Building A Theological Library: Old Testament Commentaries

Looking back over the completed list of my recommendations on Old Testament commentaries, you may notice some patterns. If you haven’t looked, here’s the list of posts:

In the Old Testament Backgrounds I gave you a brief commentary survey, but I wanted to elaborate on that a bit. Since that was all the way back in November, here’s the list again focusing on the 4 major series I recommended, but this time with the actual commentaries and some general rules of thumb (rules of thumbs?).

Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries

I recommend several TOTC commentaries, and I’ve generally found the ones I’ve used to be good general overviews of a given book. Here’s several:

As you can see, I had quite a few! The ones in bold are ones that are particularly helpful for the specific book they cover. In general, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries have very strong introductions to the book and are sensitive to background historical and cultural concerns. If you already have an ESV Study Bible, these commentaries are the logical next step. And by that I mean, the ESV Study Bible has excellent notes and introductory articles to each book. If we’re going to think in terms of sizes, each ESV Study Bible comes equipped with a “small” commentary on each book. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries would then represent a “medium” sized commentary on each book. For the average Christian reader who wants to dig just a bit deeper, this is the series of commentaries to grab.

NIV Application Commentary

If an ESV is small, Tyndale is medium, then the rest of the commentaries in this list are large to extra large depending on the specific volume. This first one, the NIVAC series, is probably the best commentary series for the average Christian reader who wants in depth treatment of a book as well as contemporary applications. I realize keep referring to this mystical “average Christian reader” person. It’s really just my designation for the a Christian reader who is not necessarily a pastor or teacher, but who wants to learn more about specific book of the Bible through reading and study. It’s a person who doesn’t know the biblical languages, isn’t a theology nerd, and isn’t probably going to buy every commentary they can get their hands on just to study further. They’re probably going to pick up a single commentary, and I would recommend either one of the Tyndale volumes listed above, or one of these NIVAC volumes:

New International Commentaries on the Old Testament

Now, my personal favorite in the Old Testament is the NICOT series. These volumes are considered “large” in my measurement system. However, they aren’t necessarily aimed at the “average Christian reader” person, at least not by my definition. Instead, NICOT is for pastors and teachers (which is my demographic) and provides in depth exegetical work through a given book. There may or may not be theological asides and applications, it just depends on the given author. They can be technical at times, but not as much as the next series. Here are the ones that I personally recommended:

You’ll notice there’s quite a bit of bold. That’s probably because I am most likely to recommend a commentary that suits my needs. Part of why I’m making this aggregate list then is to temper my one-sided recommendations. My top pick for a commentary on a given book may not be the commentary you should go out and buy if you want to study that book further. In the case of the NICOT series, if you enjoy technical exegetical discussions and in depth exposition of a given book, then by all means, grab a NICOT. If you really enjoy technical discussions, then pick one of this next list.

Word Biblical Commentary

Commentaries in this series are almost always on the large side, and often are split into two volumes (which was also true of NICOT). However, these commentaries are usually a bit more technical are not the easiest reading because of font style and general formatting. What is helpful is that after each section of extensive comment on a particular passage, the author boils it down to a summary section. I usually start there and then go back if I need more detail. For this series, here’s what I picked:

Much fewer bold, and a much short list, right? I had this entire series on the NT, but paired it down just a pinch, and it’s not high on my priority list when it comes to the OT. Part of that is because, while this series is aimed at pastors and teachers, it provides far more detail than I can pass along. So, invariably, if I’m teaching an OT book, I may peruse the introduction, but the exposition is usually more technical than my needs call for.

Conclusion

There are a bunch more commentaries that I aren’t here, but that you should check out in the individual OT section lists. There are also 2 commentary series (Baker Exegetical Commentaries on The Old Testament Wisdom & Psalms, & New American Commentaries) that I made several recommendations from, but didn’t comment on here. So to comment, both of these count as “large” series are aimed at pastors and teachers. BECOTWP are generally great for the wisdom books (as you should expect them to be) and NAC commentaries are generally strong in the historical books (which is where NICOT is currently lacking). So, keep that in mind.

Also, I never recommend any books from the Anchor Bible series, or Hermenia for that matter. Both of these are very highly esteemed critical commentaries series. However, as far as Best Commentaries is concerned, the latter never ranks very highly on OT books. The former does occasionally, but I don’t generally prefer them. If I were to give a reason, it’s that I don’t particularly trust the theological presuppositions of most of the authors, and even if they are screening them out in their work, I don’t think that’s the right way to read the Bible. I want my commentaries to at least touch on the theological, and when they do, I prefer the theological ruminations coming from evangelical scholars.

That, and well, you can’t read everything, so you’ve gotta draw the line somewhere!

Author: Nate

I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

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