What commentaries should you read?
August 27, 2015
This question is more difficult than you'd think. One of the first things you discover is that commentaries are often answering questions no one is asking. A fringe benefit of commentaries is they help you clarify what you don't think.
We are all different, but I try to use a couple of commentaries when I'm working through the text prior to starting a series. I am trying to work out the main theme, seeing connections, dividing the text. After that I try to use commentaries only when I'm stuck and invariably they are not a massive amount of help. In finding what is the big theme of the letter most commentaries are of little use. However, on the details of the text they can really help. Great on the wood, not so good on the trees.
Who have I found useful? Here are the names you will find on most lists:
Bruce Waltke, Christopher Wright, Alec Motyer, Dale Ralph Davis, Derek Kidner, Palmer Robertson, Knox Chamblin, DA Carson, John Stott, Peter O Brien, Barry Webb, David Gooding, Daryl Bock, Christopher Ash, Greg Beale. It's always a joy to discover someone new.
Obviously your level of languages plays into what commentaries you use.
I am just finishing working through 1 Timothy and have enjoyed George Knight. I found John Stott not up to his usual standard in the BST series; he blunts the hard edges of the text. I read Calvin over the last week and wish I'd used him more. I heard Dick Lucas give a series of lectures on 1 Timothy about 10 years ago and those notes have been by far the most helpful - Proclamation Trust should have them available. I finish every series disappointed and wishing I could go back and start again. There's something about preaching through a book when you only actually get to understand it after you've finished preaching it.
After giving expository commentaries a kick in yesterday, however, I think there are very honourable exceptions. JC Ryle's set on the gospels is outstanding. Anything by Ralph Davis is worth buying. John Stott on the New Testament letters in the Bible Speaks Today are masterful - Michael Green wrote in a review of his commentary on Galatians 'St Paul might be pleasantly surprised to see how neatly he had subdivided his material when writing this Epistle.'
When I see the word 'devotional' in a commentary title I come out in hives. As for older commentaries, I don't use them as much as I should, partly because of time constraints. Jonesey or Walker could probably help us out more on what's worth reading.