There are literally hundreds of commentaries written on the Bible. Many of us cannot afford to purchase anywhere near that number, nor would we have the time to read them all. That is why it is so important to be wise in our choice of commentaries. Here are the ones I would recommend for Paul’s larger letters.
First, if we are looking for an explicitly Wesleyan/Methodist series, two stand out: the Wesleyan Bible Study Commentary series (WBSC; Wesleyan Publishing House), and the New Beacon Bible Commentary series (NBBC; Beacon Hill Press). WBSC is the older of the two and targets laypersons, though pastors could also benefit from the volumes. The newer series, NBBC, is more in-depth and suitable for both ministers and serious students of Scripture. It features three sections. “Behind the Text” provides information such as literary features and historical and social settings related to the biblical passage. “In the Text” covers the passage verse-by-verse and discusses grammar and word meanings. And “From the Text” addresses the theology, intertextuality, application, and other issues regarding the passage. The most relevant and thorough volumes for our purposes in this series include George Lyons’s Galatians (2012) and George Lyons and William Greathouse’s two-volume set on Romans (2008).
Recently, Kenneth J. Collins and Robert W. Wall directed a number of Wesleyan/Methodist scholars to write The Wesley One Volume Commentary (Abingdon, 2020). This work covers the entire Bible, inclusive of Paul’s letters, all compacted into one oversized book. Although it is definitely worthwhile to purchase and read, serious students of Scripture will also want to consult the more comprehensive commentaries below.
For Romans, the second edition of Douglas Moo’s Letter to the Romans from the New International Commentary on the New Testament (NICNT) series is the most comprehensive commentary on Romans in English (Eerdmans, 2018). He engages with numerous scholars and their interpretations throughout the work, which makes this resource all the more valuable for repeated consultation. The only downside is Moo’s Reformed interpretation of theological hot buttons such as election and predestination. The Wesleyan student may want to temper Moo’s views with Jack Cottrell’s Romans, a two-volume set from the College Press NIV Commentary series (College Press, 1998). Cottrell is most lucid when giving Arminian responses to Calvinist interpretations of Romans passages.
Craig Keener’s contribution to the New Covenant Commentary Series (NCCS) is Wesleyan-friendly (Cascade, 2009). He provides many cross-references to the OT as well as Jewish and Greco-Roman writings. The commentary’s modest size prevents such referencing from being cumbersome, though it covers Romans passage-by-passage instead of verse-by-verse.
Two outstanding verse-by-verse commentaries are Robert Jewett’s study in the Hermeneia series (Fortress, 2008) and Frank Thielman’s in the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament series (ZECNT; Zondervan, 2018). Jewett emphasizes a rhetorical reading of the letter that is sensitive to social-scientific motifs such as honor and shame. Thielman writes clearly, succinctly, and is especially strong on exegetical points.
For those who favor the New Perspective on Paul—with its stress on ancient Jewish sources conveying grace and on “works of the law” as identity markers such as circumcision, and its emphasis on social differences between Jews and gentiles—two works remain the standard-bearers. First, there is James D. G. Dunn’s nearly classic two-volume study in the Word Biblical Commentary (WBC; Word, 1988). Second, there is N. T. Wright’s work in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, vol. 9 (Abingdon, 2000). More recently, however, Michael Bird’s Romans from The Story of God Bible Commentary (SGBC; Zondervan, 2016) exemplifies a view that does justice to both traditional Protestant and New perspectives. This commentary series also targets evangelical ministers.
Moving on to 1 Corinthians, the second edition of Gordon Fee’s commentary offers a much-needed update for his now-almost-classic 1987 edition (NICNT; Eerdmans, 2016). Fee commands a good balance between solid exegesis, text-critical notes, and engagement with other interpreters. The most comprehensive commentary in English remains Anthony Thiselton’s contribution to the New International Greek Testament Commentary (NIGTC; Eerdmans, 2000). But given the age of this work, it could not engage with more recent scholarship from the twenty-first century.
A superb commentary that fills in this gap by engaging with many contemporary scholars is B. J. Oropeza’s 1 Corinthians (NCCS; Cascade, 2017). Oropeza, a Free Methodist scholar, employs an intertextual approach that capitalizes on using the OT and other ancient literature. We gain a number of insights from this succinct work.
Three other commentaries deserve mention. Paul Gardner provides not only helpful exegesis but also frequently covers “In depth” topical studies and theological applications (ZECNT; Zondervan, 2019). The work by Roy Ciampa and Brian Rosner in the Pillar Commentary (PCNT) excels in intertextuality and is strongly evangelical (PCNT; Eerdmans, 2010). David Garland’s 1 Corinthians from Baker Exegetical Commentary (BECNT) is an excellent resource with a good balance of exegesis and interaction with secondary sources, though it is quickly approaching twenty years since its release (Baker Academic, 2003).
