On Buying New Commentaries

OK, a few disclaimers. This article is likely to be read by almost no one. So why bother to write it? Well, it’s my website and I’ll write if I want to (to paraphrase a 1963 hit pop song by Lesley Gore). So I can indulge myself here, and write about something I at least get excited about, even if no one else does!

And I have proof of this lack of interest. I almost always get comments on my articles, but a piece on theology books I wrote a year ago did not get one comment – not one! So I know this post will lose at least 99.99% of my readers. But there still might be a few commentary and theology fans out there.

So let me run with one of my passions. I quite enjoy good biblical commentaries, especially the academic, scholarly ones. But the expository commentaries I also quite like. I keep singing the praises of Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ 14-volume series on Romans for example. A full tenth of my 6000-volume library is comprised of commentaries.

I thought I was fairly up on new commentaries, but last night I did a quick look on Amazon and discovered a whole host of great new commentaries that have either just been released, or will soon appear. This is great news for commentary lovers, but bad news for people like my wife who will rightly ask, “Where will you fit all these?”

A good question, and one which gets increasingly more difficult to answer. Of course a related question is, “Don’t you have enough books already?” And if that one does not suffice, there is always, “Have you read all the books you already have?”

But I don’t let such trifling matters stand in my way. Of course my dilemma is this: which of these new commentaries do I purchase, and which ones do I regrettably say no to. I am getting on in years, and eventually I will have to figure what to do with this library (and yes, I know that some book vultures are already circling!).

Anyway, here are some of my discoveries. Trent Butler came out with his WBC commentary on Joshua in 1983 – a long time ago admittedly. So when I heard a revised version was coming out, I had a mild interest. Often very little is actually updated in such revisions, so it is hardly worth the money getting the new volume.

Well not in this case. The first edition was a mere 304 pages. The revised work is in fact a two-volume set totalling 1264 pages. Wow, that is the biggest update I have heard of. Now that is a revision! And an expansion. And an enlargement. So that may well be another purchase.

And speaking of sets, once you start a set, you hate to leave it incomplete. Craig Keener’s massive commentary on Acts is one such set. I have the first two volumes, and now see that the third is just out. I will have to grab that one – all 1200 pages of it.

But a fourth volume is still to come. The first two total 2200 pages. Assuming the final volume is of similar size, we are talking well over 4500 pages just on one biblical book. One will need a whole foot of shelving space just to hold these giant tomes. But they are a very solid and thorough work indeed.

Image of The Second Letter to the Corinthians (The Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC))
The Second Letter to the Corinthians (The Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC)) by Seifrid, Mark A. (Author) Amazon logo

My recent thesis work has resulted in a new love of Second Corinthians. So whenever I learn of a new commentary on this epistle, I am ready to spring into action. Thus I am glad to see a new 600-page work by Mark Seifrid in the PNTC series. Looking forward to that one.

As to some other epistles, Jeffrey Weima offers us over 700 pages in his new commentary on 1-2 Thessalonians (BECNT). And in two months a new commentary series (Biblical Theology Christian Proclamation Commentary) will feature Thomas Schreiner on Hebrews (just under 600 pages).

And later next year veteran New Testament scholar Richard Longenecker will have a 1000-page work on Romans available in the important NIGTC series. That should be an invaluable volume. A more modest revision will be the terrific commentary of Gordon Fee on First Corinthians (NICNT). It will expand from the 900 pages of his first 1987 edition to 1050 pages, available as of this month.

As to the gospels, Mark Strauss has a new 800-pager on Mark’s gospel, in the ZECNT series. Moving to the Old Testament, Nancy deClaisse-Walford, Rolf Jacobson, and Beth LaNeel Tanner offer us 1100 pages on the Psalms in the NICOT series.

