrupt changes. If there are interpolations in the book commentators then must ask if came from Paul or another early Christian writer. Paul does mention a “severe letter” and there are several implied visits to Corinth (by Paul, Titus or others). Commentaries can be overly distracted by these issues and do not manage to get to the text of 2 Corinthians.

Another problem all 2 Corinthians commentaries must deal with is the opponents implied by the letter. Who are the “super-apostles” described in chapter 11? Are these the Twelve? Does Paul have in mind non-Christian teachers who are claiming apostolic authority? If so, how are they related to Jerusalem and / or the Judaizers mentioned in Galatians?

Murray Harris, 2 Corinthians (NIGTC; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2005). Harris’s commentary is another excellent contribution in the New International Greek Text series by an expert on the second letter to the Corinthians. He also contributed the commentary on 2 Corinthians for the Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Zondervan, 1976). He has a lengthy introduction dealing with the problem of the sources, concluding that “here are fewer difficulties with the hypothesis of the letter’s integrity” than with any of the suggested theories he surveys (p. 51). The introduction also deals at length with the “painful visit” and Paul’s travel plans. Harris also has a lengthy piece on the opponents of Paul in the letter, surveying all the major suggestions and offer what is (to me) a judicious understanding. He states in summary, “although claiming to be Christian, were in reality ‘Judaizers’” (p. 85). I would recommend this 125 page introduction to anyone wishing to study either of the Corinthian letters. The body of the commentary is a detailed exegesis of the Greek text of the letter, treating lexical and syntactical details. I particularly appreciate his tendency to lay out three or four options before setting on his own. Eerdmans published Harris’s “Expanded Paraphrase” of 2 Corinthians, which is simply the text of the letter.

Ralph P. Martin, 2 Corinthians (WBC; Waco: Word, 1986). This is something of a classic commentary on the letter and one of the better WBC volumes. Word commentaries excel in giving bibliographies at the beginning of sections, Martin’s commentary provides complete bibliographies on exegetical problems (literature on composition issues other than commentaries, for example, or the section on Paul’s vision in 12:1-10). These are complete through the early 1980s and include German and French articles as well as English. The actual commentary follows the format of the series, giving a bibliography for the section followed by textual notes, form/structure, and then the actual commentary. Martin’s brief “explanations” after the commentary draw out implications of the text for a larger Pauline theology.

Colin Kruse, 2 Corinthians (Tyndale, Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1987). I have not included any from the Tyndale series yet, but this slender volume by Kruse is worth reading. Kruse replaced the commentary by R.V. G. Tasker in the Tyndale series (1963), both are handy although exceptionally short compared to Harris. Kruse does a nice job dealing with the composition questions in just a few pages. His comments are on the English text although they reflect the Greek as much as possible. This is a excellent choice for the busy pastor who wants a brief overview of the main problems of a text for preparing a sermon.

David Garland, 2 Corinthians (NAC; Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1999). Garland’s introduction to the letter argues for the unity of 2 Corinthians, although the details of that argument is the commentary itself. He finds a great deal more unity in the letter, and shows that the letter is better understood as we have it in the canonical form. The body of the commentary deals with the Greek via the English text (all Greek is transliterated). He does an exceptional job comparing Paul’s rhetorical style with Greco-Roman orators. Garland’s commentary is in dialogue with major commentaries, but the text is readable and useful for pastor or layman.

Victor Paul Furnish, II Corinthians (AB; Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1984). This is the only commentary on my list that takes a multiple source seriously, suggesting five separate letters as sources for the compilation of 2 Corinthians, although two of his five sources are now lost, a first letter to Corinth prior to the canonical book and the “tearful letter” (letter C). Chapters 1-9 and 10-13 are two separate letters. Furnish also suggests Galatians and chapters 10-13 are composed and sent about the same time, helping to show that the opponents in 10-13 are the Judaizers of Galatians. But these matters should not distract from the value of the commentary, some of Furnish’s “expanded comments” are excellent and shed a great deal of light on the text. Like all Anchor volumes, Greek appears only in transliteration in a “notes” section.

Conclusion.  I was going to only include four commentaries in this list, possibly because I included two by Harris and mentioned both Tyndale commentaries in passing, but thought better of breaking my own rules.   Second Corinthians is perhaps the one Pauline book where I have spent the least time.  I usually deal with “The Corinthian Correspondence ” rather that the second book by itself.  What ought I be reading on this very important book?  What commentaries need to be added to this list?

 

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

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