Old Testament Commentary Picks

A while back now, I created a list of my choices for the best New Testament commentaries by book. I tried to limit selections to one commentary per New Testament book. My Old Testament commentary collection is not as extensive (ironically I spent far more time on the Old Testament in my studies, but the vast majority of my preaching in based in the New Testament), but here are my choices for the best Old Testament commentary options. As with the New Testament, if you don’t see your preferred choice here, it may be because I don’t own it, and I’m always open to recommendations. I have tried to, wherever possible, limit my selection to one or at most two, though there are exceptions.

Genesis: I have more commentaries on Genesis than any other Old Testament book. Some are quite disappointing. But I do have three I highly recommend but for very different reasons. John H. Walton, Genesis (NIVAC) is the best for understanding the literary/historical context of Genesis 1-3. Walton has published a considerable body of work on ancient cosmologies and how Genesis relates to those. The one downside of this commentary is that everything after chapter 3 is covered in far less detail. For a better look at the narrative of the Patriarchs of Israel and the artistry of Genesis as a whole, Walter Brueggemann, Genesis (Interpretation) is a must. Brueggemann is perhaps the best mind alive when it comes to capturing the literary techniques employed to build dramatic impact in the Old Testament. For an all-around balanced and reliable commentary, Victor Hamilton, The Book of Genesis Chapters 1-17 (NICOT) is a great option (I don’t have the second part yet).

Exodus: Peter Enns, Exodus (NIVAC) is a wonderful, accessible, but still in-depth option. If you want to get into linguistic stuff, John Durham, Exodus (WBC) is a great option, and his introduction is more comprehensive than Enns, and draws out the main theological themes wonderfully. But as with most WBC volumes, some of the exegetical value is lost in the formatting.

Leviticus: John Hartley, Leviticus (WBC) is my first choice, though Leviticus is not a book I have studied in any considerable depth. I do have a few hesitations with this one, but less so than other commentaries.

Numbers: Although the introduction is much too short, Timothy Ashley, The Book of Numbers (NICOT) is my preferred choice. The text in its final form is the focus, and source criticism, though noted, does not take up much space, whereas in other commentaries on Numbers (and the Pentateuch more generally), it can become a distraction.

Deuteronomy: Peter Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy (NICOT) is my first choice, even though it’s over 40 years old. It’s fairly succinct, without feeling like it’s lacking, avoiding the tangents and unnecessary fluff.

Joshua: With all the difficulties of the violence in Joshua, one doesn’t want commentators to tip-toe around it, or make excuses, but deal with it head on. Gordon McConville & Stephen Williams, Joshua (THOTC) is a good option. The Two Horizons series is a great avenue to deal with the big questions of Joshua. Though the exposition of the text is typically brief, it does get the main points well. But in this volume, the essays in the second part which wrestle with the theological themes gives this one its real value. The essay which unpacks the consistently violent, genocidal elements of Joshua is very helpful, honest, and compelling.

Judges: Barry G. Webb, The Book of Judges (NICOT) is great in overall scholarship and composition. However, I do believe he completely mishandles the Deborah narrative, both in his exposition and in the introduction. His reading of that narrative is hindered considerably by his strong complementarian views on gender which hurts an otherwise impeccable commentary.

Ruth: Ruth is one of my favourite Old Testament books, and where I first cut my teeth in Old Testament Hebrew. I preached through the book of Ruth in 2014. Two great commentaries were immensely helpful in that, and both are highly recommended. Kirsten Nielsen, Ruth (OTL) is a bit more scholarly focused and gives more on history of interpretation, but less on theological objectives, and impact on the original audience than one gets from Katherine Doob-Sakenfeld, Ruth (Interpretation). But overall both are excellent. More recently I’ve added Frederic Bush’s volume on Ruth and Esther (WBC) but haven’t done much with the Ruth portion, but from the little I’ve done, I’d certainly say it’s a great technical option.

1 & 2 Samuel: The books of Samuel have probably occupied more of my time than any other Old Testament book. Among my favourite undergrad courses was my advanced Hebrew reading course with Keith Bodner which focused on translation of 1 Samuel. Walter Brueggemann, First and Second Samuel (Interpretation) is in my mind essential reading for understanding Samuel. David Tsumura, The First Book of Samuel (NICOT) and Ralph Klein, 1 Samuel (WBC) are great scholarly works on 1 Samuel, but Brueggemann does what no other can do in analyzing the interplay and literary techniques which make 1 & 2 Samuel so powerful as story, drama and theology.

1 & 2 Kings: Simon DeVries, 1 Kings, Second Edition (WBC) and T.R. Hobbs, 2 Kings (WBC) are both in depth, scholarly treatments which I highly recommend.

1 & 2 Chronicles: My former professor Keith Bodner is currently working on a new volume in the NICOT series, which no doubt will be excellent. In the mean time, Sarah Japhet’s OTL volume is my go to.

Ezra/Nehemiah: F. Charles Fensham. The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah (NICOT) and H.G.M. Williamson Ezra, Nehemiah (WBC) are both worth having.

