This is a blog post that will make more sense if you’ve had a glance at my longer post about what I read in 2023, as well as my post on the reading of commentaries generally, as well as another on the reading of commentaries devotionally.
In canonical order, here are my Top Twenty Commentaries of 2023 – with links to reviews where I wrote them! It is worth noting that this list includes a few commentaries that I didn’t give 5 stars to – that’s often because they are doing something new, but imperfectly (like Genesis 1-11 by Azad and Glazer) or are fresh despite themselves, like Goldingay’s Genesis.
1. Genesis – John Goldingay’s Baker Exegetical Commentary on the Old Testament is really good. It’s readable, clear, and fresh – the last point being particularly difficult in commenting on the first book of the Bible! I wrote a review of the volume here on my blog.
2. Genesis 1-11 – Azad and Glazer offer the inaugural volume in Langham’s new ‘Windows on the Text’ series. Read my review to find out more about this fascinating commentary and a potentially excellent series.
3. Numbers – Gordon Wenham’s Tyndale Old Testament Commentary is getting a little longer in the tooth, but remains a masterclass in concision, clarity and engagement with this complex book. Not for nothing is he a legendary commentary writer. I’m excited to see one of his doctoral students, L. Michael Morales, release his two volumes on Numbers in the Apollos Old Testament Commentary next year – continuing Wenham’s legacy, and taking it further.
4. Joshua – David’ Firth’s entry in the Evangelical Biblical Theology Commentary from Lexham Press is excellent. I really, really enjoyed it. You can read my review on my blog here to find out why – and it is also one of my favourite ten books of 2023.
5. 1 & 2 Kings – Lissa Wray Beal’s entry in the Apollos Old Testament Commentary is a model commentary, and a great example of the series. It is arguably also an impressively compact and efficient commentary on these two valuable historical books. I wrote a review of this on my blog.
6. 1 Chronicles – Roddy Braun’s Word Biblical Commentary on this one book does an excellent job of overcoming the well-observed limitations of the series. In fact, the slightly broken up series format works well for this book of the Bible, which contains multiple different literary forms. I expand on that in my review of it here.
7. Esther – Anthony Tomasino’s entry in the Evangelical Exegetical Commentary from Lexham Press was a thorough, theological, and careful delight. Not a book for the faint hearted – it is a relatively lengthy commentary on a relatively short book of Scripture, this is a solid technical commentary with some utility for pastors, etc. You can read my review of it here.
8. Ecclesiates and Song of Songs, by Daniel Fredericks and Daniel Estes. This paired volume in the Apollos Old Testament Commentary series is a good one – arguably shorter than some separate volume treatments of the two, Fredericks and Estes do a competent, patient and faith-filled/discipleship-focused job of engaging with the text. Recommended.
9. Isaiah – Paul Wegner’s replacement for Alec Motyer’s entry in the Tyndale Old Testament Commentary series is very good – if significantly longer than what it replaces! Wegner retains the TOTC readability, and carefully engages the decades of scholarship since Motyer’s volume came out. A superb smaller/cheaper commentary, which I am recommending widely when people ask.
10. Isaiah-Lamentations – various authors in Crossway’s ESV Expository Commentary. The ESVEC is a fascinating series – beautifully produced in hardback, as we’ve come to expect from Crossway – and this is a great entry. Covering Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Lamentations, read my review here on my blog to find out more about it.
11. Daniel – by Joe Sprinkle in the the Lexham Evangelical Biblical Theological Commentary. This was a pleasure to read – not quite as top-shelf as Firth, it was however another excellent example of the EBTC format, and blending readability and biblical-theological nous.
12. John – Klink’s entry in the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament is excellent. Probably only it’s size and length stopped it from pipping Firth into the Top Ten books for me this year – and it is probably easier for me to recommend to most people for most purposes than Carson’s Pillar, which represents an evolution from me (Having been recommending it since 2008, when I first read it on my A-Level course!). Read my review for more about why I’m saying this.
13. Acts – L. Scott Kellum’s contribution to B&H’s Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament is a really helpful blend of greek reading aid and commentary. As I say in my review, it feels like something that could be a vital part of a pastor’s library.
14. Romans – John Murray’s legacy NICNT volume has been reissued in a stunning single volume hardback by Westminster Seminary Press. It is an older commentary, to be sure, but it remains deeply theological and warmly helpful – they simply don’t make commentaries like this any more, by and large. My review explains a bit more – and may helpful decide whether this edition is worth purchasing if you already own it in some format.
15. Romans – Thomas Schreiner’s revised entry in the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament remains excellent, with some significant updates. As a one-volume, one-stop shop for a thoughtful conservative evangelical perspective on Romans, this is hard to beat, I think.
16. 1 Corinthians – Anthony Thiselton’s shorter commentary (Rather than the doorstop NIGTC) is wonderful. If you are a pastor or disciple, particularly if your greek is rusty or non-existent, get this over the NIGTC. If you have the NIGTC, and are a pastor or disciple, get this too.
17. Galatians – Nijay Gupta’s entry in the Story of God Bible Commentary from Zondervan was a delight. Having been less impressed by another volume in the series this year, Gupta showed how it can work. You can read my review of it here.
18. Ephesians – Constantine Campbell’s replacement of Peter O’Brien’s Pillar New Testament Commentary is excellent, and rather surprisingly significantly shorter than the volume it replaces! I wrote a review of this excellent commentary here.
19. Colossians and Philemon – Greg Beale’s new entry in the Baker Exegetical Commentary in the New Testament is classic Beale. Theological, canonically astute, and detailed, this is now my go-to chunky commentary, alongside Marianne Meye Thompson’s THNTC and the two TNTC volumes I own.
20. Philippians – Sean McDonugh’s contribution to Hendrickson’s new Preacher’s Greek Companion series was imperfect but intriguing. As someone with basic greek, seeking to keep it up and improve it, this is an invaluable tool. As a commentary it is, as implied on the front cover, ‘selective’, but as a library tool for ministry it is very helpful. I explain more in my review.
Commentaries are an interesting phenomena – and reviewing them is a very subjective thing. As I preface every commentary review – whether it’s one I’ve owned for years and finally got round to, one I’ve been given, or one I’ve bought, I think it’s worth mentioning:
Reviewing commentaries is a tricky business – particularly for me as a generalist, and an in-publisher editor of commentaries! I tend to offer my review based on the format and content of the volume, and its utility or otherwise to preachers and pastors. Occasionally I’ll digress into particularly theological or stylistic quirks.
With that in mind, a few brief reflections
- 11 volumes, covering 15 books of the Bible, were on Old Testament books. Is this a sign that I need to read better Old Testament commentaries? I plan in 2024 to read through the Bible canonically, so I imagine I will potentially have a different view next year.
- 9 volumes, covering 10 books of the Bible, were on New Testament books. This probably reflects the increased pace of publication here – most of these were recently published, with Murray’s Romans being an interesting one in that it is an older book republished this year.
- Of 20 books, only two women and two non-white authors (that I’m aware of) and in one case, it was one volume coauthored by a woman and a non-white author. This offers a challenging comparison with my wider reading, where I’m still not reading as wide a range of authors as I’d like.
- Theologically, all of these commentaries (though not all the commentaries I read this year!) were broadly within the evangelical tradition with which I identify, though at very varying levels. Given that I tend to read commentaries in my personal devotional time, it doesn’t surprise me that I tend to like things I’m in theological agreement with!