Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Commentary Series Overview

When I write commentary reviews, one of my main goals is to assess how well the commentator hit the intended audience of the commentary and utilized the format of the commentary. This often necessitates cluttering up the post discussing issues of format. To eliminate that, I thought that I would make some general remarks about the format and audience of each of the series that appear in my reviews. Terms like liberal, conservative, etc. are not used pejoratively but simply as descriptors. Many of you are familiar with Jeremy Pierce's commentary series overview. If you don't see a particular series covered here, check out his post to see if it's reviewed there. I am making no attempt at covering every series, just the series that I use. Additionally, new series (such as the NCCS) have been started in the five years since he wrote his very helpful guide, so I thought that it might not be completely out of order to have another person tackle commentary series overviews. This is a post that will be expanded regularly and I will post a link to it at the top of all of my commentary reviews, that way you can check it out if you're not familiar with the series a particular commentary is in. I'll also place links within this post to the commentaries in each series that I've reviewed, making it a good place for easy reference for all of my reviews.

AB: The Anchor Bible series is a leading academic commentary series. Most of the contributors could be labeled as moderates, with quite a few volumes have been written by Catholic scholars. This series has been in progress for a long time and thus is probably the most uneven series on the market. The newer volumes are always among the top on their given book. Most of the older volumes have been surpassed by newer volumes in other series. However, some of the older volumes are classics and are still must reads. Not only is the quality of the series uneven, but the feel and focus of commentary varies from volume to volume. Some focus more on rhetoric, others on historical matters, and some on literary criticism. A lot of leeway is given to each individual writer. The commentary begins with lengthy introduction dealing with the full assortment of background issues in good detail. The main body of the commentary proceeds as follows: the author's translation of the text, followed by a notes section and a comment section (though sometimes the comments precede the notes). The notes section goes through the text verse phrase by phrase in a detailed manner. The comment section can be anything that the author wants to make it and varies greatly. (See my reviews of Song of SongsGalatians, and Jude)

ACCS: The ACCS series seeks to introduce the modern reader to Patristic theologians. Brief explanations of the text proceed phrase by phrase (rather than verse by verse) with selections made from sermons, commentaries, and other written sources. Typically, the comments will be drawn from about eight or so different fathers, with comments here and there by other voices when they have a significant insight. The main contributors are selected to try to be representative of the breadth of the era, selecting both Greek and Latin fathers. It certainly shouldn't be the first commentary off the shelf when researching a given passage, but it's too easy to overlook the early insights that Patristic theologians had. It's definitely a series worth consulting. (See my review of Galatians)

AOTC: The Apollos Old Testament Commentary series is a mid-length commentary series aimed at pastors, leaning a little more on the academic side. It's like a more accessible version of the Word Biblical Commentary series. Not too many volumes are out yet so we will see how this series develops and if that generalization remains true. You get a full length introduction that deals with all of the critical issues. Each contributor provides their own translation and provides substantial annotations dealing with text-critical and translation issues. Hebrew and Aramaic are transliterated making these notes more accessible than the equivalent notes in the Word Biblical Commentary series. After those notes you get sections discussing the form, setting, and structure of the text. Here relevant background matters as well as the literary form and structure are discussed, though not to quite the same length as you get in the Word series (at least in the better volumes). After that is a 'Comment' section which is critical assessment of the meaning of the text. It's followed by an explanation section which exposits the text a bit and deals with matters of theology. (See my review of Daniel)

BECNT: The Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament is an advanced commentary series that is aimed at the pastor and graduate student. Thus most volumes are not quite as advanced or thorough as you would find in the WBC series (though some are) but a working knowledge of Greek would benefit you. This is a little bit of a difficult series to describe because the format has not been entirely consistent from volume to volume. However, I can make some general comments. The introductions are of fairly typical length and cover your usual topics. There's nothing unique there. The format of the commentary proper is a bit different, though. Each section begins with a one to three paragraph long summary of the text followed by the author's translation and then exegetical notes. Strangely the notes do not proceed verse by verse but paragraph by paragraph. Since the notes are detailed, the number of pages between headings is far too many making it maddeningly difficult at times to find what you're looking for when cracking the commentary open for quick reference (this is not a problem in the volumes on Luke but it seems to be for the rest of the volumes). Following the exegetical notes are 'Additional Notes' covering text critical matters. My personal opinion of this series varies by volume. Some are fantastic, and some are just ok. (See my review Jude)