For 2 Corinthians, two scholars from the Wesleyan/Methodist tradition have recently written prominent commentaries. The first is B. J. Oropeza’s Exploring Second Corinthians: Death and Life, Hardship and Rivalry, written for the newly formed Rhetoric of Religious Antiquities series (RRA; SBL Press, 2016). The commentary series offers a unique approach that combines visual exegesis (“rhetography”) with literary observations (“inner texture”), intertextuality, social and cultural motifs, and other modes of interpretation. Oropeza’s handling of these various layers prompts many fresh insights. The second is Ralph P. Martin’s second edition in the WBC (2014), which he completed just prior to his passing away. This replaces his 1986 edition. The work remains an exegetical giant in the WBC tradition.
Hot off the press is David E. Garland’s work in the Christian Standard Commentary series (CSC; Holman Bible, 2021), which replaces his earlier commentary in the New American Commentary series (1999). Garland does a great job of providing clear prose, solid exegesis without being too technical, and engaging with secondary sources. As was the case with his previous volume, this work is bound to be a favorite for ministers. Another recent work that rivals Garland’s by combining a good balance of exegesis, secondary source consultation, and cross-referencing is by George Guthrie (BECNT; Baker Academic, 2016).
All the same, some of the “older” commentaries remain unsurpassed when it comes to being outstanding exegetical works—Murray J. Harris’s volume in the NIGTC (Eerdmans, 2005) and Margaret Thrall’s two-volume study in the International Critical Commentary series (ICC; Bloomsbury/T&T Clark, 2000, 2004).
Two recent Wesleyan-friendly commentaries on Galatians are among the most excellent on Galatians. The first is Craig Keener’s Galatians: A Commentary (Baker Academic, 2019). This hefty, 848-page work expands on his more slender commentary in the New Cambridge Bible Commentary series (NCBC; Cambridge University Press, 2018). We find tons of cross-references to ancient and contemporary literature, as well as a number of “A Closer Look” excursus sections for more specialized studies. The second is David deSilva’s Letter to the Galatians (NICNT; Eerdmans, 2018). DeSilva brings to his commentary a wealth of socio-cultural, rhetorical, and exegetical skills, gleaning the latter from his earlier work, Galatians: A Handbook on the Greek Text from the Baylor Handbook on the Greek New Testament series (BHGNT; Baylor University Press, 2015).
For New Perspective enthusiasts, N. T. Wright just finished his commentary on Galatians for the new series, Commentaries for Christian Formation (Eerdmans, 2021). The series is verse-by-verse and combines exegesis, preaching, teaching, and application with the goal of faith formation. This work will doubtless appeal to ministers and theologians alike. Earlier New Perspective interpretations include Don Garlington’s An Exposition of Galatians: A New Perspective/Reformational Reading (Wipf & Stock, 2002), and James D. G. Dunn’s volume in Black’s New Testament Commentary (BNTC; Hendrickson, 1993).
For works critical of the New Perspective, A. Andrew Das’s study in the Concordia Commentary (Concordia, 2014) and Douglas Moo’s in the BECNT (Baker Academic, 2013) deliver updated and carefully nuanced positions that are compatible with the traditional Protestant view. Although Keener’s Galatians is about 100 pages longer than Das’s when bibliography and indices are counted, the latter surpasses Keener when it comes to pages dedicated to interpretation—656 pages (Keener has 588).
A final commentary in this group that is worthy of mention is Martinus de Boer’s study in the New Testament Library series (NTL; Westminster John Knox, 2013). It contributes to an apocalyptic reading of the letter complementary with, but not with as many excursus sections as, J. Louis Martyn’s highly influential work in the Anchor-Yale Bible Commentary series (Yale University Press, 1997).
Lynn Cohick has recently published her commentary on The Letter to the Ephesians (NICNT; Eerdmans, 2020). This 600-page work replaces F. F. Bruce’s astute but now dated earlier volume for the NICNT (1984). It also replaces her more moderately sized commentary for NCCS (Cascade, 2010). Her work emphasizes salvific theology, Jew and gentile relationships, and household codes.
Harold W. Hoehner’s Ephesians: A Exegetical Commentary (Baker Academic, 2002) is a thorough work that supports Paul’s authorship of this letter (960 pages). In terms of Greek, it is a little more user-friendly than the excellent but now somewhat dated commentary by Andrew T. Lincoln in the WBC (Word, 1990).
Two other commentaries worthy of mention are by Frank Thielman (BECNT; Baker Academic, 2010) and Clinton Arnold (ZECNT; Zondervan, 2010). Thielman is good at focusing on OT use in the letter, and Arnold is especially perceptive on the historical setting of Ephesus.