Bible Commentaries Worth Reading

A commenter asked yesterday what Bible commentaries I recommend. That’s a great question and, so, I will list some, with Amazon links.

One Volume Commentaries
Everybody, even if you say you don’t like commentaries, should have a Bible dictionary and a one-volume commentary at the very least.

New International Bible Commentary: This is a good, solid one and I’ve referred to it a thousand times for quick information. It is evangelical and tends toward traditional readings. Edited by the late, great F.F. Bruce. Don’t let the fact that it is evangelical put you off. It is intelligently written and informative. Of course, a one-volume can only tell you so much.

New International Bible Dictionary: This is the companion dictionary, also evangelical in orientation and also one I’ve consulted a thousand times. If you want to know, for example, who “Joses” is or where “Gilgal” is or to see information about the date and history of “Isaiah,” this is a good place to start.

Oxford Bible Commentary: A critical commentary, by British scholars for the most part, which is excellent in summarizing the latest scholarship on the Bible. This is a needed balance to an evangelical commentary such as those recommended above. Even if you think you would not agree with a more critical view on biblical dates and authors, I still recommend it. t will broaden your horizons and wake you up to the issues.

Eerdmans Commentary: Like the Oxford, but by American scholars. I tend to find the Oxford a touch better overall, but many times the Eerdmans gives a slightly different and very illuminating perspective.

On the Torah (Pentateuch)
The two sections of the Bible for which it is most important to have commentaries are, in my opinion, the Torah and the gospels. These two sections of the Bible are the foundational portions on which other biblical books are based.

The JPS Torah Commentary: You will thank me if you add these volumes to your library. The set is so well done and the commentary so helpful, clear, and comprehensive, they are destined to be a favorite resource for you. They are slightly critical yet conservative overall in orientation and Jewish, of course.
Nahum Sarna on Genesis
Nahum Sarna on Exodus
Baruch Levine on Leviticus
Jacob Milgrom on Numbers
Jeffrey Tigay on Deuteronomy

Genesis by John Walton: I don’t usually recommend the NIV Application Series. It is not, in my opinion, a good series. But this volume stands out. John Walton is an evangelical who is also quite critical in his thinking and in Genesis he can help you see past some of the simplistic creationist readings very well.

Umberto Cassuto on Genesis and Exodus. I’m a huge fan. They are out of print but you can sometimes get them used on amazon.

Three Volumes on Leviticus by Jacob Milgrom: In my opinion (and that of many others), this is the standard work on Leviticus. Leviticus is the theology book of the Torah. I would say that understanding Leviticus thoroughly is crucial. This commentary is very difficult, long, and takes a lot of work to read. It is not for the casual commentary purchaser. Do not be tempted to get the one-volume Leviticus by Milgrom by Fortress. It is not well-done (though it can help if you have the three-voluem set also).
Volume 1:
Volume 2:
Volume 3:

The Gospels
Okay, I’ll start with a plug for my own most recent book. It is not exactly a Bible commentary, but it does comment on key stories from the gospels. It is a Messianic Jewish read (sensitive to Jewish context in the gospels and also Christian in outlook).

Yeshua in Context.

Coming in December, I will produce an audio-commentary on Mark.

Mark. If you just get one commentary, this is a balanced and practical one by Daniel Harrington and John Donahue. Many will be surprised to find that I recommend some Catholic scholars on the gospels. Well, think about it. Protestantism tends to neglect the gospels and emphasize only Paul. You should not be surprised that Catholics lead in gospel scholarship. Daniel Harrington and John Donahue on Mark.

For in-depth historical background on Mark, get Adela Yarbro Collins.

Probably the standard in Mark is set by Joel Marcus. But I would only get Collins or Marcus after Harrington.

Matthew. I have not found the commentary I am looking for on Matthew yet. I can say that I decidedly recommend against R.T. France (a rather supersessionist reading and very frustrating).

Daniel Harrington on Matthew. I haven’t read it yet, but based on his work on Mark, I feel good about recommending it.

Dale Allison on Matthew. Allison is a great scholar. This is an abridgment of a longer commentary. I think it is not in depth enough. I was mildly disappointed with it, but it has a ton of information.

Luke. Here the choice is easy. Luke Johnson is the guy to read on Luke. You have to wonder if he became a Luke-Acts scholar because of his name. His commentary focuses on the literary and avoids a lot of useless historical criticism. Luke’s gospel is a very literary gospel and Johnson gets that.

Evangelicals and conservatives will be tempted to get Darrell Bock on Luke. I wouldn’t. His commentary is not particularly insightful even though it is long. It is not a bad two-volume set to own, but it spends much time focusing on historical issues and defending conservative viewpoints.

John. Raymond Brown is amazing. Even though I very much disagree with Brown’s ideas about a Johannine community, his insight into the Christology and the literary sense is so good, it overcomes his continual references to a supposed school of John through which the final gospel is filtered. I also disagree with his ideas about authorship (I agree with Bauckham that the Beloved Disciple is the primary source). Still, Brown’s commentary is so good, it is the standard, in my opinion.
Chapters I-XII
Chapters XIII-XI

Also, if you get just one book on the historical aspects of the gospels and the life of Jesus (besides my book Yeshua in Context, smile), I recommend Richard Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses.

Random Recommendations on Other Biblical Books
Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings. I have not read anything that I would say is definitive here. Although I’ve not thoroughly read them, anything by Ian Provan or Christopher Wright would be worth getting here.

Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. Here I can tell you a favorite: Michael V. Fox. You will thanks me (repeatedly).