BMT: The Bible in Medieval Tradition is a brand new series that meets a serious lacuna in the commentary market, that of Medieval Catholic commentaries. As of the writing of these notes, the only volume out thus far is on Galatians and it is excellent. My complaint with the ACCS series is that the selections are sometimes too brief to get a true feel for a particular father. That's not the case with the BMT. It translates (in Galatians for the first time) either whole commentaries or commentaries on whole chapters. In the Galatians volume six different commentators were selected. The introduction is thorough and provides a nice biography of each contributor so you can place the work in the context of their life and Medieval Catholicism. I think that this is a very important series and I'm very excited to see future volumes. (See my review of Galatians)

BNTC: The Black's New Testament Commentary series is a mid length commentary aimed at students and pastors. Each commentary has a brief introduction and then proceeds section by section. Translations are the authors.' Comments proceed verse by verse and comments on variant readings and grammatical issues are usually relegated to the footnotes. All important interpretive issues are discussed in some detail, but not quite to the same level as some of the more rigorous mid level series like the PNTC or NICNT. The pages are small for a commentary so don't let the page count fool you. Most of the contributors are mainline protestants and overall it seems to be a pretty moderate series. The series took a long time to complete, so some of the earlier volumes, while good are a bit dated. Most of the newer volumes are very solid entries with some being among the top two or three on their book. It's a series that is definitely worth checking out! (See my review of Galatians)

BO: The Berit Olam series is a relatively new series that draws from a range of traditions for its contributors. The commentaries a short to medium in length and begin with a brief introduction followed by running comments on the text that proceed section by section. The discussion is based off of the NRSV. The focus of the comments is on literary aspects of the text. Footnotes are sparse. I've only seen Diane Bergant's volume on the Song of Songs, but its very very good. If it's indicative of the quality of the rest of the series then it is not one to overlook despite the limited fanfare. I think this series is appropriate for both lay people and pastors, especially if one wants something a little different than the typical short commentary. (See my review of Song of Songs)

CCC: The Crossway Classic Commentaries series consists of classic commentaries written by luminaries within the Protestant tradition such as Martin Luther or Charles Hodge. No effort was made to cover every book and some books were covered twice. They simply wanted the best of the Lutheran and Puritan tradition. These are some of the finest commentaries of their era, but at times will feel much more preachy than modern commentaries. Each volume will vary some and will take on the characteristics of the era in which it was produced (there's a few centuries in between, e.g., Luther and Ryle). If you have the time, it's worth checking out. (See my review of Galatians)

Hermeneia: The Hermeneia commentary series is one of the leading academic series on the market. It covers both the Old and New Testament and has contributors from a variety of backgrounds, though they are generally liberal. Hermeneia also contains translations of several works by continental European scholars. The strength of these commentaries often is their introductions (e.g., the introductions in the Romans and Daniel commentaries are unparalleled). This isn't surprising given their focus on historical and critical matters. The commentary proper begins with a translation of the text that is footnoted to deal with text critical issues. Then it moves to a discussion of the form and structure of the text, usually comparing the text at hand to various parallel texts and also dealing with background issues. The verse by verse notes offer detailed exegesis. Seminary students and scholars are the primary audience of this series. The value to the pastor varies book by book. Some are very helpful but some can probably be skipped. (See my reviews of Song of Songs and Daniel)

INT: The Interpretation series is directly aimed at helping preachers and teachers preach and teach. Explanations are tackled one paragraph at a time in a running exposition. At the end of each section the authors engage in a discussion of how to preach or teach the given text (or alternatively, pitfalls to avoid). These volumes don't typically forge new trails of cutting edge scholarship (though, some like 1 Corinthians by Hays are an exception), but they definitely are useful to their intended audience when paired with more detailed commentaries. Most of the volumes are pretty good and consistent, but there are a few week entries. Unfortunately some volumes are getting long in the tooth and it may be time for the publisher to consider replacing them. The biggest downside of the series are the God-awful dust jackets. This series has a very strong moderate Mainline Protestant feel. (See my review of Galatians)

