The biggest news in books and Bibles this year has been the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Version. Many today fail to recognize the pervasive, worldwide impact this one translation has had as it became the book of the English empire just as that empire spread to the ends of the earth, taking with it the KJV. The publication of this translation is one of the keys being led by it. Quite appropriately several books have been published this year on the King James Version.
King James Version
First, Oxford published a mammoth King James Bible: 400th Anniversary Edition which is beautifully done with leather binding and gilt edges. This is the original text which differs from our modern versions of the KJV significantly.
Donald Brake’s Visual History of the King James Bible: The Dramatic Story of the World’s Best-Known Translation (Baker) provides many nice photographs and illustrations. David Norton and Gordon Campbell are two of the leading authorities on the KJV, and they both have written helpful summaries of the production of this translation. Norton’s The King James Bible: A Short History from Tyndale to Today (Cambridge) is brief; Campbell’s Bible: The Story of the King James Version (Oxford) is more engaging, also tracing areas in which the KJV has had significant influence.
Several new books focus on the influence (primarily literary) of the KJV. Jon Sweeney’s Verily, Verily: The KJV—400 Years of Influence and Beauty (Zondervan) is at the popular level and is an easy, fun read. More scholarly but no less engaging are David Crystal’s Begat: The King James Bible & the English Language (Oxford) and Robert Alter’s Pen of Iron: American Prose and the King James Bible (Princeton). Crystal’s chapters each focus on a phrase that has come from the KJV into regular English usage. Alter focuses on several American authors showing how the KJV Old Testament in particular shaped their styles. His chapters on specific authors are dense, but the introductory chapter is some of the best material on the KJV.
My favorite among these books is Leland Ryken’s The Legacy of the King James Bible: Celebrating 400 Years of the Most Influential English Translation (Crossway). Ryken discusses some of the story of the production of the KJV, then focuses on what has made the translation great, drawing out lessons for Bible translation today.
C.S. Lewis Bible (NRSV; Harper Collins) is not a thorough study Bible in terms of having notes throughout the text. Rather, it collects quotes from Lewis’ writings (which are imminently quotable and insightful) and places them appropriately throughout the Bible. In spite of a pretentious introduction by Douglas Gresham, this is a useful devotional resource.
The Andrews Study Bible (NKJV; Andrews Univ. Press) is an attractively done, thorough study Bible written from a Seventh Day Adventist perspective. It contains book introductions and extensive notes. The notes are theologically conservative, more Arminian and egalitarian. I don’t think it can rival the ESV or the NLT Study Bibles, but it is nicely done.
The Matthew Henry Study Bible (KJV; Hendrickson) includes as notes at the bottom of the page extensive citations from Matthew Henry’s commentaries, which the publisher plausibly cites as “the World’s Best-Loved Commentary.” The result is a thorough study Bible with Henry’s pastoral and theologically rich observations. The time-honored Ryrie Study Bible is now available in the ESV. The conservative, evangelical, dispensational notes which have made this resource famous are now combined with the ESV.
A revised and updated third edition of the Harper Collins Bible Dictionary has been released with about 50 percent new material and added charts, tables and graphics. This is a good source for technical information. More technical than most will want, D.C. Parker’s Codex Sinaiticus (Hendrickson & British Library) tells the fascinating story of one of our key surviving biblical manuscripts and the project which has made this manuscript available in a virtual format.
Timothy Beal’s Biblical Literacy: The Essential Bible Stories Everyone Needs to Know (Harper Collins) is actually an introduction to the main stories of the Bible with notes on ways these stories have been picked up in popular culture, from presidential speeches to books and movies. It is less conservative but can be helpful in noticing ways the Bible is referenced in pop culture.
Reclaiming the Old Testament for Christian Preaching, ed. Kent, Kissling and Turner (IVP) is an admirable attempt to help preachers with the Old Testament, which is often found challenging. The chapters are written by scholars who also are engaged regularly in preaching, though some chapters still come across as a bit more technical. The chapters helpfully begin with a canonical approach seeing the OT as a coherent story with a Christian message. This will be a helpful resource.
D.S. O’Donnell’s God’s Lyrics: Recovering Worship Through Old Testament Songs provides an exposition of five key OT songs (
In the past couple of years, discussions about the historicity of Adam and Eve have heated up. C. John Collins’ Did Adam and Eve Really Exist? (Crossway) argues strongly for the traditional understanding of Adam and Eve as real historical people who fell into sin. This is a significant contribution to this very important topic, and Collins investigates the practical implications of the issue, as well.
John Goldingay has published volumes on Genesis (2 vol.), Exodus & Leviticus and Numbers & Deuteronomy for the Old Testament for Everyone series. In keeping with the series, these volumes are brief and devotional. They cannot supplant more substantive works but can be good supplements. Commentaries on Genesis 1—3, in the Ancient Christian Texts series, contains commentaries and homilies from Severian of Gabala (fifth century) and the Venerable Bede (7th—8th century). Though these authors are quite different, the introductions and commentaries are fascinating. They likely only will be of peripheral use for regular preaching.