The century-old ICC series is now having plenty of new volumes added to it. Consider Isaiah. The first 5 chapters are covered in 450 pages by Hugh Williamson. Two more volumes will make up just Isaiah 1-27. John Goldingay has a two-volume, 800-page commentary on Isaiah 40-55 in the same series. At this rate there may be close to a dozen volumes on just this one OT book when completed.

Zechariah will be covered by Mark Boda in the NICOT series later next year in nearly 900 pages. And the three-volume commentary on the Psalms by Allen Ross (Kregel Exegetical Library) will be completed early next year, totalling almost 3000 pages.

And these are just some of the heavy duty commentaries which have just appeared or soon will. Wow, plenty to choose from. Plenty to break the bank as well, not to mention take up every last square inch of space in your house. As I say, I may not get all of these, but certainly some of them I will be very keen on purchasing.

In fact, I think I will zoom down to Koorong right now!

Merry Christmas and happy reading!

[969 words]

42 Replies to “On Buying New Commentaries”

  1. Here’ a comment to say that I did read this article and so that in future you can’t say that this article didn’t get any comments. 😉

  2. A Christmas Present comment 🙂

    The “fun” with choosing commentaries is determining the theology of the writer. Do I want a commentary written by someone who’s “into” Open Theology? No thanks.

  3. Just because people don’t comment doesn’t mean that they are not reading!

    As for your questions…Where will you fit them all? Well, not knowing your house, that’s a bit meaningless to me. Haven’t you enough already? We know that one can never have enough books! Have you read them all? Well, that’s a question that I assume you could easily answer, but you didn’t! Hmmm.

    And I noticed one question missing—perhaps it doesn’t concern you?—”How will you pay for all these new books?”

    I’m not after an answer to that; I’m just intrigued that it wasn’t mentioned as one of the questions your wife would ask.

  4. I thought I was bad, but you take the cake: I am the corner store, you are the Colosseum. I am currently reading BLOOD ON THE ALTAR by Thomas Horn et al, BELIEF AND THE NATION by John Scriven, GALLIPOLI – THE ROAD TO JERUSALEM by Kelvin Crombie, THE VICTORY OF GOD by Rev. James Reid, COURAGE IN A HOSTILE WORLD by David Phillips (not counting a few others laying around on tables).
    You might not call these ‘Commentaries’, but they all, in their own way, comment on Christianity and the world. Merry Christmas.

  5. Thanks Adrian. As far as I know, none of the open theologians (Pinnock, Rice, Sanders, Basinger, Boyd, etc.), have written any biblical commentaries. So nothing to worry about so far!

  6. Aww Bill, I read every single thing you write! Yes, this one was a little dry for me, but then again it is cute to hear your enthusiasm!! 😉

  7. Yeah, Bill, I did suspect that you made your comment mainly so as to provoke responses! 🙂 But I think it proved my point: a lack of comments doesn’t mean a lack of readers!

  8. Hi Bill,
    I only have a mere 1,400 e-books on my computer – about 200 of them would be commentaries. They are in my Logos library. You should get Logos it’s very convenient and you can take your whole library wherever you go. Plus they are searchable, and you don’t get tennis elbow from turning the pages.

  9. I have to comment 😉 and say that Matthew Henry’s commentary on the Bible is the most enlightening thing I’ve ever read.

  10. I’m looking forward to Longenecker’s NIGTC volume on Romans. It will be hard to beat Cranfield’s 2 volume set in the ICC series though–that sets the standard for Romans and nothing else I’ve seen comes even close.

  11. How about http://www.preceptaustin.org/ ?

    I have just recently found this site which opens the good , the bad and the ugly of all commentaries. There is plenty of Spurgeon, Martin LLoyd Jones, Matthew Henry to choose from.

    David Skinner UK

  12. Hi Bill

    It’s always difficult to go past the depth and heart of Martin Lloyd Jones. I don’t have the 14 volume series on Romans – its always been on my wish list, but I do have some other commentaries by him as well as the excellent book Preaching & Preachers. The Pillar series are also excellent. It is also good that some of the commentaries from earlier authors are being reprinted. I love the heart of J.C.Ryle and have several of his also. In general I have tended to follow authors rather than specific series. I’m looking forward to following some of your tips when I am next in the market for commentaries.

