Not sure how I missed this on the fall conference tables, but there is a new edition of D. A. Carson’s NT Commentary Survey. 7th ed. Baker, 2013. 176 pgs. pbk. ISBN: 9780801039904.
If you are not familiar with this resource, you really ought to be, esp. if you are a pastor, student, or even a NT specialist. (The pastor is the primary target audience.) The burgeoning number of commentaries of various sorts on just about any NT book makes it nigh impossible for most of us to keep track of what’s available and to what our attention might profitably be due—and these two categories do not coincide!
That is the value of the extensive survey and analysis that Carson provides. His analysis does not consist of reviews of each volume—that would take an encyclopedic work. Rather he gives you his conclusions as to the best works available on each NT book along with extensive listings of other resources grouped in various categories. For many there are very brief comments as to why they are listed as they are. That is where the Survey shines. This is not just a dull bibliography. Carson writes with verve and pulls no punches. It’s the only bibliography with which I am familiar that can produce chuckles and even peals of laughter as you read. (If you are a commentary writer, it may also produce tears!)
When I was pastoring and the early editions of this Survey became available (many years ago now) my practice, which I commend to young pastors seeking a pattern for their preaching and study, was to look ahead at my intended preaching schedule and then consult Carson and the other bibliographies available (in the early years—1980s—Barber’s Minister’s Library was another standby, but now obsolete) to see what I had and what was recommended. I’d then buy 3 or 4 of the best of those recommendations so as to have on hand the tools I’d be most likely to profit from in the coming year as my preaching schedule materialized into actual sermons.
I’ll append some of my favorite comments from a few NT books as a sample and then suggest that you visit your favorite book source and get your own copy (yes, even if you have the 6th ed.; the additions and new/expanded sections are worth it). I’ll leave the more negative comments anonymous as to the writer so described; you can find them for yourself if you’re interested. If it appears that there are more negative than positive, that’s true of the book overall. Carson’s goal is, I think, to hi-light the best and indicate why others do not measure up.
6 best commentaries for pastors are: France, Edwards, Stein, Lane, Hooker, and Brooks. (These are followed by a mixed summary of their strengths that I’ll not reproduce here.)
- “Sometimes incautiously speculative in its re-creation of the church circumstances Mark allegedly addresses.”
- “Far too speculative regarding what can be known about the historical Jesus. Mark emerges as a late Paulinist.”
- “He is stimulating but irritating, owing to a penchant to read behind the passage rather than the passage itself, and sometimes to read in defiance of the passage.”
- “So odd I am uncertain why it was published.”
“Until a few years ago, the book of Acts was still not particularly well served by commentaries, but this has changed. The first choice today for pastors and students is David G. Peterson (PNTC, 2009). It reflects careful work across the gamut of integral disciplines: text criticism, grammatical exegesis, historical considerations, literary criticism, and, above all, robust theological reflection.’
Also commended are Schnabel (ZECNT), Bock (BECNT), Barrett (ICC), and Fitzmyer (AB).
Less complementary assessments
- “Its deviously complex reconstructions of Luke’s sources and theological interests not infrequently in defiance of hard evidence, make it an unsuitable starting point for most preachers.”
- “Amazingly thin on theology, for which coins and inscriptions are no substitute.”
- “Not theologically rich but is generally useful if one overlooks the occasionally intrusive semi-Pelagianism.”
- “Only rarely reflects careful exegesis. Theology that is too abstracted from the history in which God embedded its disclosure, let alone careful contextual reading of the text, is in danger of being free-floating, rootless.”
- “Sometimes more interested in communication than in a careful understanding of the material to be communicated.”
- “Sometimes confuses carefully examined social context with comparatively uncontrolled modern social theory.”
“Although one or two reviewers of earlier editions of this Survey have criticized me for saying so, with distinct lack of repentance I continue to think that the best Romans commentary for pastors available in English is still the work of Douglas J. Moo (NIC, 1996). It is becoming a bit dated now, and its introduction is thin, but Moo exhibits extraordinary good sense in his exegesis. No less important, his is the first commentary to cull what is useful from the new perspective on Paul while nevertheless offering telling criticisms of many of its exegetical and theological stances. The combination of the strong exegesis and the rigorous interaction makes the work superior to…”
“Occasionally Cranfield [ICC, 2 vols.] seems more influenced by Barth than by Paul, but for thoughtful exegesis of the Greek text, with a careful weighing of alternative positions, there is nothing quite like it. It is rare that a commentary provides students with an education in grammatical exegesis.”
Less complementary assessments
- “Its socio-rhetorical interpretation is too narrow, too horizontal, and, finally, too unconvincing.”
- On many issues I could not avoid the feeling that the exegesis in this commentary is agenda-driven.”
- “Suitably faddish but too often misses Paul’s point.”
- “Characterized by somewhat untamed rhetoric when he dismisses those with whom he disagrees.”
- “Will fill your soul with lovely thoughts, even if you have something less tangible at the end than you expected.”
- “The thesis as a whole is frankly reductionistic; … makes the epistle feel as if it is a book about [the commentary writer's] own ideas rather than something rooted in history.”
Misc. comments from other books (not identified here)
- “Shows too many signs of haste. More irritatingly, it does not seem to have been edited or proofread.”
- “Written with color and verve…. The work is an exercise in brilliantly phrased reductionism.”
- “Wordy and often betrays too little time and care taken with the text, so that they cannot be read as reliable commentary.”
- “Painfully divorced from the historical Jesus: one marvels at how bright [the biblical author] is and how unknown Jesus is.”
More could be said and excerpted, but this is enough to encourage you (I hope!) to make good use of this book.