As in most recent years, publishers have provided a treasury of outstanding Bible reference materials over the past year. Here are some of our recommendations for preachers as you build your library.
The main study Bible to come out this year is the NIV Grace and Truth Study Bible (Zondervan), under the general editorship of Albert Mohler. A strong team of scholars, largely Baptist, provides robust commentary for each biblical book, with the NT typically receiving more space for commentary than the OT.
Preachers will also benefit from Enjoying the Bible: Literary Approaches to Loving the Scriptures (Baker) by Matthew Mullins. Mullins urges us to appreciate the Bible as literature. Since God chose to give us His word in literary forms (and not just as a list of statements), it is right and fitting to pay attention to these and to realize this will help us to understand the Scriptures better and to love them more. Robert Plummer’s helpful text, 40 Questions About Interpreting the Bible (Kregel), has come out in a second edition with four new chapters (“questions”; the old chapters are still available online) in response to feedback from readers.
Christians, preachers and congregants alike, often struggle with the OT. We know it is Scripture, but it is often hard to understand, to figure out how it all fits together and how it fits with the NT. In The Problem of the Old Testament (IVP) Duane Garrett tackles these challenges in plain language. The result is a wonderful introduction to much of the discussion around the OT in the last few decades which will guide preachers to more confidence in how they understand and handle the OT, which will naturally lead to better preaching.
Following Garrett’s treatment of the big picture, David King turns to the specific work pf preaching in his wonderful little book, Your Old Testament Sermon Needs to Get Saved: A Handbook for Preaching Christ from the Old Testament (Moody). This is an accessible, practical, encouraging treatment of this vital topic from a pastor who has been practicing this for decades.
Iain Provan’s Seeking What is Right, The Old Testament and the Good Life (Baylor) is a very good examination of how the Bible guides us to understand what a good life is and how to pursue it. Combining hermeneutics, ethics, and church history Provan points toward how the Bible can and should shape life, making this a helpful resource for thinking about how we preach and disciple.
Gary Schnittjer’s Old Testament Use of Old Testament, A Book-by-Book Guide (Zondervan) is a wonderful resource unlike anything previously available. We have (rightly) had a lot of work on the NT use of the OT but before NT authors made use of the OT, later OT authors were already interpreting and applying earlier OT texts. This book will help you see connections across the OT that will help you to interpret specific texts in light of the whole. This (massive) work is not the final word on this topic but it is an excellent step forward.
Less helpful is Cameron Howard’s The Old Testament for a Complex World: How the Bible’s Dynamic Testimony Points to New Life for the Church (Baker). Howard assumes conflict between different parts of the OT, assumes a quite critical position, and then asks how this is helpful for the church. I think it isn’t.
William Lane Craig’s In Quest of the Historical Adam (Eerdmans) interacts knowledgably with a wide range of literature pertinent to this significant topic. Craig argues for a literal historical Adam, but understands that Adam to be one of many pre-human creatures whom God singles out, along with Eve, for elevation into full humanity. I am also unconvinced by Craig’s quick dismissal of the importance of the doctrinal of original sin.
Peter Leithart’s The Ten Commandments: A Guide to the Perfect Law of Liberty (Lexham) is a provocative and stimulating, though brief, study of the 10 Commandments, particularly reading them “in Christ.” Reading them “in Christ” does not mean overturning them, but seeing how they ultimately point to the character of the only One to fulfill them. This will freshen up your preaching simply by stirring up your thinking, and help ensure you preach these texts in a Christian manner.
Sidney Greidanus’s Preaching Christ from Leviticus, Foundations for Expository Sermons (Eerdmans) is a wonderfully helpful book like his others in this series, and may even be more so since this deals with Leviticus, a book commonly held to be among the most difficult to preach. Greidanus holds up for us the beauties of Leviticus, lures us to it, and then gives us a careful guide of how to preach it as Christian Scripture pointing to Christ. How could you not benefit from such a book!
The Reformation Commentary on Scripture volume on Joshua, Judges, Ruth (IVP) by Scott Amos helpfully notes that the sources he drew from often surprise us by the arguments they make. We think we know how people from certain eras would answer certain questions, but we are often wrong. For this very reason, this volume – and others like it – are useful, jarring us from assumptions and helping us to see how previous Christians wrestled with Scripture. Amos draws well from a wide range of Reformation era sources.
The Land and Its Kings: 1-2 Kings (Eerdmans) by Johanna Van Wijk-Bos is not so much a typical commentary as a retelling, attentive to literary moves and giving interpretive clues – more like a guide to a play. She does not make application or point to theology. Nonetheless, she is a gifted writer and drew me in immediately. This can be helpful to a preacher in being attentive to the power of the story, but more work will need to be done to consider how the text functions as God’s word to His people today.
