Christian preaching, at its heart, is a proclamation of God’s truth as revealed in the pages of scripture. Over the centuries preaching has attempted to do many other things, but it has never made a lasting impact when it has focused on anything other than the Word.
That is why effective preachers spend so much time in the pages of scripture: reading it, meditating on it, praying over it, chewing it up, wrestling with it, explaining it, illustrating it, applying it and proclaiming it. The Bible is our foremost tool, our foundation, our lodestar.
Given the significance of the Bible for the preaching task, it is no wonder good preachers give so much attention to finding helpful tools which will aid in the study of scripture. While nothing can substitute for the reading of the biblical text itself, it is clear that the use of such aids as commentaries and other biblical reference materials can enhance our ability to accurately and effectively communicate God’s truth to a contemporary congregation.
Each year seems to bring yet another crop of quality commentaries which will be of value to preachers. The major challenge is in determining where to spend an always limited book budget!
No matter how limited your budget, it is hard to go wrong with the Pillar New Testament Commentary series from Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. Joining four previous volumes already available (including Matthew and Romans by Leon Morris and John from D.A. Carson) are two new volumes: The Letter of James from Douglas J. Moo and The Letters of John by Colin G. Kruse. Moo is Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, while Kruse is a Lecturer in New Testament at the Bible College of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia. These two outstanding volumes are of value to serious Bible students yet accessible to those with less training. Filled with valuable exegetical insights and quality exposition, these commentaries deserve a place at the top of your book list for Christmas!
In last year’s survey I introduced the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture by calling it “one of the most unique publishing projects of recent years, and a series of remarkable value to preachers and students alike.” My opinion hasn’t changed over the past year, and serious students of scripture will join me in welcoming the two most recent volumes in the series: volume IX (Colossians, 1-2 Thessalonians, 1-2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon), edited by Peter Gorday, and volume XI (James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude), edited by Gerald Bray. Gorday is a clinical staff member with the Georgia Association for Pastoral Counseling and priest-associate at St. Anne’s Episcopal Church in Atlanta. Bray is professor of Anglican Studies at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham. Thomas C. Oden serves as general editor of the series, which is published by InterVarsity Press.
With each successive volume, the series becomes a more valuable addition to the preacher’s library. Using computer technology, the compilers have sifted through the voluminous works of the early church fathers, sifting out the portions in which those early Christian writers commented on various passages of scripture. The resulting material has then been organized and presented in a most readable format. Using this series enables the 21st century pastor to have access to the work of those commentators closest to the biblical era, drawing on such writers as Chrysostum, Irenaeus, Augustine, Tertullian, Ambrose and many more. In an age when anything prior to 1960 is considered ancient history, these volumes offer a rare opportunity to feast on the riches of the ancient Christian community.
Several other fine commentary series saw additional volumes released during the past year. One such series is Interpretation, published by Westminster /John Knox Press. The most recent volume in this extended series is Ecclesiastes by William P. Brown, Professor of Old Testament at Union Theological Seminary (Virginia). The Interpretation commentaries are designed to aid preachers, and are written from a mainline Protestant perspective. Brown observes, “Ecclesiastes is a book about seeking, one that moves between cynicism and acceptance, worldliness and spirituality, anxiety and serenity.”
A related series is the Interpretation Bible Studies, a series of brief treatments of biblical books in a creative study format designed for Sunday School or other adult Bible studies. One of the most recent such volumes is Acts by Charles C. Williamson, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Monroe, NC.
Another series designed for Bible teachers and study leaders is the Westminster Bible Companion. While aimed primarily at lay teachers, the volumes may prove helpful to many pastors in their study. A recent volume is Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs by Ellen F. Davis, Professor of Old Testament at the Protestant Episcopal Theological Seminary in Virginia.
One of the series first cited in last year’s Preaching survey is the Holman New Testament Commentary, edited by Max Anders and produced by Broadman & Holman Publishers. Anders is senior pastor of Castleview Baptist Church in Indianapolis, IN, and writes from a conservative evangelical perspective. The newest volume in this series is Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians & Colossians. The commentary is written with preachers in mind, providing helpful tools for preaching (such as life applications and “deeper discoveries”) along with a verse-by-verse exposition.
The Letter to Philemon is part of the relatively new Eerdmans Critical Commentary Series, and is written by Markus Barth (who died in 1994) and was completed and translated by Helmut Blanke. Barth (son of Karl) was Professor of New Testament at the University of Basel, Switzerland. Blanke, a former student of his, is a German pastor. In considering this volume, a natural reaction would be astonishment that such a tiny epistle could generate a commentary of 561 pages! Nearly half the volume provides introductory and background material on social, literary and contextual issues. This is a volume which will be of interest to pastors doing extensive study on the Philemon letter.
The Parables of Jesus by Arland J. Hultgren is a unique contribution to this year’s selection of commentaries in that it takes as its subject a literary genre (parables) rather than a biblical book or series of books. Hultgren is professor of New Testament at Luther Seminary, and the book is published by Wm. B. Eerdmans. His book features significant scholarship with a presentation that is not overly technical. Pastors who plan to preach a series on the parables will find this a useful volume.
Speaking of the parables, Westminster/John Knox Press has re-released The Parables of Jesus by William Barclay. (When first published it was titled And Jesus Said.) Those preachers who have turned to Barclay’s Daily Study Bible for a timely illustration or insight will find the same kind of useful content here, as Barclay examines the theme of each parable, analyzes it in light of its original context and discusses contemporary application.
