Here is a rough list of commentary series that I recommend for academic interpretation. I am not endorsing the opinions in any particular volume, and I am also not minimizing the value of commentaries that are non-academic. Those are often excellent for personal devotional study and for some small-group studies in your local church. What makes a commentary “academic”?
- It provides evidence-based arguments to support the author’s interpretations. She or he does not simply assert things and expect the reader to accept them on her or his authority.
- It interacts with a broad range of opinions about the text, not just the opinions of a particular church or theological tradition.
- It is reasonably well-informed and up-to-date on the cultural and historical context of the text. Unfortunately, much of the well-established history of the first-century remains unknown to many popular commentary writers, and they often (unwittingly) pass on a distorted picture of the first-century world.
We use commentaries like this because we want to be able to weigh the evidence for and against a particular reading of a New Testament passage, including evidence furnished by historians and archaeologists in related fields. So for academic study you will often find that the most useful commentaries are the ones whose conclusions you disagree with! Those are often the ones that will push us to recognize that other people read the text differently than we do, and prompt us to look carefully at the evidence supporting each reading.
The level of technical detail in these commentaries varies from series to series. I rate their here on a scale from 1-3, with 1 being a series aimed primarily for intermediate students and pastors and 3 being a series aimed primarily at scholars or advanced students.
Academic Commentary Series in English
Again, I’m not necessarily endorsing the conclusions in these commentaries. In most series I agree more with some volumes than with others. But these series will give you the kind of discussion and information you need to think critically about the text’s meaning.
- Baker Exegetical Commentaries (2)
- Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible (1)
- Believers Church Bible Commentary (1)
- Black’s New Testament Commentary (2)
- Cambridge Bible Commentary (1)
- A Continental Commentary (2)
- Eerdmans Critical Commentary ???
- Epworth Commentaries ???
- Hermeneia (3)
- Holman New Testament Commentary ???
- International Critical Commentary (3)
- Interpretation (1)
- IVP New Testament Commentary (1)
- New American Commentary (1)
- New Century Bible Commentary (1)
- New Collegeville Bible Commentary (1)
- New International Biblical Commentary (1)
- New International Commentary on the New Testament (2)
- New International Greek Testament Commentary (3)
- New Interpreter’s Bible (1)
- New Testament Library (2)
- Paideia New Testament Commentary (2)
- Pillar New Testament Commentary (2)
- Reading Matthew, Reading Mark, etc. (1)
- Readings, A New Bibilical Commentary (2)
- Sacra Pagina (2)
- Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (1)
- The People’s Bible (1)
- Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (1)
- Word Biblical Commentary (2-3)
- Wisdom Commentary ???
- Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (2)
Individuals with Several Academic Commentaries outside a Series
- Ben Witherington III (2)
- C. K. Barrett (2)
- David de Silva (2)
- Robert Gundry (2)
Good Series Collecting the Interpretation of the Early Church
- Ancient Christian Commentaries (1)
- The Church’s Bible (1)
- Calvin’s Commentaries (1)
Series To Be Used With Caution
These series attempt to bridge academic study with devotional reading, with mixed success. They can sometimes be excellent resources. In other cases they are too superficial or rely on outdated information about history, culture, etc.
- NIV Application Commentaries
- Expositor’s Bible Commentary
- SIL International Exegetical Summaries
- Story of God Bible Commentary
Series or Writers that I Do Not Recommend for Academic Study
Again, the point is not that these commentaries are bad. It’s just that they don’t help much with the academic task of evaluating the various interpretations of a text based on the evidence for each one. When you’re reading for an academic term paper, then, avoid these series or writers:
- Barclay’s Daily Study Bible
- Beacon Bible Commentary
- Boice Expositional Commentary (James M. Boice)
- Warren Wiersbe
- John Stott
- John MacArthur
- Moffatt New Testament Commentary
- William Hendriksen and/or Simon Kistemaker (New Testament Commentary)
- The Pulpit Bible
For Those Who Read German . . .
- Evangelisch-Katholischer Kommentar zum Neuen Testament (EKK)
- Herders Theologischer Kommentar zum Neuen Testament (Herder)
- Kritisch-Exegetischer Kommentar über Das Neue Testament (KeK)
- Papyrologische Kommentar zum Neuen Testament (PKNT)
Do you think I’ve missed a good one? Leave a comment to suggest it!