So you want to buy a commentary?

But which one? The choices can be dizzying. Some focus on theology, others on the Greek, others on the cultural context. Some are for profesionals, some for bible students, some for laypersons. And with many commentaries running upwards of $40 or more, you have to be selective.

The best resource I have found for sorting through all the commentary clutter is D.A. Carson's New Testament Commentary Survey. Carson is the well-respected research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and co-author of probably the most popular introduction to the New Testament. In NTCS, he goes through every book in the New Testament and discusses all of the respective serious commentaries. He is candid about what he sees as the qualities and inadequacies of each. He describes their strengths in different areas, such as exegesis, theology, and cultural understanding. He evaluates their usefulness to different audiences, such as bible students, pastors, interested laypersons.

In addition to discussing the commentaries for each book of the New Testament, Carson discusses books that are not technically commentaries (in that they do not provide verse-by-verse discussion), but which focus on aspects of specific NT books. Carson also mentions the prices of each book discussed. Finally, there is a helpful "best buys" guide in the back that offers his admittedly subjective opinion on what the best values are for the "theological student" and "well-trained preacher."

Update: If you do not want to buy a book to learn which books to buy, check out Darrell Bock's blog, where he is giving his commentary recommendations, book-by-book. Bock is an excellent scholar from the evangelical perspective.


Janell Price said…
How much is this "book that tells us which book to buy" book?
Layman said…
$14 new on Amazon or around $5 used.
John R. said…
Good tip! Thanks!

slaveofone said…
And those of us who don't really care about the NT, but want scholastic OT commentaries?
Layman said…
Well, first I would encourage you to care more about the NT. :)

But in the absence of that, I do not have a comparable survey that I have read which I can recommend. But, there are such survey's out there for the OT:

John Glynn's Commentary and Reference Survey, covers the OT and NT. He also rates the commentaries by their perspective (Evangelical, Evangelical but Critical, Conservative/Moderate, Liberal/Critical).
If you are interested in the Old Testament, you may check out my online Old Testament Commentary Survey at

slaveofone said…
Yes, thank you. I remembered running across your survey before. I've already begun using it to research various commentaries and my Amazon wish list is again filling up... I can't wait to begin flipping through Genesis with Wenham... My only question is whether any of these OT commentaries are ANE historico-critical...any that seek to mesh Ugaritic, Akkadian, and various other West Semitic literatures, languages, and cultures alongside their OT analysis?

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