Robert Holmstedt’s Ruth: A Handbook on the Hebrew Text (Baylor), in keeping with its series, focuses on detailed grammatical questions in the Hebrew text. It will provide a good supplement to the regular commentaries and perhaps help refresh one’s grasp of Hebrew. Phil Ryken’s 1 Kings in the Reformed Expository Commentary is a great exposition, aware of the literature and making sound theological application for today. It will be very helpful for preaching.
Robert Fyall’s The Message of Ezra & Haggai (IVP) contains an unusual grouping of books but is engaging and helpful. Gary Smith packs a lot of learning into a small compass in his Ezra-Nehemiah, Esther (Tyndale). David Firth’s The Message of Esther is engagingly written and interprets Esther in light of the flow of the biblical narrative connecting it to the rest of the OT and noting how the gospel fulfills the story of Esther. This will be very useful.
Craig Bartholomew and Ryan O’Dowd’s Old Testament Wisdom Literature: A Theological Introduction is a very helpful volume providing an in-depth theological investigation of Job, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. This is a significant treatment ranging from issues of form, to history of interpretation, to these books as Christian witness and implications for life today including education, politics and other arenas.
Bruce Waltke and James Houston’s The Psalms as Christian Worship: A Historical Commentary (Wm. B. Eerdmans) is one of the most significant resources published last year. They survey the history of reception and use of the Psalms in the church, as well as provide thorough exegesis of selected psalms. Along the way they argue persuasively for the church to attend again to the rich spiritual resources of the Psalms.
Also helpful is Prayers on the Psalms: From the Scottish Psalter of 1595 (Banner of Truth). Because this article deals with reference books aimed at preaching, one might be surprised to see included a book that is a collection of prayers. However, I am increasingly convinced the best way to prepare to preach the Psalms is to have been praying and singing them along the way. So, this little collection with one brief prayer on each Psalm, gathered from the Scottish Psalter of 1595 (a time rich in the use of the Psalms) is immensely valuable.
Volume 16 of the Apollos Old Testament Commentary actually is two books in one, with commentary on Ecclesiastes by Daniel Fredericks and commentary on the Song of Songs by Daniel Estes. This is a substantive commentary with detailed academic discussion and helpful theological reflection. Estes discusses the allegorical interpretations of this book but argues for a literal reading.
Robin Parry’s Lamentations is technical but also accessible. Lamentations often is neglected, so Parry’s treatment—which seeks to understand the book in light of the New Testament witness—will be helpful. Gordon Bridger’s The Message of Obadiah, Nahum & Zephaniah (IVP) is a helpful, engaging exposition with illustrations and application. Richard Phillips’ Jonah & Micah (P&R) is another fine exposition in the Reformed Expository Commentary, which is doing an excellent job of providing thoughtful, exegetical sermons as resources and models.
Bryan Gregory’s Longing for God in an Age of Discouragement: The Gospel According to Zechariah (P&R) provides a brief exposition of each section of text, then explores how each section points to Christ along with specific application. This will be more helpful in dealing with a book such as Zechariah, which is less often preached.
Craig Blomberg and Jennifer Markley have produced a new, helpful Handbook of New Testament Exegesis (Baker). They cover all the aspects of the exegetical process with clarity. D.A. Carson has contributed significantly to the helpful literature on the New Testament and the recent festschrift in his honor, Understanding the Times: New Testament Studies on the 21st Century (Crossway), has several helpful essays including Mark Dever on the church, Doug Moo on justification in Galatians, and Eckhard Schnabel on the meaning of the word baptizo.
Robert Gundry’s Commentary on the New Testament (Baker) is an impressive accomplishment, which will be very useful. Gundry provides a literal translation of the New Testament along with commentary. While a single-volume work is briefer than standard commentaries, this will be a helpful resource.
Craig Keener’s The Historical Jesus of the Gospels is a key reference work focusing on how Jesus actually is portrayed in the gospels rather than the views of critical scholarship. This will be a helpful reference tool when preaching through the gospels.
The new Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament is winning widespread praise as having the best layout of any commentary series. Grant Osborne’s Matthew from this series is a gem, providing an excellent guide in sermon preparation. It pays attention to the Greek text but is usable by people who lack Greek skills. Osborne’s pastoral heart comes through in the writing.
Curtis Mitch and Edward Sri’s Gospel of Matthew (Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture; Baker) provides a helpful, affirming exposition, though they tend to list interpretive options without making a choice between them. Westminster John Knox has begun its own theological commentary series written by theologians (Belief), and the proliferation of such series is encouraging. The inaugural volume of this series is Mark by William Placher, which provides an overview of the text with theological reflection and interaction. It will not displace the key standard commentaries but is of supplemental value.