  13. Argh! Thousands of pages – too much for me, I’m sorry, Bill.

    I think I will hide behind the words of The Preacher in Ecclesiastes… or
    “books fall on me, shelves hide me from the wrath of loquacious writers!”
    🙂

  14. I generally like the NICOT/NICNT series of commentaries but for Christmas my Mum bought me a commentary on Mark by RT France in the NIGTC series. First impressions are that it looks very good, so it lOOKS like I may have to buy some more in that series. Have you any views on the Hermeneia series? I have had Robert Jewett’s Hermeneia commentary on 1 Corinthians recommended to me, but it generally seems quite expensive in the UK.

  15. You’re right, Bill. Found this one a bit dry. I look for your blogs every day – usually several times a day. You write some pretty challenging stuff which is great. The extent of my commentaries is a one volume book “Commentary On The Whole Bible” by Jamieson, Faucett and Brown. Invariably, I have found that when looking for their take on passages a little difficult to understand, they have skimmed over them, probably putting them in the too hard basket. GRRR! So frustrating. I suppose that is one of the advantages of having a number of commentaries. Hopefully someone will be brave enough to have a go at explaining the difficult passages.

  16. Hi Bill, I appreciate your article of Commentaries.
    I always read your Book Reviews and they good value indeed. Sorry for not having written a response each time.
    I am looking to get my hands on a set of Romans Commentary by Martyn L Jones. Any ideas?
    Also looking for tips on Ecclesiastes commentaries.
    So kindly keep writing and updating us on Commentaries.

  17. Thanks David. I only have a few from the Hermeneia series. As I mentioned in a related article, my commentary choices are rather selective: featuring those mostly from conservative/evangelical scholars, whereas the Hermeneia series features many more liberal writers.
    See my comment above and the links, where I discuss my commentary selection criteria.

    And yes it is a very expensive series, as is the ICC eg.

  18. Thanks Alex. It is getting a bit hard to get the whole Romans set by MLJ – at least in any sort of affordable fashion. I got my set by getting individual volumes from here and there.

    Australians have this great resource to use in this regard: https://booko.com.au/

  19. Bill, I think you’ve finally convinced me of the need to buy some serious commentaries. I have books by some good people (Bruce, Packer, Stott, Lloyd-Jones, Motyer etc), but there is a need to dig deeper and, I hope, find answers to some of my nagging queries and puzzles.

    It will also involve digging deeper into my retirement funds! Oh well (to paraphrase Lesley Gore a bit further): It’s my money and I’ll buy if I want to!

  20. Another “just so you know someone read this entry” 🙂
    Also-just “discovered” you today in an article about people leaving the church & another on Hillsong/homosexuality issue. Wow! Printed that one out!
    I appreciate what you have to say! Happy New Year!

  21. About Kindle versus a real book – I love both. The Kindle gets a work out while travelling. So much easier to carry a library that way. At home, it’s a blend of both, but a book under the covers is always nicer than the Kindle, even if the light of the Kindle is easier to read by.

  22. I am reminded of an anecdote concerning some theology students who were told by their lecturer that is was highly recommended to read the Book of Isaiah first: Then they might understand what the commentaries were talking about!

    Reading the Holy Scriptures first is critical to understanding them properly. Nonetheless, Bill, many of your readers have also been blessed by reading good commentaries on Holy Scripture: Both the “scholarly” and the “devotional” ones.

    As an inveterate bibliophile, myself, I count you most blessed to possess a formidable personal library, with whose pages you have apparently more than a considerable and thorough acquaintance!