In Ezra-Nehemiah (NIVAC; Zondervan) Donna Petter and Thomas Petter take the text as it is, trusting its reliability rather than the skepticism so prevalent today. In keeping with the series the exposition is non-technical with brief forays into application which ranges from personal stories to tracing theological issues across the covenants.
The Ezra-Job volume of the ESV Expository Commentary (Crossway) is particularly valuable with its attention to interpretive challenges and approach to preaching the text. Brian Aucker does a great job of being concise yet thoughtful in treating Ezra and Nehemiah. Preachers will find his treatment of long sections of lists particularly helpful. Eric Ortlund helpfully addresses the issues of morality attached to Esther’s involvement in the beauty pageant and the lack of references to God or Torah. I appreciated Douglas Sean O’Donnell’s take on Elihu in Job and his treatment of the theology of the book.
Christopher Ash’s Trusting God in the Darkness: A Guide to Understanding the Book of Job (Crossway) is a brief sermonic study to complement his full length commentary, Job: The Wisdom of the Cross (Crossway, 2014). As usual for Ash, the writing is clear and engaging, and the pastoral application is insightful. This will be very helpful for sermon planning.
Jerome F. D. Creach’s Discovering Psalms, Content, Interpretation, Reception (Eerdmans) is more critical and is designed like a textbook. However, because Creach gets the overall purpose of the Psalms (teaching us to interact with the living God) and draws much from the work of James Mays, there is much useful here. Nancy deClaisse-Walford’s Psalms, Books 4-5 (Liturgical Press) is not as helpful. The inclusion of brief observations from people in different societies is potentially helpful but the one on Psalm 115 is concerning in its affirmation of syncretism.
Bruce K. Waltke and Ivan D. V. De Silva’s Proverbs, A Shorter Commentary (Eerdmans) is a condensation of Waltke’s impressive two-volume commentary on the book from 2004. The previous volume was far more technical, so this volume allows more ready access for preachers to Waltke’s insights, with some interaction with more recent scholarship. One of Waltke’s main contributions is his argument that the proverbs are arranged in specific clusters, and this is still a guiding point in this condensed version. Benjamin Quinn’s Walking in God’s Wisdom (Lexham) is not a full commentary but is a helpful orientation to the interpretation and application of this book. Quinn helps the reader understand how this wisdom book works and traces key themes showing how we should faithfully read Proverbs and apply it today.
Introductions to books run the risk of merely saying more briefly and less compellingly what has been said elsewhere – condensing and flattening all at once. However, Andrew Abernethy’s Discovering Isaiah, Content, Interpretation, Reception (Eerdmans) avoids this shortcoming bringing together an exciting combination of overview, reception history, and discussion of key themes on the important book of Isaiah. This will help preachers orient themselves to the message of the book and to how the church has understood and applied it over the years. Paul Wegner’s Isaiah (TOTC; IVP) is a brief but solid exposition continuing the tradition of the Tyndale series. Wegner sees the book as a coherent work, probably by one author. His introduction is insightful on structure and seams in Isaiah which will help in planning how to preach through the book.
John Goldingay’s The Theology of Jeremiah: The Book, The Man, The Message (IVP) is a helpful introduction. The structure of Jeremiah is often confusing and can make a sermon series in the book challenging. The first half of this brief book is quite helpful in understanding the flow of the book, which is not chronological. In the second half, Goldingay discusses some key theological themes in Jeremiah and compares each one with common conceptions in Christian theology today. I don’t think Goldingay always grasps well classic Christian theology at its best, but these are helpful comparisons to the way people often think today.
Alistair Begg’s Brave by Faith (Good Book Company) is a brief sermonic exposition of Daniel with helpful pastoral application. Begg points out how well this books speaks to our current cultural moment when the sense of Christian faith is incomprehensible to many.
Robin Routledge’s Hosea (IVP; TOTC) is more technical than some others in this series, providing a careful, workmanlike treatment. Tchavdar Hadjiev provides a sane, careful exposition of Joel and Amos (IVP; TOTC). He argues for interpreting each of these Minor Prophets on their own, rather than focusing on their place within the Book of the Twelve. Allan Harman’s Amos: The Shepherd Prophet (Banner of Truth) is very accessible, even as he comments on Hebrew words, and concludes each section with brief comments on application. Daniel Carroll has, of course, significantly more space in The Book of Amos (Eerdmans; NICOT). He argues for a traditional date and that the book is largely the work of the prophet himself. Carroll has been a leading scholar on Amos for some time, and his work culminates in this volume making it a significant contribution.