Esther: The introduction of Karen Jobes, Esther (NIVAC) alone makes this one worth buying. Jobes did her doctoral research on the Greek version of Esther, so even though she’s a New Testament/Greek scholar, she is probably the best currently active biblical scholar to write on Esther, and the results here are impeccable. Frederic Bush (WBC) on Ruth and Esther is more technical, if you’re into that level of study, and also commendable.

Job: Two volumes are worthy of note: Tremper Longman III, Job (BCOTWP) and John H. Walton, Job (NIVAC). I would recommend either without hesitation. These two gentlemen are among the best Old Testament and Ancient Near Eastern scholars currently active.

Psalms: The only commentary you will ever need on the Psalms is John Goldingay, Psalms (3 vols. BCOTWP). But if you want to avoid going to a three volume set, the recent NICOT volume by Nancy L. deClaisse-Walford, Rolf Jacobson, and Beth Tanner is surprisingly good considering it condenses the entire book of Psalms into a single volume commentary.

Proverbs: Tremper Longman III, Proverbs (BCOTWP) is my first choice. Overall, the Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms is just outstanding. Longman balances critical research on Proverbs and the need to do exegesis of the text as we have it for the use of the whole church.

Ecclesiastes: Peter Enns, Ecclesiastes (THOTC) is, like the Two Horizons volume on Joshua noted above, really valuable because of the theological approach to the text in the second portion. Ecclesiastes can at times feel awkward and out of place in Scripture because of its existential angst and seemingly bleak, almost nihilistic perspective. Enns is able to draw out the real value of this book without passing over or taking lightly the very real challenges of Qoheleth.

Song of Songs: Tremper Longman (NICOT) is the standar, but I’d also add the less well known Richard Hess, Song of Songs (BCOTWP). Longman and Hess both read the book as an erotic song depicting human sexuality in a very positive light. Both interact frequently, and graciously with other commentators throughout history who have proposed various allegorical readings, but are also sensitive to other ancient near eastern erotic poetry and the light those texts shed on Song of Songs. They come to similar conclusions, so either will serve pastor and student/scholar well.

Isaiah: Because its immense size and all the difficulties of textual criticism, Isaiah cannot be comprehensively treated in a single volume. That said, John Glodingay, Isaiah (UBCS) is good intro level commentary, and J. Alec Motyer offers a mid-level volume which, though I have a few disagreements with, is overall very good. I typically get what I need (though not always the detail I may want) from these two.

Jeremiah: J. Andrew Dearman, Jeremiah & Lamentations (NIVAC) is the best volume I own. Given the actual size of this commentary, one would think it can’t possibly cover a book the size of Jeremiah in sufficient detail. But Dearman is strong on brevity and even though it doesn’t give as much detail as it could, it does what the NIVAC is designed to do. It’s not as detailed as the six author WBC 2 volume set (I currently have vol. 1 but not volume 2), but six authors makes for a weird imbalance. WBC is far more detailed, but I’d recommend Dearman ahead of it for usefulness for pastors, students and lay readers.

Lamentations: Commentaries on Lamentations alone are rare. Robin Parry. Lamentations (THOTC) is a very good argument for Lamentations being worthy of its own volume.

Ezekiel: There is not a book in the bible I’ve avoided the way I’ve avoided Ezekiel, so I don’t have a strong opinions on Ezekiel commentaries. But Iain Duguid, Ezekiel (NIVAC), and Leslie Allen (2 vols., WBC) are the volumes I go to.

Daniel: Although the format is a bit unorthodox, John Goldingay, Daniel (WBC) is the best (the usual introductory material is actually at the end of the commentary rather than the beginning). Some conservative evangelicals have disliked his conclusions on dating and some parts of interpretation, but I find his reading to be the most plausible.

Minor Prophets: Every series has its own way of dividing up the “minor prophets”. So instead of doing each of the 12 individually, I’ll just condense them together and make a few suggestions. J. Andrew Dearman, The Book of Hosea (NICOT), James L. Mays, Hosea (OTL), and Douglas Stuart, Hosea-Jonah (WBC) all cover Hosea well, though Stuart is less strong on Joel and Obadiah than he is on Hosea, Amos, and Jonah. Leslie Allen, The Books of Joel, Obadiah, Jonah and Micah (NICOT) is excellent, and gives all four books their due. James Limburg, Jonah (OTL) contains some unique features, like an appendix on Jonah in Jewish and Christian art, and his introduction and treatment of the genre and uniqueness of Jonah among the Twelve is very insightful. This is a must have, I think. Bruce Waltke, A Commentary on Micah is an impressive work, treating an often overlooked book in comprehensive detail. John Goldingay & Pamela Scalise, Minor Prophets II (UBCS) is great intro level commentary, which doesn’t feel like it lacks much in exegesis, even though it doesn’t cover technical or critical questions. Ralph L. Smith, Micah-Malachi (WBC) is much shorter than it’s counterpart by Douglas Stuart on Hosea-Jonah, but still a very worthy volume to have. Mark Boda’s recent NICOT volume The Book of Zechariah is a beast of a commentary, but incredibly well done. Mignon Jacobs has just replaced the older volume in the NICOT series and The Books of Haggai and Malachi is excellent.

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