How do you decide which commentaries to include in your exegetical arsenal? As an expository preacher, I’ve always felt the responsible thing to do is load up on good commentaries before delving into a new book of the Bible for a sermon series. And there are flocks and herds of commentaries to choose from. How does one navigate that morass? My habit has been to check BestCommentaries.com and the Basic Library Booklist prepared by the faculty of Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary. But here’s a new and excellent resource from the impressively productive Nijay K. Gupta. It’s The New Testament Commentary Guide: A Brief Handbook for Students and Pastors from Lexham Press.
I was pleasantly surprised that this is not merely a list of commentary recommendations. There’s an introduction packed with practical wisdom on commentaries in general and how to use them. And it’s nice to have a short guide to the major commentary series. He describes twenty series with comments on their level, theological orientation, methods, and pricing. It’s like walking through the reference section of a well-stocked seminary library with a well-qualified librarian.
Undoubtedly, the Commentary Recommendations are this book’s main draw. Gupta categorizes commentaries for each book of the NT under the classifications of Technical, Semi-Technical, Non-Technical, and Hidden Gems. Using Logos Bible Software, it’s as simple as scrolling down the table of contents and clicking on a book of the Bible to pull up the recommendations. Very handy. The book is so short, you will not have any trouble finding what you’re looking for. And Gupta has made it even easier by condensing all his recommendations into an appendix called “A Quick List of Recommended Commentaries.” Doctoral students and academics might appreciate a short list of German and French commentary series. And the book concludes with a listing of five commentaries written by Gupta.
Despite our subjective preferences on what we may consider a good commentary (e.g. how well it aligns with our positions), there is also an objectivity to such an analysis (e.g., reputability of author and publisher, use of evidence). Gupta weighs out what makes a good commentary in presenting what are his own personal preferences.
I’ve been preaching and teaching from Mark, 1 John, and James so I compared the commentaries I’ve found helpful with Gupta’s recommendations. And he included many of the works I’ve come to rely upon. He also highlighted many I was completely unaware of and would want to look into further. I have no complaints about the author’s audacity to include or omit a certain work. He makes it a point to be selective, not comprehensive. The reader should know that Gupta drew a line in the sand at 1980. You won’t find anything published before then. He admits it’s arbitrary and not foolproof. That’s just how it is.
This resource is short, handy, and up-to-date. Gupta has done us all a service by assessing the current state of commentaries and consolidating his findings into a useful tool. He’s done his homework so we can do ours. I would recommend it to every pastor and seminary student. And here’s hoping there’s an Old Testament companion in the works!
Special thanks to Lexham Press for providing me with a free digital review copy of this book. This did not affect my thoughts regarding this work.
Good review, thanks!
Do the commentaries recommended here diverge sharply from the recommendations you’d find at bestcommentaries.com, for example?
The descriptions of the various series at the beginning would be undoubtedly helpful.
I’m just wondering if the specific recommendations for each book would be significantly different from what you might find elsewhere.
Thanks, Duncan! You raise a good question. I should have included some statistical analysis. Comparing bestcommentaries.com rankings for Galatians with Gupta as a case study, Gupta only includes #10 of the top ten listed. I didn’t know this, but bestcommentaries uses an algorithm like this to rank books: score = (weighted average) + (# of times in a library / 10) + (# of overall reviews / 10). https://www.bestcommentaries.com/about/
Does Gupta highlight and distinguish rhetorical, discourse, and literary analyses in his evaluation of commentaries, pointing out which commentaries give attention to these things?
Great question. This is stuff the guild is giving more and more attention to. Discourse Analysis? Not so much. He mentions “grammatical detail,” but you won’t even find the word _discourse_ in this book. Rhetorical Features? Yes. In probably ten total instances he mentions the inclusion of rhetorical or socio-rhetorical features in commentaries on Acts, Philippians, Hebrews, and a couple of other books of the Bible. Literary Criticism? A bunch.