  23. Talking about getting on in years, some people are still trying to give me books, especially commentaries. So far downsizing over a few years has been almost equalled by upsizing. And I still buy books. I even managed to give away some of my Greek books, but the weight of those remaining greatly exceeds the weight of those given away. My executors will just have to deal with the problem.

    As for Kindle- we are talking about books here.

  24. Since I live in San Diego, I went to the ETS/SBL conferences (I am just an interested layman) and they had all the academic book publishers there. The newest editions of the WBC seemed like they were the best sellers. I saw many a famous theologian (at least to me) standing in line to buy these.

    Also Mike Heiser listed books that he wanted to buy from the conference here http://drmsh.com/2014/11/26/thoughts-on-ets-sbl-aar-2014/ . Not sure if you know who Mike is but any academic book he thinks is worth reading might be worth checking out depending on one’s interest on the subject.

  25. Dear Bill,

    I have read this column but I won’t be buying or reading any of the work you mention. I will leave them to people like yourself [ha ha]. I will just be happy if I can continue reading your interesting website next year and make occasional comments.A Happy New Year to you and your family.

  26. Hi Bill, thanks,
    With commentaries it is a little like playing with fire. One has to know how to handle them.

    One problem is, as John Wigg suggests, is that we, if we are being lazy, can read the commentaries without proper study of the Bible itself and waiting on the Holy Spirit to reveal the truths.

    If we only use one commentary, even a good one, we can be tempted to stereotype our thoughts to that. Having a “nation” of commentaries helps us overcome this for we are reminded, amidst all the good thoughts, that those same commentaries are indeed just that, with respect, men’s comments.

    I believe God has shown me things, that I have never heard or read. I have then gone to the commentaries to see what they have said. Recently I have found two commentaries that agree with and explain my view, and that is after some years of (very casual) searching.

    The best example I have of this is the “problem” in Hebrews 9.3-4 where the altar of incense is “in” the Most Holy place behind the veil. Many of the commentaries didn’t comment on this issue and many have copied each other by saying that it is talking about the censer.

    There is a wonderful key here, and that is that the greek word “echo”, normally translated as “having”, here takes on the meaning of “belonging” or” pertaining to”. The altar of incense then, is in the Holy Place standing expectantly before the veil, because it really belongs in the Most Holy.

    I could go on. Unpacking this idea is fantastic and has symbolic implications for us as we wait for the final veil of mortality to be lifted.

  27. Bill

    For someone who is just starting their commentary library, and is a layperson studying for personal interest, would I also consider your recommendations in the 4 links from 2010 that you posted above in your reply?

    I’m interested moreso in the expository commentaries for both the OT and NT. I’m also of the evangelical/conservative persuasion.

    Could you recommend a set, or a series, or one-of?

    Appreciatively
    Deb (who lives in the adjacent suburb to Koorong, and has a rewards voucher burning a hole in her pocket)

  28. Thanks Deb. Yes the 4 links I provide in a comment above would be the place to begin.

    The OT and NT lists are now a bit dated – if you want newer recommendations for particular books let me know.

    Then you need to answer two further questions: what sort of budget do you have, and what exact sort of commentaries are you after? While only you know the answer to the first question, I can help you with the second. See the link to this piece for more on various sets, various prices, various types of commentaries, etc.:

    https://billmuehlenberg.com/2010/07/14/how-to-pick-a-good-commentary/

    As I say there, things like the TOTC/TNTC series are good for more limited budgets. Ideally you want at least one good commentary for each book of the Bible. A one-volume commentary covering the whole Bible is rather limited. Sets can be uneven, and sometimes going with known authors rather than just one series/set is the way to go.

    If you want to go a bit crazy, you can, for example, get the 5000-page, 14-volume expository commentary set on Romans by ‘The Doctor’:

    https://billmuehlenberg.com/2013/02/27/5000-pages-on-romans-by-the-doctor/

  29. Hi, Bill

    Thanks for your input, I really appreciate it (as does my wallet!)

