Galatians: Annotated Ranking of Academic Commentaries

The lack of high quality Galatians commentaries is quite surprising.  While there are many useful commentaries from the 1990’s, Galatians lacks a definitive, recent (up to date bibliography), commentary.  Additionally, many entries from the top tier series such as NIGTC (1982), Hermenia (1979), and ICC (1920!) are in need of an update.  However, the entries from Longenecker, Martyn, Betz, Dunn, and Witherington are all worth consulting.

Martyn_Galatians1. J. Louis Martyn, Anchor Bible, 1997, 614.

2. Hans Dieter Betz, Hermenia, 1979, 352.

Betz’s commentary is a groundbreaking work.  Betz was the first to assemble a commentary with a focus on rhetorical criticism.  In the 30 years that have passed since its introduction many have questioned Betz’s conclusion that Paul’s letter is an example of apologetic rhetoric.  However, even if one does not agree with Betz’s overall conclusion, his commentary still provides endless useful information concerning Paul’s use of rhetoric and Greco-Roman parallels.

galatians3. Richard Longenecker, WBC, 1990, 323.

4. Ben Witherington, 1998, 477.

5. James D. G. Dunn, Black’s, 1993, 359.


Reumann_PhilippiansThe newest RBL update includes a review of Reumann’s 2008 Philippians commentaryby the incomparable James Dunn.  I too have posted my updated thoughts on Reumann’s work in my Annotated Philippians Commentary Rankings post.

Dunn and I generally agree in our evaluation of Reumann’s work.  We both find the format of the work frustrating with the commentary of each section divided into three different parts: Notes, A, and B (often with extensive overlap ).  Also, it can be quite difficult to track down full citations for footnotes.  However, this problem is alleviated to some degree by extensive use of the commentary.  Moreover, we agree in our overall assessment of Reumann’s commentary.   It is an in depth reference tool that can be frustrating to use.  I would add that this is a commentary geared for the specialist looking for an interaction with the most recent Philippians scholarship.  For the non-specialist I would recommend the fine commentaries by Fee or O’Brien.

Here are a few quotes from Dunn’s review, the entire review can be found here. 

The result is a somewhat lopsided treatment that is sometimes frustrating to use.”

“This is a volume that few will turn to for a gentle, stimulating read. It will be more like a reference work …”

Chasing up bibliography is also sometimes difficult, since it is often not clear whether the full details of a particular reference are to be found in the general bibliography or one of the many sectional bibliographies.”

More serious is the amazingly brief introduction—only eighteen pages, a significant proportion of them containing bibliography (in addition to a further twenty-eight page general bibliography).”

Fee_philToday I updated my annotated ranking of the academic Philippian commentaries.  After more interaction with Fee, his entry in the NIC series has moved up to number 3, surpassing Martin’s update in the WBC series.  It is impressive how many great Philippians commentaries there are, especially with the knowledge that more are on the way.  It is my hope that my rankings will be helpful to anyone researching Paul from the undergraduate to the budding scholar.  If any reader has any suggestions concerning my list, please do not hesitate to include your comments.

I have added a new commentary page in hopes of helping out those looking for high quality academic commentaries for Paul’s letters.  The first posting only encompasses the undisputed letters.  However, in the near future I will expand the page to cover all the Pauline letters.  Essentially the page is a list of links to websites that have ranked and/or discussed commentaries.  As of this moment I have only ranked the Philippians commentaries, so most of the links are to the rankings of others.  However,  I plan to provide rank ings for all of Paul’s letters over the next few months.  If I missed a ranking or discussion of commentaries on Pauline letters please let me know and I will add it to the list.

Philippians: Annotated Ranking of Academic Commentaries

There are many excellent commentaries available for Philippians.  Additionally, many are new or have had recent updates.  I have divided the commentaries into two sections.  First, are the longer works which include a lot of footnotes, bibliographies, and in depth interaction with scholarship.  In my opinion any of the four listed are excellent choices for any research project and all four should be consulted for any serious project.  The second section contains many excellent commentaries, however they have fewer footnotes and contain less interaction with scholarship.  Many of these volumes are excellent with 5-7 as the best in their class.

AlthoughI have most of the Philippians commentaries ranked I do not have descriptions of them all yet.  I will publish an updated list in the near future.

Deep Interaction with Modern Scholarship

philippians_obrine1.  Peter T. O’Brien, NIGTC, 1991, 597 p.   Unified letter: Yes

 This is my first stop for any work on Philippians.  However, O’Brien’s work is rapidly becoming outdated.  O’Brien provides extensive interaction with scholarship and clearly presents and summarizes each of the major opinions for most passages.  O’Brien’s work is my clear favorite for easily deciphering the important arguments and the positions of the important scholars for any passage.  There is an excellent bibliography at the beginning of the work and at the beginning of each new section.  Furthermore, the footnotes are clear and the full citation is easily found.  While 1991 is not too old, it is rapidly becoming dated and the bibliography could use a revision.  Moreover, there is not much interaction with rhetorical criticism which has recently seen an explosion in the amount of works published through this lens.