Catholic scholar Earl J. Richmond of Loyola University is the author of Reading 1 Peter, Jude, and 2 Peter: A Literary and Theological Commentary, published by Smyth & Helwys. Richmond denies Petrine authorship of 1 & 2 Peter, arguing instead that they were written by a member or members of a “Petrine group” in Rome.
Crossway Books is showing a clear commitment to reclaim much of the rich biblical insights of earlier generations. One element of that commitment is seen in the continuing publication of classic commentaries by great Christian leaders of past centuries. Two recent volumes in The Crossway Classic Commentaries series are 1 & 2 Thessalonians by John Calvin (1509-1564) and Jude by Thomas Manton (1620-1677); Manton was an outstanding Puritan preacher in London who helped in the drafting of the Westminster Confession. In this series, edited by Alister McGrath and J.I. Packer, the language has been adapted to make the volumes readable to a contemporary audience. These are wonderful and helpful tools for the serious student of scripture.
Speaking of classics, Crossway has also published The Classic Bible Commentary, described as “an essential collection of history’s finest commentaries in one volume.” Edited by Owen Collins, an Anglican minister, the hefty volume contains work from John Wesley, John Calvin, Martin Luther, Matthew Henry (probably too much from Henry, given the ready availability of this material in every Bible software package ever published!), A.R. Fausett, J.C. Ryle and others. This has the limitation of any one-volume commentary on the entire Bible and is not going to be the most frequently-used commentary on your shelf, but it could be a helpful resource in consulting some of the great Christian minds of past eras.
One of the “classics” favored by many contemporary preachers is Charles Spurgeon. Sturgeon’s Commentary on Great Chapters of the Bible, edited by Tom Carter and published by Kregel, is not actually a commentary at all. It is a collection of Spurgeon’s homiletical expositions on a series of favorite chapters, such as Psalm 23, Romans 8, Hebrews 11 and more. Carter, a California pastor, has updated the language as needed and used the NIV for scripture quotations to provide a readable and useful resource for pastors and teachers.
Other Biblical Resources
The past year has produced a wealth of additional material which, while not commentaries, will be of real value to pastors and others who are serious students of scripture.
In recent years, no one has done more important work than Warren Wiersbe in calling preachers to rediscover the wonderful imagery found in God’s Word. His latest venture in that regard is the Index of Biblical Images, published by Baker Books. This slim volume takes more than 400 metaphors, similes and symbols found in scripture and provides references for them. Those who have enjoyed Wiersbe’s Preaching and Teaching with Imagination will want to take advantage of this handy resource.
Another magnificent resource offered by Baker is the Baker Atlas of Christian History. Nearly the first half covers the biblical era; the balance of the volume deals with the various epochs of Church history. It is a handsome volume and an interesting reference for pastors and teachers.
Another excellent new reference work for pastors is The MacArthur Topical Bible by pastor John MacArthur. This work provides over 20,000 topics covering more than 100,000 Bible passages, cross-referenced for ease of use. Produced by Word Publishing, this will be a popular aid for preaching ministers.
Baker Books has produced a series of textbooks which could prove helpful to pastors and preachers, particularly those who do not have the advantage of seminary training. Encountering the Old Testament is a survey text written by Bill T. Arnold of Asbury Seminary and Bryan E. Beyer of Columbia International University. The $49.00 volume also features an interactive CD-ROM as a study aid, which might prove helpful to pastors who lead study groups. Two related volumes recently released are Encountering the Book of Genesis by Bill T. Arnold of Asbury Seminary, and Encountering John by Andreas J. Kostenberger of Southeastern Baptist Seminary. Both textbooks provide useful material for pastors leading book studies.
Those preachers who work in the original languages will be interested in the arrival of the Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, edited by Timothy and Barbara Friberg, both field linguists and teachers in Southeast Asia, and Neva Miller, a consultant with Wycliffe Bible Translators before her death in 1997. This volume provides an alphabetical arrangement of every Greek form found in the major editions of the Greek New Testament.
Pastors interested in deeper study in hermeneutics will welcome two new books in this area: God-Centered Biblical Interpretation by Vern S. Poythress (P&R Publishing), and Reading Biblical Narrative by J.P. Fokkelman (Westminster/John Knox Press). The former title provides more of an introduction to biblical hermeneutics (while still dealing with some contemporary issues and topics), while the latter volume introduces the study of a specific genre of scripture, narrative. Poythress teaches at Westminster Theological Seminary, while Fokkelmann teaches Hebrew and Semitic languages at the University of Leiden in The Netherlands.
Finally, Tyndale House Publishers has produced a unique reference work which will find its way onto the shelves of many a preacher’s library. The Outline Bible, compiled by Harold L. Willmington, organizes every single verse of the Bible into a series of outlines. Preachers should be warned that while some of these outlines are homiletical in form, most are exegetical outlines of the text and are not “ready to preach.” Nevertheless, the material will prove quite useful to many pastors as they study in preparing to proclaim God’s Word.

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About The Author

Michael Duduit is the founding publisher and editor of Preaching magazine. He is also the founding Dean of the new College of Christian Studies and Professor of Christian Ministry at Anderson University in Anderson, South Carolina. Michael is author and editor of several books, including the Handbook of Contemporary Preaching (Broadman & Holman Press), Joy in Ministry (Baker Books), Preaching With Power (Baker) and Communicate With Power (Baker). From 1996 until 2000 he served as editor of the Abingdon Preaching Annual series. His email newsletter, PreachingNow, is read each week by more than 40,000 pastors and church leaders in the U.S. and around the world. He is founder and director of the National Conference on Preaching and the International Congress on Preaching, which has been held in 1997 at Westminster Chapel in London, 2002 at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and 2007at Cambridge. He has been a pastor and associate pastor, has served a number of churches as interim pastor, and speaks regularly for churches, colleges and conferences.

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