    I’m only interested in reading commentaries for my own personal study and I’m looking for the meaning and message in its context, and what it means to us today. Would that be exegetical or expository in nature?

    Think of my budget as akin to a students – barely there.

    I have started my commentary library (more or less), with the following:

    The two vol. series (OT and NT) “The IVP Bible Background Commentary” (Walton, Matthews & Chavalas for the OT, and Craig Keener for the NT),

    The NT “BE” Series (I.E. Bible Exposition Commentary) by Warren Wiersbe,

    The two vol. series (OT and NT) “The Wiersbe Bible Commentary” Warren Wiersbe, and

    One vol. John MacArthur Bible Commentary (now noted that these one vol’s are more or less redundant – rookie error).

    I’m hoping they at least take care of the introductory material on authorship, place and date of writing, historical and cultural setting, etc.,

    I noted WBC is on sale for $540 AUD on (dare I say…) Logos (software), which I have, and if you feel this meets my needs, I’m happy to start with that set.

    In saying that, though, I’d prefer to shell out twice that on commentaries which are current. What do you think then of the WBC in light of that? Is it a great deal for a beginner layperson?

    I hear you, re: better off going for the author rather than a complete series (with a few noted exceptions, incl. the above-mentioned WBC). In your list of budget series, is there one that is more up-to-date than the WBC (although I noted from your OT & NT recommendations that WBC is an outstanding performer!)

    I noted from another of your readers that one can listen to approx. 1600 sermons by ‘The Doctor’ here: https://www.mljtrust.org/collections/book-of-romans/ (I think, considering my budget, I’ll be doing a lot of listening).

    And I just came across the following link to Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ 14 volume set on Romans in MP3 format:

    https://www.monergism.com/exposition-romans-mp3-series-dr-martyn-lloyd-jones

    Thanks again for your input – most helpful – a beacon to floundering in a sea of too-much-information.

    Regards
    Deb

  30. Thanks Deb. For personal study one need not have over 600 commentaries as I do! A good collection of various expository commentaries (which are based on good exegesis) will do, and there are various ones to choose from. Most come from sermons’ series pastors have preached. Good Bible teachers like MacArthur and Wiersbe offer good, more popular level commentaries. Others who are quite good at all this (besides “The Doctor”) would include James Montgomery Boice and R. C. Sproul.

    There are now several series of expository commentaries, including the Preach the Word series, and the Reformed Expository Commentary series. The PTW volumes can be fairly good sized (the volume on Matthew eg., is 1100 pages), and because they are hardbacks, they can be a bit pricey.

    The more scholarly, critical commentary series would include NIC, WBC, BENCT, PNTC and ZECNT. They are all bigger volumes, hardbacks and a bit more expensive. All can be quite good, although there can be some uneven patches in each series. And they may be a bit much for “a beginner layperson”.

    I have not liked WBC quite as much in part because of its somewhat messy format. It divides each pericope into at least 6 parts (bibliography, translation, notes, form/structure/setting, comment, and explanation) which can make it a bit less easy to follow than some of the other series.

    Also, one has to decide if one is happy with electronic versions. They have their advantages (you sure do not need heaps of bookshelves, they are cheaper, etc), but old schoolers like myself tend to consider things other than an actual book in the hand to be heresy (just kidding). But not a bad price for the whole 60 or so volume set (when I last looked there were still a few biblical books remaining to be covered by WBC).

    I might hold off on that for just now – there may be more such sales in the future. And as I said, getting at least one commentary per each of the 66 biblical books can be worth working toward. But some books you will want more than one (eg Genesis, Isaiah, John, Romans, Ephesians, etc). Most folks would think one commentary on Ecclesiastes for example is quite sufficient (I happen to have a dozen – but then again, I have over 2 dozen on Matthew, on Romans, etc).

    But the NIBC, BST and TOTC/TNTC series are also quite good, but shorter and cheaper (paperbacks). So they are a bit of a mini version of their heavyweight cousins (NIC, etc).