Reumann_Philippians2. John Reumann, Anchor Bible, 2009, 805 p.  Unified Letter: No, 3 letters.

Reumann’s Anchor Bible commentary may now be the best source for scholars working on Philippians.  Reumann interacts with a vast amount of scholarship in an insightful manner.  The recent publication of this work allows for interaction with newer scholarship and additionally, much more interaction with rhetorical criticism which has grown substantially since O’Brien’s 1991 work.  Moreover, Reumann summarizes the positions of scholars in a helpful and organized manner.  For instance, concerning Paul’s thankless thanks in Phil 4:10-20, Reumann summarizes the views of eight different camps of scholarship.  However, the presentation of this commentary can be problematic.  Reumann divides each section into three different parts which contain different types of commentary.  While this division can at times be helpful, it is also somewhat frustrating.  For one needs to consult three different commentary sections to  for any one section or passage.  What prohibits this commentary from taking the top spot away from O’Brien is the frustrating manner in which footnotes and sources are handled.  Each section contains an unusual combination of parenthetical and footnote citations.  While a tremendous amount of useful sources are mentioned, the full citations can be difficult to track down.  Each section contains a brief bibliography, which is helpful, but does not contain nearly all of the sources mentioned.  Additionally, there is a bibliography at the beginning of the work, but it is also painfully short.  Essentially Reumann’s work is an excellent reference work that can be difficult to work though.  Thus, Reumann’s commentary is best described as an essential useful tool for any specialist but too overwhelming for the non-specialist. 

 3.  Gordon D. Fee, NIC, 1995, 497 p.

I consider Fee_philGordon Fee’s work to be the top Philippians commentary for the non-specialist.  Fee’s specialty seems to be combining top notch scholarship with clear and interesting prose.  It is hard not to be interested by a work that includes statements such as, “On the surface, his explanation looks like a meteor fallen from the sky into his epistle …” (431)  Fee’s commentary while excellent is much less technical than those by Reumann, O’Brien, and Martin.  While the more technical commentaries interact extensively with modern scholarship and ancient Greek, Fee provides a smooth flowing text without the interruption that comes with the more technical works.  For the non-specialist this is can be quite attractive especially since Fee does interact with modern scholarship and ancient Greek (minimally) in his footnotes.  Furthermore, Fee provides an extensive bibliography at the beginning of the work.   The bottom line is the specialist should turn to Reumann or O’Brien first for more analysis of the Greek text, however, for the non-specialist Fee is an excellent starting point for any research project.

4. Ralph Martin, Word Biblical, 2004, 383 p.

Limited Interaction with Scholarship

5.  Moises Silva, BECNT, 2005, 248 p.  Unified Letter: Yes

Silva’s commentary is a bit short, at 248 pages, for a first rate reference commentary.  His work does not contain the depth or intense interaction with scholarship that is found in the larger commentaries, but Silva’s presentation is excellent and his insights are useful.  Additionally, he provides an excellent bibliography with sources up through 2003.  Instead of the abundance of footnotes found in other commentaries that some might find overwhelming Silva provides a lesser amount of high quality footnotes to assist in any project.  Thus, for someone seeking a commentary that presents the most important positions, this may be a good first choice.  A blurb on the back cover describes this work perfectly with the phrase “a substantive yet accessible discussion of Philippians …”

6. Markus Bockmuehl, Black’s, 1997, 327 p. Unified Letter: Yes

7. Bonnie B. Thurston, Sacra Pagina, 2009, 163 p. Unified Letter: Yes

8. Charles B. Cousar, New Testament Library,  2009, 91 p.   Unified Letter: Yes

This commentary is simply too short to be a useful tool for any deep study on Philippians.  At a scant 91 pages it functions quite well as a short commentary for someone looking to read a commentary on Phillipans, but it adds no new material not covered by the commentaries ranked higher.  Thus, its usefulness as a reference is severely hampered by its length.   

9.  Jean-Francois Collange, 1979, 159 p.   Unified Letter: No, 3 letters.

Collange’s work is translated from a 1973 French commentary and at this point is quite dated.  The sections are rather brief and the interaction with scholarship is somewhat limited.  However, along with Gnilka, Collange is often cited as defending either an unusual position or one that has fallen out of favor.  Thus, having it on hand is always a good idea.