Amy Erickson’s Jonah, Introduction and Commentary (Eerdmans) is an unusual volume. Over one third of the book is given to the section on history of interpretation, and, then, there is further treatment of this topic in each section of exposition. She critiques the idea that God is all-merciful and seems to be at pains to point out places where God can be seen as being bad. Daniel Timmer’s Obadiah, Jonah and Micah (IVP; TOTC) attains the Tyndale ideal of being meaty yet concise. He interacts significantly with the literature, is attentive to meaning, and robustly affirms Scripture’s truthfulness.
We have two excellent new commentaries on the often neglected books, Nahum, Habakkuk and Zephaniah: S. D. Snyman’s in the Tyndale series (IVP) and Thomas Renz’s in the NICOT (Eerdmans). Snyman’s is more brief, in keeping with the series, and helpfully focuses on the theological message of each book. It is concise and rich. The sections on the theological message of each book will be excellent resources when beginning to preach through these important books. Renz’s work is very thorough, combining a good bit of technical discussion with robust and pastoral theological reflection. Renz takes the text as it stands, finding less value in redactional history than many other technical commentaries. Both of these will be useful resources for preachers.
The Branch, Exposition of the Bible, A Preacher’s Commentary of the New Testament (Langham Global Library) by the late Michael A. Eaton is a unique contribution. Eaton’s work was previously published as separate volumes, but here has been brought together. Eaton served in pastoral ministry in a wide, diverse range of cultures and sought to make the Scripture clear to “the least of these.” Eaton’s preface is a good, refreshing challenge for preachers. This volume seeks to get to the heart of texts and to apply them searchingly.
Constantine Campbell and Jonathan Pennington’s Reading the New Testament as Christian Scripture (Baker) is helpful to preachers due to its focus on how the NT fits together as Christian Scripture. We’ve so often been accustomed to seeing the parts rather than the whole, and this volume will help us correct that tendency.
Sarah Ruden has provided a new translation of The Gospels (Modern Library). Any new translation can help us to see things afresh, but it is important to know where the translator is coming from. Ruden, a Quaker, is uncertain there is a “god” (p. xxvii) and thinks the Gospels have been distorted by Church teaching over the centuries. She assumes contradictions within the text and sees no value in seeking to understand how these texts might have been understood to cohere theologically. She begins with the assumption that early Christians had little to none of what we think of as Christian understanding.
In The Parables, Jesus’s Friendly Subversive Speech (Kregel), Douglas Webster provides sermons on most of the parables, seeking to come at them a bit differently. I am already a huge fan of the OT commentaries of Dale Ralph Davis, and his foray into the NT does not disappoint. His two volumes on the third gospel, Luke 1-13: The Year of The Lord’s Favor and Luke 14-24 On the Road to Jerusalem (Christian Focus), have the same appeal as his previous popular expositions: careful exposition, lively prose, sparkling wit, and rich theology and application. His own delight in the text and the God revealed there come through and enliven your own study. Christopher Brown’s Reformation Commentary of Scripture New Testament: John 13-21 (IVP) is another helpful volume in this series providing a window into how believers in the Reformation era understood and applied the latter half of John’s gospel. This book is useful for application and illustration.
Luke Timothy Johnson’s Interpreting Paul (Eerdmans) is one of those significant academic books, which is also valuable to preachers. Johnson is one of the towering figures in Pauline studies and here, in his last academic book, he makes his impassioned appeal to understand that Paul’s letters are intended for the church. He critiques scholarship which misses the church and calls for renewed attention to letters which most of scholarship has decided are not authentically Pauline. Ben Witherington, III and Jason Myers provide a helpful overview of the recent debates on Paul in Voices and Views on Paul (IVP), including the recent work by John Barclay and Stephen Chester.
The Romans-Galatians volume of the ESV Expository Commentary (Crossway) is a powerhouse! These four letters are generally regarded as Paul’s chief letters, and each one is given excellent treatment: Robert W. Yarbrough (Romans), Andrew David Naselli (1 Corinthians), Dane Ortlund (2 Corinthians), Frank Thielman (Galatians). They are more compact treatments but they are well informed, carefully argued, and brim with attention to the message of God for the church.