    I was at Koorong today – got a few more volumes. If you lived in Melbourne I could provide you with a theological tour!

    Happy reading!

  31. Thanks, Bill!

    I wish I lived in Melb – wouldn’t that have been a treat! My own professional tour guide!! 😉

    I think I’ll take your advice and for now stick to the expositional commentaries. If I wish to go deeper, I can always go down the more technical/academic track then.

    Bill, you mentioned directly above James Montgomery Boice and R. C. Sproul. Would that be in any particular format/publication?

    Do you recommend any of the expository series over and above the others should a person only wish to purchase one series (different OT and NT series are fine) that would last them in their personal studies for several years? I’d be looking for the most up-to-date, objectively accurate, indepth – giving one a fair amount of knowledge. I would be keen to read one that wasn’t any particular denomination (Reformist, etc.), if that were possible.

    On the more academic level, I had previously purchased the NIVAC Pentateuch bundle when it was on special recently at Koorong (you may have missed it, it was in eBook format :O). I see that series is a hit with you in the recommended OT commentaries, scoring with a whopping 17 separate books – so that was a fortunate buy.

    I started reading Genesis last night. I’m guessing that a lot of people would be concerned to find a lot of the similarities between Genesis 1-11 and the mythological stories mentioned, such as: The Tale of Adapa, The Atrahasis Epic, et al. I know I was. I’ll continue reading more tonight.

    Bill – you need to be congratulated on having an “open door” policy here – it’s wonderful that anyone can ask you a question, and you do your utmost to help them.

    Thank you – I appreciate your insight and recommendations.

    Regards
    Deb

  32. Thanks Deb.

    As to Boice and Sproul (both Reformed in outlook), they have done a number of expository commentaries based on their sermons. Boice, who died in 2000, has inexpensive paperbacks on these books:
    Genesis, 3 vols
    Joshua
    Nehemiah
    Psalms, 3 vols
    Daniel
    Minor Prophets, 2 vols
    The Gospel of John, 5 vols
    The Gospel of Matthew, 2 vols
    The Sermon on the Mount
    The Parables of Jesus
    Romans, 4 vols
    Ephesians
    Philippians
    The Epistles of John
    They are all quite good.

    Sproul, who is still alive, has his series called the St Andrews Expository Commentary (hardbacks):
    Matthew
    Mark
    John
    Acts
    Romans
    1-2 Peter
    They are also all quite good.

    The only set of expository commentaries which is getting close to covering all 66 biblical books is the PTW series I mentioned earlier. These volumes are all quite good, but big hardbacks so more expensive.

    Yes NIVAC is good, but some volumes are better than others. It contains good exegesis along with practical application.

    Always happy to talk books, theology and commentaries!

  33. Thanks for that info, Bill.

    Quick question.

    You mentioned in your reply above (12th May), “But some books you will want more than one (eg Genesis, Isaiah, John, Romans, Ephesians, etc). Most folks would think one commentary on Ecclesiastes for example is quite sufficient (I happen to have a dozen – but then again, I have over 2 dozen on Matthew, on Romans, etc).”

    Would that apply to personal study also? If yes, would you mind listing all the books?

    Thanks, Bill

  34. Thanks again Deb. While every book in the Bible is vitally important because each one contains the inspired word of God, even for personal study some books you may spend more time in than others. Romans for example is such a crucial NT book, covering so many key doctrinal issues. Plus some books are simply much bigger than others, so will warrant more attention if for that reason alone. But in part it depends on some of your preferences. If you are interested in the problem of suffering for example, then you will want to give a lot of attention to the book of job. If you like to study about the early church you will want to spend a lot of time in the book of Acts. So it partly depends on what you are keen on studying at the moment. But specialised studies should be on top of your daily reading to get you through the Bible in year (just over three chapters a day will do that).

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