Many commentaries are so long and technical, they really only communicate to other scholars. These are not helpful to a pastor preparing sermons and Bible studies, which is what I am most concerned about. I have found instead the best commentaries to be the theologically-informed “expositional commentaries,” written by thoughtful pastors. Here are some of the marks of a good commentary I look for:
- The author believes the Bible is God’s inspired, inerrant Word.
- The author has actually communicated the Scriptures to a local church before.
- The author is careful and thoughtful with the text of Scripture, not superficial.
- The author places the passages treated within the context of the Bible’s overall story.
- The author has been affected at the heart-level by the Scriptures being treated.
These qualifications quickly narrow down my selection! That’s why you will notice several authors’ names appearing repeatedly; they are proven guides. I do not offer much help on some books, because I haven’t preached through them in a chapter-by-chapter fashion.
Old Testament Commentaries
OT Overview/OT Theology
For the Love of God (2 Vols), D.A. Carson
D.A. Carson, whose name appears often on this list, is an immensely gifted evangelical Bible scholar. Between these two volumes, he comments on almost every chapter of the Bible.
Promises Made: The Message of the Old Testament, Mark Dever
A book of overview-sermons on every book of the OT.
The Unfolding Mystery, Edmund Clowney
Clowney walks through the narrative of the OT, seeking to interpret as Jesus may have on the Road to Emmaus in Luke 24, in light of Jesus himself.
Dominion and Dynasty: A Theology of the Hebrew Bible, Stephen Dempster
I think this is the best book for tracing the theology of the Old Testament. Outstanding.
A House for My Name: A Survey of the Old Testament, Peter Leithart
Don’t always agree with Leithart, but this is a good, thought-provoking reading of the OT.
The Pentateuch: Genesis-Deuteronomy
I have found some of the best resources on the Pentateuch to be the Biblical Theology books mentioned above, that help place the individual stories of Genesis, Exodus, etc., in the context of the whole Old Testament, and the whole Bible.
Genesis, Bruce Waltke
Waltke gets squirrelly on the historical Adam, but I think he is the best on following the narrative of Genesis, and for helping you understand how a story works.
Genesis, New American Commentary (2 Vol), Kenneth Matthews
This is a much meatier, more thorough commentary on Genesis. Very faithful, with lots of great whole-Bible connections.
Genesis, Tyndale OT Commentary Series, Derek Kidner
Anything by Derek Kidner is worth having. He is faithful to the OT Scripture, makes some rich NT connections, and helpful application to the Christian life.
Leviticus, TOTC, R.K. Harrison
Numbers, Preaching the Word Series, Iain Duguid
The Historical Books: Joshua-2 Kings
Dale Ralph Davis has written expositional commentaries on Joshua, Judges, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, and 2 Kings. Get every one of them. You may not need anything else.
Judges, Ruth, New American Commentary, Daniel Block
Block does some frustrating things, like questioning the numbers of the armies in the Bible, but is a gifted writer and can be very helpful in understanding the text.
Faithful God (Ruth), Sinclair Ferguson
Ferguson is my favorite living preacher and theologian. He interprets Scripture with Scripture better than anyone else I know.
Esther & Ruth, Reformed Expository Commentary Series, Iain Duguid
First Samuel: Looking for a Leader, John Woodhouse
First and Second Chronicles, John Sailhamer
The Writings: Psalms and Wisdom Literature
On the psalms, many of the older commentators are best: John Calvin, Matthew Henry, and Charles Spurgeon’s wonderful Treasury of David.
Psalms (2 Vols), TOTC, Derek Kidner
Psalms (3 vols), James Montgomery Boice
Boice was a faithful pastor for many years in the second half of the Twentieth Century, and is a great model for preaching through books of the Bible.
Deserted by God? (expositions of several psalms), Sinclair Ferguson
Proverbs, TOTC, Derek Kidner
How to Read Proverbs, Tremper Longman III
The Gospel and Wisdom, Paternoster Press, Graeme Goldsworthy
This is a great book for understanding how the OT Wisdom Books fit into the overall story of the Bible. Goldsworthy is an exceedingly gifted interpreter.
The Pundit’s Folly: Chronicles of an Empty Life (Ecclesiastes), Sinclair Ferguson
Job: D.A. Carson’s chapter on Job in How Long, O Lord?
In applying the message of the prophets, don’t overlook Matthew Henry and John Calvin.
Isaiah, J.A. Motyer
Motyer is another OT commentator who is worth listening to, no mater what he is writing about.
Isaiah: God Saves Sinners, Ray Ortlund
An expositional commentary from the Preaching the Word series with great application.
Daniel, The Preacher’s Commentary, Sinclair Ferguson
Daniel, Andrew Steinmann
A larger commentary by a faithful, unabashedly evangelical Lutheran brother. An almost unheard of concept today: a Christ-focused OT commentary!
Minor Prophets (3 vols.), Ed. Thomas McComiskey
I would consider this the standard work on the Minor prophets.
The Prophets Speak of Him, Anthony Selvaggio
This thin book is concerned with connecting the message of the each of the minor prophets to Jesus Christ. Great to supplement a more thorough study of the text, as the above 3-volume commentary provides.
The Minor Prophets, James Montgomery Boice
New Testament Commentaries
Expository Thoughts on the Gospel (4 vols), J.C. Ryle
This is a very affordable, readable, time-tested walk through the four gospels with an eye to application by a giant of church history. This is a highly valuable resource, for the pastor, the family, the individual Christian. I would get these.
Matthew, D.A. Carson
Mark, NIV Application Commentary, David E. Garland
Let’s Study Mark! Sinclair Ferguson
Luke (2 Vols), Baker Exegetical Commentary, Darrell L. Bock
Luke, David Garland
The Gospel of John, Pillar NT Commentary Series, D.A. Carson
Acts, David Peterson
The Message of Acts, John Stott
Romans, BEC, Thomas R. Schreiner
The First Epistle to the Corinthians, NICNT, Gordon D. Fee
Second Corinthians, NIV Application, Scott Hafemann
Galatians, NAC, Timothy George
The Letter to the Ephesians, Peter T. O’Brien
Let’s Study Ephesians! Sinclair Ferguson
Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, NICNT, Gordon D. Fee
Let’s Study Philippians! Sinclair Ferguson
Basics for Believers: An Exposition of Philippians, D.A. Carson
The Message of Colossians and Philemon, R.C. Lucas
The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon, Douglas J. Moo
1-2 Thessalonians, TNTC Leon Morris
The Letter to the Hebrews, Pillar, Peter T. O’Brien
James, TNTC, Douglas J. Moo
1-2 Peter, Jude, NAC, Thomas R. Schreiner
The Letters of John, TNTC, John Stott