The Best of the New Testament Commentaries

“Commentaries too often replace our need to hear from God,” an older minister once told me. He was right in the sense that our devotional reading of the Bible is never out of vogue. On the other hand, for background insights and a richer perspective of context, the learning provided by experts can be extremely helpful. Most of their work is very readable and affordable. So, here’s my take on some of the best commentaries available for the books of the New Testament.

Matthew: Craig Blomberg’s New American Commentary (NAC) provides a very accessible and condensed work full of practical applications from a seasoned expert. Dick France’s contribution to the New International Commentary on the New Testament series (NICNT) provides great detail and thorough insights, although his shorter version in the Tyndale New Testament Commentary (TNTC) series may be a less expensive alternative. D.A. Carson’s Expositor’s Bible Commentary (EBC) volume is solid and strong but it incorporates work on Mark and Luke, making it either a little too expensive for what you want or a great value-added buy, depending on your perspective.

Mark: James Edwards’ contribution to the Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC) collection offers great theological insights and useful asides, rather than emphasising verse-by-verse exegesis. This is a great help, given the Roman world of Mark’s original audience, and it still has many practical applications from the Greek text. William Lane’s work from the NICNT series, though a little older, provides an exhaustive treatment of the key passages and remains an invaluable ‘go-to’ resource.

Luke: Darrell Bock’s work on Luke (and Acts) in the Baker Exegetical Commentary (BEC) series is outstanding in its detail, but Bock’s shorter NIV Application Commentary (NIVAC) is cheaper and more practically-focused. It’s hard to go past the NICNT work of the new series editor, Joel Green, for the attractiveness of its social perspective and narrative style in unpacking the theological and historical wealth in Luke’s writing.

John: D.A. Carson’s PNTC volume is widely considered the stand-out work on this biblical book, giving great exegesis in a readable form. Once again, the NICNT offers a gem with the work of late Melbourne scholar, Leon Morris, who engages well with the text and the key issues in his updated edition. Craig Keener’s two-volume work, published by Baker, provides thorough treatment of the theology and background of the book.

Acts: It is hard to go past the exhaustive 4,440-page, four-volume exegetical commentary of Craig Keener, again published by Baker, which offers many pages on some of the key texts. His work offers atypical sympathetic treatment of Pentecostal viewpoints. For a different take that presents detailed social perspectives of the first century church, the acclaimed “socio-rhetorical commentary” of Ben Witherington III is well worth reading, despite not being a verse-by-verse analysis.

Romans: Douglas Moo’s NICNT contribution is the leading work on this book, and argues the key issues carefully with reference to other views. Leon Morris’s PNTC volume takes a similar approach. For those wanting a more technical perspective, Cranfield’s older International Critical Commentary (ICC) gem is a Romans classic, but his essential thoughts are incorporated into the user-friendly ‘shorter commentary’ (published by Eerdmans).

1 Corinthians: For some time now, Gordon Fee’s NICNT volume has been the universally-acclaimed authority on this biblical book. Its thorough application of the text is useful on any consideration of church practice. The NIVAC work by on this text by Craig Blomberg is another highly useful addition to any collection and, in the style of the series, it bridges to contemporary contexts comprehensively. The shorter and cheaper TNTC contribution of Leon Morris gives an excellent overview with a great balance of exegesis and practicality.

2 Corinthians: Colin Kruse offers a concise summary of the book’s key issues in his TNTC work, but the older Word Biblical Commentary (WBC) text by Ralph P. Martin presents a more exhaustive technical treatment. Perhaps a better balance is struck by David Garland’s NAC work which will be more readable for most.

Galatians: The NAC work of Timothy George is a very helpful theological, rather than exegetical, treatment of Galatians. Scot McKnight’s NIVAC text gives a practical and pastoral approach to the book. (Martin Luther’s commentary on Galatians may also be of historic interest to some and Ronald Fung’s NICNT contribution is also very thorough.)

Ephesians: The classic work of John Stott, from the Bible Speaks Today (BST) series is a very rich and straightforward (though older) devotional examination of the text. S. M. Baugh’s new offering from the Evangelical Exegetical Commentary (EEC) series is a very insightful and technical work that remains pastoral in its overall style. Peter O’Brien’s PNTC quality volume has been needlessly withdrawn from circulation due to some inadvertent examples of plagiarism in the companion work on Hebrews; this one has some very helpful thoughts on key passages (such as Ephesians 4:12 which seems clearer and more accurate than in Baugh.)