: The New American Commentary series is published by Broadman & Holman and thus as one would expect has a distinctively conservative baptist feel. These are fairly typical mid length commentaries geared towards pastors and studious members of the laity. The introductions are fairly meaty and often deal with difficult historical questions. The NIV is the standard translation and comments are based on that. The commentary goes verse by verse providing substantial exegetical help and interacting with a variety of viewpoints, but never getting too technical. (See my review of Daniel)

NCCS: When it came to commentaries, I used to think that length was a virtue. Over the past couple of years I've been changing my mind as I've both encountered some long commentaries that I didn't care for, and encountered many brief commentaries that are top notch. Shorter commentaries tend to be clear and concise, and not bogging you down with too many alternative viewpoints. A good one will do that without being superficial. The New Covenant Commentary Series (NCCS ) seems to seek to be the standard bearer for this style of commentaries on the New Testament. The two series editors, Michael Bird and Craig Keener have assembled an international collection of scholars that are top notch. The commentary usually will have a medium length introduction followed by the commentary proper. There you get the author's translation followed by a short section giving an overview of the section that will come under discussion, after which the text is discussed by paragraph in the form of a running explanation rather than verse by verse. Technical matters are relegated to footnotes. Each volume also has several excurses dealing with background issues in greater depth. Additionally there are several sections titled 'Fusing the Horizons' sprinkled throughout. Here the commentator show the relevance of the ancient text to our current situation. This series is aimed at pastors and serious lay students. (See my reviews of Romans and Colossians and Philemon)

NIB: The New Interpreter's Bible Commentaries seek to provide pastors and students with a brief commentary by leading moderate Mainline Protestant scholars. The introductions are exceedingly brief and the comments proceed verse by verse. The goal of the commentary is to lay out the author's view and not clutter you with a myriad of interpretive options. Interaction with other scholars is limited to a few leading commentaries which makes the commentary very accessible and easy to read. These factors make this series a nice option for busy pastors or undergraduate students, however it simply can't substitute for more substantial works. Unfortunately, volumes aren't sold separately, but fortunately, the contributors are top notch, so it's one of the few series that isn't too bad to purchase in bulk. (See my review of Galatians)

NICOT/NICNT: This is a series I probably don't need to comment on as most of you will be familiar with it. I consider it to be the best Evangelical commentary series on the market. The series has been around for a long time; long enough that replacement volumes are now coming out. The older volumes are on the shorter end of intermediate commentaries and tend to be fairly conservative. The newer volumes are much fuller, coming close to the length and depth of more technical series and also, while still conservative, are a but more moderate than their predecessors. Each volume opens with a medium length introduction and then moves into a bibliography and then the commentary proper. The text being commented on is printed in the commentary. Some commentators provide their own translation while others use the NIV/TNIV. First comments are addressed to paragraphs as a whole and then they move into verse by verse discussions. Technical details are relegated to the footnotes. What makes this series so good is its combination of exegetical rigor and theological sensitivity. It's a must read for pastors and useful for scholars and students. I am slightly concerned with the trend I am seeing towards longer and longer volumes. It would be a shame to see pastors potentially scared off from the series by the length of some of the volumes. (See my review of Song of Songs)

NIVAC: The NIV Application Commentary series is written by Evangelical scholars with the layperson and the pastor in mind. The introductions are generally brief covering the basics. The text used in the commentary is, of course, the NIV and comments are made based on that translation. Discussion is broken up into three sections: 'original meaning,' 'bridging contexts,' and 'contemporary significance.' In the 'original meaning' section, you get a fairly brief discussion of the original meaning of the text (though some volumes in this series are a bit more detailed). Ideally the 'bridging contexts' portion of the commentary should help prepare the way for the 'contemporary significance' section by dealing with issues related to the cultural location of the text. The 'contemporary significance' section guides the reader in application of the text. I used words like 'ideally' and 'should' because sometimes it seems as if the writers in this series don't stick to the layout and talk about whatever they feel like in each section. Unfortunately, when authors do that, a lot of the utility of the series is lost. Overall I feel this series is a bit uneven, but the better volumes are worth owning for anyone who teaches in a church setting. (See my reviews of DanielGalatians,and Philemon)