Isaiah. J.A. Motyer is the best I’ve found, but is a very Christian reading. Isaiah deserves a reading which takes more seriously the hope for Israel. But Motyer has good literary insight and is worth owning nonetheless. Brevard Childs has been disappointing. I would like to know a great commentary on Isaiah and I’d love to hear from people who think they’ve found one.

Psalms. John Goldingay. That was easy.

Galatians. Mark Nanos, The Irony of Galatians.

Romans. Mark Nanos. The Mystery of Romans.

Paul in general. My book, Paul Didn’t Eat Pork, is a simple read presenting the New Perspective in simple and clear terms (a Jewish-friendly reading of Paul).

James. Scot McKnight.

Hebrews. I haven’t found a great one yet. F.F. Bruce is the one to get if you must.

Revelation. I own eight commentaries on Revelation and they all have problems. I think this book is woefully underserved.

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12 Responses to Bible Commentaries Worth Reading

  1. Wouter says:

    Thanks Derek,
    Will have a look at some of these, with John walton however what simplistic creationist readings are you refering too?

  2. Derek Leman says:


    I should have realized that would be a touchy subject. In my opinion, Genesis has been misread for quite some time by people obsessed with the scientific worldview and the debate about origins. Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One is probably the best single way to explore more about what I am saying. The sad thing is that people have missed the point of Genesis. Umberto Cassuto’s commentaries catch it very well. Even if you are a young-earth, six-day creationist, you should read Genesis for its message and purpose.

    • Wouter says:

      Haha, guess maybe too sensitive. I don’t think Young-earht creationism would stop anyone from reading Genesis for it’s message though, accept that we read it to defend it a bit too much sometimes.However it would be rather trouble some to except everything of Walton says. As he does give way to lot of evolutionary Biology, which brings about alot of Philosophical issues. But read your post on the tabernacle and the days of creation. If that’s the sort of thing your refering to, that we must learn from Walton. I cannot disagree there. Will save up then get some of those commetries. lol


  3. Rev. Brian says:

    I have found Emil Schürer’s Geschichte des Jüdischen Volkes im Zeitalter Jesu Christi [] to be an excellent reference on Jewish context of the NT. Hendrickson offers it in English (A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ) as a 5-volume set, but the updated version of this 1890 work (reflecting Dead Sea Scrolls findings) is preferable.

    • Derek Leman says:

      Thanks, Rev. Brian. May I recommend E.P. Sanders’ Judaism: Practice and Belief as well? I always want to remind people to be careful not to read too much post-200 CE rabbinic thought back into the New Testament. Doubtless the updated edition of Schurer has made improvements and it is a valuable resource if you keep that consideration of chronology in mind.

      I’d be glad to hear any other commentary or resource recommendations you have.

      • Rev. Brian says:

        Not a commentary on a single book so much as on Israelology, but I think Barry E. Horner’s Future Israel: Why Christian Anti-Judaism Must Be Challenged from the NAC Studies in Bible & Theology is an excellent study! That series is a little hit and miss, but this particular volume is the star of the series, I think. (The volume Lukan Authorship of Hebrews is one of the misses, in my opinion.) Brad Young’s works Paul the Jewish Theologian and Jesus the Jewish Theologian are both very good too, on par with your Paul Didn’t Eat Pork and Jesus Didn’t Have Blue Eyes – both scholarly, yet accessible/readable!

  4. Seth says:

    Honestly, I’m not a huge fan of Nanos. I appreciate his Jewish-Christian sensibilities, but I feel he goes too far out of the way to force ideas into the text (like his idea that Romans was written to synagogues in general (believing and unbelieving) instead of just the believing community. Novel idea, but I don’t think it holds up as you read through the letter). His Romans commentary is nearly impossible to read. For Romans, I really like Ben Witherington’s Socio-Rhetorical commentary.

    I’ll second your recommendation of Motyer’s commentary on Isaiah. I have the shortened Tyndale version.

    On the popular/devotional level, and though it does have some supersessionism, I still find NT Wright’s “NT for Everyone” series to be extremely insightful.

  5. Derek Leman says:


    I agree that Romans was not written to synagogues in general. And I need to go back and read Nanos again, because I missed that. What I remember from his Romans book is his read on Romans 14 which I thought was excellent.

    I think the Witherington Socio-Rhetorical commentaries have good material. Witherington is a mixed bag. He is very supersessionist. More than Wright even. But he has done excellent research and knows his Greco-Roman sources. I’ve not read his Romans, but given his rather severe supersessionism, I’d imagine it turns up on every page, no? I’d probably wince through Romans 2 and 3 and I wonder if he does justice to Romans 11. Now you have me curious.

  6. Derek Leman says:

    Thanks, Rev. Brian, for the good word about my Paul and Jesus books.

    Yes, Barry Horner’s Future Israel is a book I wish I could get all Christian leaders to read. I’d buy them and hand them out like candy if I could. And for those who want a more critical type of scholarship, R. Kendall Soulen’s The God of Israel and Christian Theology is one of my favorite books as well. Soulen will be more persuasive to the progressive side of Christianity and Horner to the conservative side. Both great.

  7. Dan Benzvi says:

    I will recomand Tim Hegg’s “Paul’s epistle to the Romans Volumes 1 and 2.

    One can obtain it from:

  8. Derek Leman says:


    I don’t see it on his “Books” list. I know he write the book about Paul, but did he really write a Romans commentary? If so, please post a link to it.

  9. Dan Benzvi says:


    It is under “Bible studies.”

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