The Gospel of Luke has been well served this year with new books across the spectrum of sermon preparation. Luke: A Handbook on the Greek Text (Baylor), by Culy, Parsons and Stigall, provides a detailed examination of the grammar of the Greek text. The latest volume of The MacArthur New Testament Commentary is Luke 6—10 (Moody) where John MacArthur gives a close reading of the text with an eye to application.
Michael Card has launched his new Biblical Imagination Series with Luke: The Gospel of Amazement (IVP). Noting his great indebtedness to his teacher, William Lane, Card seeks to engage the text with proper imagination, entering the world of the text, asking probing questions and deriving application. This might be the most useful of the Luke volumes for preachers. Lastly, Justo Gonzalez provided a theological commentary, Luke, for the Belief Series (WJK).
Derek Thomas’ Acts (P&R) is very good, containing sermons through this book that are especially good at showing how the apostles interpreted the Old Testament in light of Christ. Thomas provides a good model for preaching.
T. Scheck has for the first time translated into English St. Jerome’s Commentaries on Galatians, Titus and Philemon (Notre Dame). These will be of more interest to the scholar, but can be useful as supplemental material reading the comments of the foremost exegete of the Patristic era. Roy Ciampa and Brian Rosner’s The First Letter to the Corinthians (Eerdmans) lives up to the excellent reputation of the Pillar Series. It is a solid and very useful work.
Thomas R. Schreiner’s Galatians in the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament is another must-have. The introduction alone is of great value as Schreiner concisely summarizes the gospel core of the letter and how God has used it throughout church history. Schreiner expounds the text clearly and faithfully, making this extremely useful in preaching.
There are two really good new commentaries on Ephesians: Frank Thielman’s Ephesians (Baker) and Clint Arnold’s Ephesians in the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Both are detailed commentaries, affirming Pauline authorship, paying attention to the Greek text with an eye to application. Both are now in the list of leading commentaries on Ephesians. It is hard to judge between them, though Thielman often addresses the church-related questions I have more than many other commentaries. Both volumes are among the year’s best new volumes.
Lynn Cohick’s Ephesians (Cascade) is considerably shorter. James Grant’s 1 & 2 Thessalonians (Crossway) in the Preaching the Word Series is a good exposition in sermonic form helpful for preaching.
Mark Dubis’ 1 Peter: A Handbook on the Greek Text (Baylor) provides a wonderful discussion of the Greek text of this letter, providing the reader also with an up-to-date discussion of some key aspects of Greek grammar. This book, thus, can be of great benefit in sermon preparation, as well as in brushing up language skills.
Lewis Donelson’s I & II Peter and Jude (WJK) is thorough, though it is marred by skepticism, making it less useful to the preacher. Of most immediate use to pastors will be R.C. Sproul’s 1 and 2 Peter (Crossway) which is a series of brief sermons through these letters. Sproul can supplement the more comprehensive commentaries providing homiletical help.
Several new books on Revelation have appeared this year; chief among them is Gordon Fee’s Revelation (Cascade). Fee is one of my favorite commentators, and he does not disappoint in this concise treatment of this challenging book. Two popular treatments, Charles Swindoll’s Insights on Revelation (Zondervan) and John Walvoord’s Revelation (revised and edited; Moody) will be popular in certain areas but are not as steady guides as Fee or some of the previous standard commentaries.
A new volume in the Ancient Christian Texts Series (IVP) contains English translations of the Greek Commentaries on Revelation by Oecumenius and Andrew of Caesarea, the only significant commentaries on Revelation to come from the Greek fathers. These works will not be as easily applied, but they are helpful when engaging Revelation, if only in showing the church has through the years understood this book in various ways. For example, Oecumenius and Andrew see the millennium (
Lastly, Nelson Kraybill’s Apocalypse and Allegiance: Worship, Politics and Devotion in the Book of Revelation (Brazos) is a provocative book placing Revelation in the context of first century emperor worship and drawing out contemporary applications. Lastly, I must mention These Last Days: A Christian View of History (P&R), which contains a number of excellent essays on Revelation and eschatology, not least of which is one by D.A. Carson dealing with
This Year’s Top 6 Commentaries
If you can invest only in a handful of commentaries this year, here are some volumes that will pay dividends for many years:
Bruce Waltke and James Houston’s The Psalms as Christian Worship: A Historical Commentary (Wm. B. Eerdmans)
Grant Osborne, Matthew (Zondervan)
Thomas R. Schreiner, Galatians (Zondervan)
Frank Thielman, Ephesians (Baker)
Clint Arnold, Ephesians (Zondervan)
Mark Dubis, 1 Peter: A Handbook on the Greek Text (Baylor)