NTL/OTL: The Old and New Testament Library series is one of the more difficult to make general comments about. Part of the reason is because some of the volumes in this series are old, but even among the newer commentaries, there is a great deal of disparity in the degree of thoroughness. Some, like de Boer's excellent volume on Galatians, are among the most detailed on the book they cover. Others, like Cousar's volume on Philippians and Philemon are fairly brief. In most of the newer volumes, there is a moderate length introduction covering the usual critical issues and the analysis of the text proceeds paragraph by paragraph. Each paragraph gets a brief introduction covering literary and/or rhetorical matters and then each verse is commented on in detail. Generally, the volumes come from a moderate to liberal perspective and are written by leading scholars in the field. They strive to be accessible to the general reader, and in this regard they're more successful than the Anchor Bible series is, but it's still a mid length series (for the most part). For those who don't have extensive background in Greek and Hebrew many volumes in this series are an excellent resource as they discuss lexical and syntactical issues in an accessible manner. For the most part, for whatever book you want to study through, I'd strongly recommend checking out the volume from this series. They're not all must own, but many are. (See my reviews of Song of SongsGalatians, and Philippians and Philemon)

PC: I can't provide a lot of comment on the Pentecostal Commentary series in general. At the time of writing there were four volumes on the market and only one (Fee's on Galatians) that I've ever even seen in a library, so I'm not sure if the series will get wide circulation or not. As you might guess from the title of the series, it is geared towards Pentecostal Christians and hence is probably conservative on the whole. The Pentecostalism doesn't come through very strongly in Fee's commentary for the most part. It's only in the application portions where Fee opts to address his fellow Pentecostal's directly. Fee's volume is a solid mid length commentary that comments on the text paragraph by paragraph, probably most comparable to the NCCS volumes. As for the series as a whole I can't comment or make a recommendation as I'm not familiar enough with the other scholars who have written in the series. (See my review of Galatians)

PNTC: The Pillar New Testament Commentary series is an intermediate series covering the New Testament and comes from an evangelical perspective. Most of the volumes in this series fall in the more academic half, similar to what you would get in an NICNT. A few of the older volumes are less detailed. The introductions typically are lengthy and deal with all of the standard critical issues as well as some theological matters. In the commentary proper the NIV text is printed and comments proceed verse by verse. Before the verse by verse notes is a section that summarizes the paragraph as a whole and sometimes focuses on structural and rhetorical issues. The notes on individual verses are detailed and usually there is a fair amount of footnoting to deal with matters of Greek grammar, where the author has his choice of using Greek font or transliterating. More space is given to theological issues in this series than many, making that one of its strengths. All of the volumes in this series that I have looked at have been good and some of them are among the two or three best on their book. Whether you are writing an academic paper, preparing a bible study or sermon, or studying for your own enrichment you would be wise to check out the PNTC series. (See my reviews of Philemon and Jude)

THNTC/THOTC: The goal of the Two Horizon's commentary series is to help the student of the Bible fuse the horizons between the biblical world and their own. The commentary proper and introductions probably fall into the middle range in terms of accessibility, however much more attention is paid to theology than one would typically get in a standard commentary. Their goal is to produce a robust theological interpretation of Scripture, and it seems that most of the volumes come from a theologically moderate perspective. Technical matters get a little less attention than in most mid-level commentaries, but there are plenty of other series that cover those matters. After the main body of the commentary you get a plethora of essays dealing with theological matters that arise throughout the commentary. These offer an opportunity for greater synthesis than you typically get in an excursus in a typical commentary. Unfortunately, by being relegated to the back of the commentary, they may go unnoticed by some. This series is most helpful to a pastor or teacher going through a whole book. (See my reviews of Philemon and Jude)

