Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Bible Commentaries 2

Part 1 | Part 3 | Individual Books

OK - this time I'm aiming to make a start on talking about hardback series of Bible commentaries.

NIV Application Commentaries

In some ways, these belong with the paperback commentaries, though some of them can get quite big. They're generally aimed at people who have to do preaching or teaching without knowledge of the original language. They tend to have sections for each passage on "Original Meaning", "Bridging Contexts" and "Contemporary Significance". That makes them not really ideal for devotional work, and sometimes a bit too much like predigested food for my liking when preaching. They often don't have much technical detail at all, but sometimes really engage with all the critical issues and stuff very well.

Having said that, if you're in a hurry, or don't have the background or training (or whatever) to figure out how to apply a passage in general terms, I'd imagine they are really useful. They've also done a very good job of selecting the authors - they are regularly the best easily accessible commentary on each book, especially in the Old Testament. The NIVAC commentaries on Psalms 1-72 and on Ecclesiastes are the best commentaries of any level that I've found on those books.

One tip for finding very good "heavy" commentaries - find out who wrote the NIVAC, and see what else they've written on that book...

Expositor's Bible Commentary

As series go, this is a real wildcard entry. Some of the commentaries (e.g. Carson on Matthew) are really good. Some are little more than a poor imitation of the Tyndale style. But they publish them in big books containing several commentaries of vastly unequal length and quality. For example, Carson's Matthew fills over half a book, with shorter commentaries on Mark and Luke tagged onto the end. But it's often possible to get them fairly cheap. I've certainly read comments on one of the commentaries saying something like "You should get this commentary, but only because it's in the same volume as vanGemeren's commentary on Psalms."

Pillar New Testament Commentaries

Take a good and well-respected evangelical scholar. Get them to write a good Tyndale-style NT commentary (verse by verse exposition, attention paid to original languages but explained clearly in English, good application of verses and passages, detail on structure of the book), but remove the limit on how much space they can take up within a single-volume commentary, go bigger and hardback and you have the Pillar Series. It's one of the best all-round series of commentaries - they even get commentaries in the series re-written if they aren't up to the high standards, and the series isn't nearly complete yet. Pretty much every commentary in the series is among the best on that book of the Bible.

There is an equivalent series in the OT - the Apollos OT commentaries. I think only three of the series have come out thus far, of which one didn't look great, and I've had one which is meant to be great (McConville on Deuteronomy) on order for several months because the print runs are never big enough for it. [Edited to add - I've got it; it was worth the wait]

New American Commentary

The space limits on the Tyndale series caused problems in the Old Testament (with a few exceptions). That kind of gap in the market seems to be filled quite well by the larger New American Commentaries. One of the big problems with the series is that they're published in the US, so are quite rare over here so difficult to look at beforehand. But they're cheap from Amazon due to a strong pound and weak dollar. The ones I've seen so far (Exodus and Judges especially) seem very good.

There is a New Testament series too, but the only one I've looked at didn't seem quite up to the standards of the Pillar series or the like. They are American, which is a mixed blessing. I've heard the series gets weird when it gets to eschatological stuff, and I don't know what they do with Genesis either.

Calvin's Commentaries

I really ought to mention these, for several reasons. One, they're available free on the Internet. Two, even though they're 450 years old, they're often still among the best commentaries. The bits I'm less keen on are where he tries harmonising books, which misses the point of having four gospels rather than one (for example), and means that he doesn't deal with the structural stuff as well.

On the other hand, if you want old commentaries, they're great. I've heard that Origen's commentary on the Song of Songs is really good too, and that's over 1700 years old....

Still to come...

I've still got to talk about the heavyweight commentaries (which I'm roughly defining as the ones which often go to multiple hardback volumes on a single book of the Bible or which require specialist knowledge of the language) such as NIC, Word, NIGTC, ...


Tyler F. Williams said...

Good post. You may want to check out my Old Testament Commentary Survey for specific recommendations within all of the different series. I also often blog on newly released commentaries as well.

Daniel Hill said...

Any thoughts on the Crossway Classic Series or the Geneva Series (BoT)? Or how about the Welwyn series (EP)? Wilson's and Hendrickson's series (both BoT) on the NT may also be worth mentioning.

John said...

My experience of the Geneva series is that have similar strengths and weaknesses to Calvin's commentaries, but they're often longer and not always quite as insightful.

Never used Crossway Classic, Welwyn, Wilson's, Hendrickson's.