The subject of bibliography has always been a favorite of mine, and that of commentaries in particular. I have my own commentary recommendations here. So, I picked up the recent editions (both published in 2013) of Longman’s Old Testament Commentary Survey and Carson’s New Testament Commentary Survey.
I will start off with Carson’s survey, because it is so incredibly impressive. I was very hard pressed indeed to think of a single important NT commentary that has appeared since his sixth edition (2007) that Carson has not commented upon, and that is certainly saying something. Almost all the time, I agree with his assessments, as well. He even knew about some commentaries that are not in the mainstream of scholarship, and mentioned them as well. The only commentaries published between 2007 and 2013 of any real importance for pastors that he failed to mention were Pipa’s and Fesko’s commentaries on Galatians. He mentioned McWilliams’s commentary, though, which I did not expect (not because it is not important, but because it would appeal primarily to a fairly niche market). I highly recommend Carson’s study as a great bibliographical help for students and pastors seeking the best commentaries.
I cannot be nearly as positive about Longman’s book. Most of the shortcomings of the previous editions are still there, and there are vast swaths of scholarship that he simply ignores. There is almost no mention of the Historical Commentary on the Old Testament (which has a growing number of volumes in it), which is not only available through Dove Booksellers (and most of them on Amazon as well), but represents extremely important scholarship. He mentions the name Renkema, for instance, in connection with Garrett/House’s commentary on Lamentations, but fails to rate Renkema’s own commentary, which is surely the most important detailed exegetical commentary of Lamentations in existence. Many of the recent International Critical Commentary volumes are missing, as well (Williamson on Isaiah 1-5, Goldingay/Payne on Isaiah 40-55, Mackintosh on Hosea, Salters on Lamentations). On Lamentations, he includes the Daily Study Bible entry, but not the ICC volume. Really? Absolutely none of John Currid’s commentaries are mentioned at all, nor are Dale Ralph Davis’s. Only one of Iain Duguid’s commentaries are mentioned (his Ezekiel volume), and none of John Mackay’s. So, among the four best living Old Testament commentators (in my estimation), only one receives any mention at all, and only for one of his books. I am well aware how huge the field is. It is impossible to include absolutely everything. But the gaps I have mentioned are particularly glaring for Reformed pastors. Reformed pastors should own every commentary published by Currid, Davis, Duguid, and Mackay (who among them have covered a huge amount of the Old Testament).
It is not very well updated, either. For instance, he shows no knowledge that Fox completed his Anchor Bible commentary on Proverbs (the second volume was published in 2009). His blurb on the first volume reads precisely the same as it did in the fourth edition (“The only drawback is that it covers just the first nine chapters. Hopefully, we will not have to wait too long for the rest of the commentary to appear,” page 78). Oops! He does include a review of every single contribution to the Revised Expositor’s Bible Commentary, which he edited. I’m glad he did that, don’t get me wrong, but without some of the other far more important contributions, it feels a bit like an advertisement for his own work. I counted only 35 new entries outside the REBC. There have been quite a few more than 35 new important commentaries written on OT books since 2007.
He still includes glaringly arrogant recommendations of his own commentaries, though not always. His blurb on his Job commentary is much more humble than his blurb on his Proverbs commentary, which I hope is an embarrassment to him (“You can guess my feelings on this commentary. I wouldn’t have published it if I didn’t like it!” p. 79).
There are many, many times when I disagree with his judgment on commentaries. For instance, his assessment of Hamilton’s Exodus commentary, while generally positive (which I do agree with wholeheartedly, as Hamilton’s commentary is one of my favorites), includes a statement that I think is completely off the mark: “a good treatment of the text’s meaning without much further theological or canonical reflection.” And he only gave it 4 stars. If any commentary deserves 5 stars, it’s Hamilton on Exodus, and there is a LOT of theological and canonical reflection. He does not appear to have read this one yet.
This is not much of an update on the fourth edition, has numerous gaps (where Carson has practically none), and has more than hints of self-serving in it. I cannot recommend this book as a reliable guide to commentaries, I am sorry to say. The fourth edition was much better in its time (though still suffering from some of the problems mentioned, the problems were less glaring in older editions) than this fifth edition.
Lane Keister is a Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church in America and is Pastor of Lebanon Presbyterian Church in Winnsboro, S.C. This article first appeared on his blog, Green Baggins, and is used with permission.