David Garland’s excellent 2 Corinthians commentary has been included in the new Christian Standard Commentary series (Holman Reference). Without a new preface it is difficult to see what is new, but there seems to be updated interaction with some more recent scholarship. Garland’s commentary is one of the best on this book and is a must have, whether in the older NAC version or in this new version. James W. Thompson’s Teaching and Preaching 2 Corinthians (Cascade) is the first volume in a new series (edited by Thompson). Informed by the latest scholarship the first section on each paragraph summarizes what is going on in the text and the second section explores ways this intersects with the cultural setting, particularly in the USA. He does not focus on illustrations or shallow application, but broad currents theologically. This is quite effective as Thompson points to how Paul’s discussion of weakness cuts across the common focus in the contemporary church on success in drawing in numbers. This book will be a great supplement to a full commentary like Garland’s.
I am pleased to see Timothy George’s Galatians updated for the new CSC series (Holman Reference). The first edition was excellent and this new edition has been updated in various ways, particularly in light of the significant developments in the debate about the New Perspective. Given this commentary’s bent toward Reformation interpretation and the importance of that era to the New Perspective discussion, this becomes an even more important resource. George continues to argue for a more traditional understanding of Paul, which provides a contrast to N. T. Wright’s Galatians (Eerdmans), the inaugural volume in the Commentaries for Christian Formation series. Coming from a leading exponent of the New Perspective on Paul, a new commentary on Galatians is very significant. For this series Wright seeks to expound the text and then point to how the truths in each section should shape us as followers of Jesus. I still think he gets Luther and Paul wrong!
Lynn Cohick’s The Letter to the Ephesians (Eerdmans) affirms Pauline authorship and that the letter fits within Acts, which is a reliable historical account. Cohick provides detailed exposition from an egalitarian and New Perspective stance. Abraham Kuruvilla’s 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus (Cascade) is a faithful, careful guide to the meaning of the text and then how a preacher can structure a message on that text.
David Peterson’s Hebrews (TNTC; IVP) is a solid, concise exposition finely tuned to the theology of the letter (especially important in Hebrews). His introduction helpfully argues for a balanced approach to understanding the structure of the book and gives a nice overview of the theology. The latest installment of Kregel’s Kerux series, Hebrews, by Herbert Bateman IV and Steven Smith continue the series aim to combine exegetical and homiletical work. There is helpful information here, but I find the organization on the page overly busy and distracting. They argue for Barnabas as the author, which is fine, but it is odd to be quite so strong on the point.
This may be a good place to comment on Everett Berry’s They Who Endure to the End: A Primer on Perseverance (Wipf & Stock). Berry surveys the whole bible, focusing on key NT texts wrestling with the doctrine of perseverance. He is even handed and provides an exegetically careful and pastorally sensitive work arguing for the necessity of perseverance, which is a mark of true believers. This will be a helpful resource as preachers take up warning texts.
The second edition of Doug Moo’s The Letter of James (Eerdmans) is a substantial revision lengthening the work by about 30 percent. He interacts with work that has come out in the last 20 years and enhanced his discussions. This will be very worthwhile to preachers due to his careful exegesis and concern for theology.
Tom Schreiner’s 1 & 2 Peter and Jude (CSC; Holman Reference) is a thorough revision of his previous NAC volume, without significant changes in exegetical decisions but with interaction with more recent scholarship and further theological reflection in places. The previous volume was one of the best on these letters, and this volume is only enhanced.
Thomas Andrew Bennett’s 1-3 John (Eerdmans; Two Horizons) is half brief commentary and half theological reflection on key themes in these letters. These are rich letters and extended space to consider the theological themes in them is welcomed, though some of this is more speculative and abstract. I find his argument for purgatory based on these letters odd and not compelling.
Darian Lockett’s Letters for the Church: Reading James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, and Jude as Canon (IVP) argues that these letters circulated as a collection and thus should be read as such noting connections between them. These letters stand out particularly for their emphasis on the point that orthodox belief and behavior must go together. Lockett’s exposition is insightful and helpful.
David deSilva’s Discovering Revelation, Content, Interpretation, Reception (Eerdmans) is immensely valuable. The survey of various ways Revelation has been read, used and misused, serves as both a warning to the preacher and a reminder of the importance of the book. deSilva also walks through each section of the book giving wise counsel on how to interpret carefully.
Ray Van Neste is Professor of Biblical Studies and Dean of the School of Theology and Missions at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee.
The Year’s Top 5:
- David King, Your Old Testament Sermon Needs to Get Saved: A Handbook for Preaching Christ from the Old Testament (Moody)
- Ezra-Job volume of the ESV Expository Commentary (Crossway)
- Romans-Galatians volume of the ESV Expository Commentary (Crossway)
- Darian Lockett, Letters for the Church Reading James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, and Jude as Canon (IVP)
- David deSilva, Discovering Revelation, Content, Interpretation, Reception (Eerdmans)