Philippians: Gordon Fee provides another great work in the NICNT series. His volume on Philippians is practical and readable, despite being detailed. Frank Thielman follows a similar approach to his NIVAC work but those looking for technical detail might consider Peter O’Brien’s New International Greek Testament Commentary (NIGTC) to be a worthwhile investment (noting, however, the high price tag of this series.)

Colossians and Philemon: Often bundled, these two books are perhaps best covered by Peter O’Brien in his WBC volume, but a more straightforward and shorter treatment is found in N. T. Wright’s TNTC work or even in the older, but sound, writing of F. F. Bruce in the NICNT series.

1 & 2 Thessalonians: Gordon Fee scores again with his NICNT work that addresses key textual issues, and F. F. Bruce’s WBC volume, the shortest in this technical series, is a highly-valued and quite readable text. Gene Green’s PNTC contribution provides thorough treatment of some of the most difficult passages.

1 & 2 Timothy, Titus: The Pastoral Epistles are treated with perhaps the best balance of detail and readability in Philip Towner’s NICNT volume, although Gordon Fee’s writing is concise and practical in the New International Biblical Commentary (NIBC) series.

Hebrews: The NIGTC writing of Paul Ellingworth provides an exhaustive exegesis. For most needs, F. F. Bruce’s classic NICNT volume will suffice. An older, but simpler, summary of the key textual issues is found in William Lane’s Hebrews: A Call to Commitment, published by Hendrickson. (We have sadly been deprived of Peter O’Brien’s excellent treatment of this book in the PNTC series given that it was withdrawn after his admission to a few examples of unintentional plagiarism.)

James: The PNTC work of Douglas Moo gives outstanding detail and practicality on this text and the simpler NIBC volume of Peter Davids achieves similar outcomes in a more condensed offering. Scot McKnight’s NICNT treatment helpfully surveys other literature related to the text.

1 Peter: The IVP New Testament Commentary (INTC) volume of I. Howard Marshall provides a brief and accurate treatment of the key issues in the text from a seasoned scholar, but Peter Davids’ NICNT volume is larger and therefore more thorough (as with Thomas Schreiner: see 2 Peter below.)

2 Peter & Jude: The INTC work of Robert Harvey and Philip Towner is very accessible, but so is the more detailed coverage of Thomas Schreiner in the NAC series, inclusive of its helpful theological reflections.

1, 2 & 3 John: I. Howard Marshall’s NICNT volume on the Johannine epistles is an older but still highly-valuable work, perhaps surpassed by Colin Kruse’s PNTC text for a balance of theological insight and exegesis. More readable and affordable is the NAC offering of Daniel Akin.

Revelation: The choice of commentary here may depend on a preferred interpretive lens. Though an amillennial idealist, G. K. Beale presents perhaps the most exhaustive treatment of the book in his NIGTC text. The well-received BEC volume from Grant Osborne is from a historic premillennial perspective. One that avoids overcommitting is Leon Morris’s shorter TNTC work. A great approach to jointly considering all views on Revelation comes from the parallel commentary of Steve Gregg (published by Nelson) or the similar offering Reading Revelation, by C. Marvin Pate.

It is obvious, from this summary, that the New International Commentary on the New Testament offers one of the best all-round series (despite still not having its proposed volume on 2 Peter & Jude in print). The Pillar New Testament Commentary and New American Commentary series, though, are also detailed and pastorally helpful for a wide readership. The Brazos Theological Commentary series prefers the use of historians and theologians to biblical scholars and gives a refreshingly different perspective.

The Tyndale New Testament Commentary or the New International Biblical Commentary series are cheaper and more concise alternatives that are still highly useful for anyone on a budget. Even simpler is N.T. Wright’s practical and well-received eighteen-volume New Testament for Everyone series or the wonderful two-volume Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary (a summary of the Expositor’s Bible Commentary). I would also recommend either the English Standard Version or New International Version study bibles to offer a handy everyday reference for devotional or casual reading.

For a helpful website evaluating most of the major commentaries on each biblical book, with links to Amazon reviews, see Best Commentaries. My assessments here won’t necessarily match the views of their wider readership but, as stated at the outset, this list (and any list) is necessarily subjective.

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