TNTC/TOTC: The Tyndale series is a conservative Evangelical series, but beyond that it's little tough to classify. Many of the volume are more technical in their discussions than one would typically find in a commentary geared towards lay people. But most of the volumes also aren't detailed enough to be a true mid-level commentary. The introductions succinctly cover critical issues and the commentary proper proceeds paragraph by paragraph through the text. This series has been around for a while so some of the volumes are a bit dated. Some of them are really excellent, however, and cannot be ignored. (See my review of Philemon)

WBC: The Word Biblical Commentary is a critical, broadly Evangelical commentary series covering both the Old and New Testament. The format of the series is widely panned, but I personally don't think it's so terrible. The introductions are usually moderately lengthy, though they don't usually compete with what you get in Hermeneia or the ICC. In the main body of the commentary, commentators provide their own translation with notes dealing with text critical issues as necessary, after which the comments are split into three sections, 'Form/Setting/Structure,' 'Comments,' and 'Explanation.' The 'form/setting/structure' section deals with background and parallels as well as a discussion of literary form and structure as well as rhetorical analysis if the author is so inclined. The 'Comments' section deals with the text phrase by phrase commenting on the original language. Theology and contemporary significance tend to be dealt with in the 'Explanation.' This division frustrates some people because they have to look in up to three different spots to find comments on a particular phrase or verse. I think, however, that if you read the commentary straight through (which I know most people don't) that there is some merit in this distinction, especially since it makes it easy for one to consult the commentary at each phase of research into the passage. The biggest problems with this series is the unevenness of it. Some volumes are fantastic while others are very mediocre. There's also a big difference in the degree to which each section is utilized by the commentators. For example, some almost ignore the 'Explanation' section. Additionally, some of the commentaries in the series have been surpassed by newer works in other series. While the WBC is certainly intended for academics, pastors would be wise to pick up some of the stronger volumes (it's intended for them too!), as it is probably the most accessible and inexpensive truly academic series. (See my reviews of Song of SongsDanielGalatiansPhilemon and Jude)

WeBC: The Westminster Bible Companion series is a mainline protestant series geared towards the lay Bible study leader. The select high profile professors to write a short commentary that deals some with technical matters but also expounds the theology of the text. The focus is primarily on the latter and I would say that while not always persuasive, the suggestions that both Davis and Brueggemann make are interesting. Even for a lay Bible study leader these could never be a sole resource for study of a particular book. In order to keep the commentary brief, whole paragraphs are occasionally skipped to allot space for extended comments elsewhere. Sacrificing breadth for depth is not a bad thing in a series like this, it just is what it is. On the whole I would call the WeBC series moderate as they do respect Scripture though occasionally come to conclusions that would rub many conservatives the wrong way. I've only spent significant time in two volumes, Isaiah and Song of Songs, so my experiences may not be indicative of the series as a whole. (See my review of Song of Songs)

ZECNT: The Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament is one of the newest commentary series on the market. At the time of writing only four volumes are out and I've only seen Blomberg on James. The series is aimed at pastors and students who have had two years of Greek, though one could work their way through the commentary with less exposure, but it would be difficult. I would probably put it at the bottom of the advanced range due to the use of the original Greek and the lack of transliteration, though some intermediate series will have more detail overall (e.g., the NICNT). The format of the commentary is unique and I think immensely helpful. There is a brief introduction followed by the commentary proper. Each section of text is split into six parts. The first section is the 'Literary Context' which seeks to situate the passage within the larger flow of the book. The second section is a two sentence summary called the 'Main Idea.' This is followed by a translation of the text in diagram form. The diagram seeks to show the relationship between clauses. On the left side of the diagram is a one word description of the function of each clause. Following the translation is an explanation of the 'Structure' which, as expected, deals with matters of structure and rhetoric. Finally we arrive at the 'Explanation of Text' which contains the typical exegetical notes one expects in a commentary and they proceed verse by verse. The last section is 'Theology in Application' which provides some direction for thinking about how to apply the text. The discussion here is at the paragraph level. After the close of the commentary there is a short section on the theology of the book. Major topics are given a page or two, where the author can do some synthesis. The layout is very clean, using line breaks and different font sizes and faces well which makes the format work exceptionally with the end result of an exceedingly clear presentation of the contents of the commentary. If you're a pastor and you haven't picked up a volume in this series yet, try it, you'll love it! (See my reviews of Galatians and James)

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