10. Ben Witherington, Friendship and Finances in Philippi, 1994, 180 p.

While this work is currently the only commentary that specializes in rhetorical criticism and Philippians (Duane Watson is currently working on one for Deo which should be excellent), Witherington does not interact with either rhetorical criticism or Philippians with enough depth to warrant its use on a regular basis.  It is certainly useful as an introduction to how one might employ socio-rhetorical criticism and contains a lenghty introduction to the subject.  However, he does not provide  enough indepth insight with regard to either Philippians or rhetorical criticism.  Instead, I recommend monographs by Bloomquist and Holloway which provide a more detailed interaction of rhetorical cricitism and Philippians.  Additionally, Reumann’s commentary, while not specializing in rhetoric, engages the genre quite well.

Forthcoming Commentaries

1.) Holloway, Hermeneia 

2.) Watson, Deo


I realize this list is not complete, but I will add some others soon.  Feel free to correct me if you think my order is incorrect or if there is a commentary that must be included.

Paul Post of the Week 5/23 – 5/30/09

This week I have chosen Nijay Gupta’s post Bookstore page added as the Paul Post of the Week.  Although the title does not promise greatness, the post is incredibly useful.  Within his bookstore page, Nijay has reviewed a great many commentaries.  Commentary reviews by academics are always useful and unfortunately not abundant. 

D.A. Carson has his thorough book New Testament Commentary Survey but it is certainly colored by his strong opinions.  Another excellent resource for commentary information is Best which assigns each commentary a number and ranks them for each book of the bible.  Unfortunately, there is not a review for each commentary beyond the basic attributes of the commentary.   In fact, Best assigns Anthony Thiselton’s amazing 1 Corinthians commentary a 6.5, which is simply unforgivable.  I too have provided my insight into which commentary I would purchase for a my personal library if I could only have one from each of Paul’s letters.  I will be expanding this entry into a more thorough review and ranking of all the major academic commentaries of Paul’s letters in the near future.

Last week I noted some of the forthcoming commentaries from the Hermeneia that I am most interested in acquiring.  While Hermeneia is my favorite series there are many other upcoming commentaries that have piqued my interest.

John P. Meier – Matthew – Anchor Bible – While I do not like the format of this series (parenthetical citations are in my opinion not adequate in a scholarly commentary), I am certainly interested in reading a commentary by Meier who penned the four volume work, A Marginal Jew.

Stanley Porter – Acts – NIGTC – I am astounded at the number of publications Stanley Porter has edited and in addition to this volume on Acts he is slated to complete other commentaries.  I am unsure how he is so prolific but I do appreciate his dedication.  His work on rhetoric and Paul is especially useful for my work and I am interested to see if he is able to apply this lens to Acts.

David Aune – Ignatius of Antioch and The Shepherd of Hermas – NIGTC – I am especially excited about this two volume work.  Aune’s work needs no introduction especially concerning Revelation (Word Biblical Commentary) and Apocalypticism.  While Schoedel’s Hermeneia volume on Ignatius (1985) is excellent, it is rapidly becoming dated.  Carolyn Osiek’s work on the Shepherd of Hermas (Hermeneia 1999) is also first rate but there is room on any bookshelf for a second commentary on this interesting text.

Rhetoric of Religious Antiquity Series– This is a new series of commentaries emphasizing socio-rhetorical criticism and spearheaded by Vernon K. Robbins and Duane F. Watson.  The series includes a number of excellent scholars well known for their expertise in rhetorical criticism.  I am most interested in the Philippians volume assigned to Duane Watson.  However, I must admit to a fascination in The Rhetoric of Q by R. Sisson.  For anyone interested in rhetorical criticism this series is a much needed supplement to Ben Witherington’s socio-rhetorical commentaries. 

Of course there are many other forthcoming commentaries from top rate scholars.  These are just a few that have piqued my interest.  Feel free to comment with any upcoming commentaries in which you are interested.  As stated last week, Parablemania has a posting with an exhaustive list.

Last week I listed some of my favorite commentaries. I thought I would follow up this week with some of the commentaries that I am eagerly awaiting. One of my biggest complaints with my favorite series, Hermeneia, is that many books are missing in the NT series. Also, many of them are dated and need an update. After perusing many other fine blogs, most notably Parablemania, I am confident that Hermeneia will be even more useful once all the volumes are completed. The list of scholars assigned to upcoming volumes is impressive. The Hermeneia volumes I am most excited about are the following:

2 Corinthians – Margaret Mitchell – Anyone who has read her work on 1 Corinthians is certainly interested in what she will do with 2 Corinthians. The Rhetoric of Reconciliation is an excellent work that examines 1 Corinthians through the lens of rhetorical criticism and I am curious to see how much she carries this perspective over to a Hermeneia commentary. As a student of Hans Dieter Betz it may be a commentary similar in style to his work on Galatians. From what I can ascertain, the late Dieter Georgi was originally working on this volume. I am not sure if Mitchell is revising his work or if she is beginning anew. Perhaps someone has more information concerning this issue.

1 Thessalonians – Helmut Koester – The legendary Koester is working on what is sure to be one of the premiere commentaries on 1 Thessalonians. During a recent trip to Harvard I spoke with some graduate students assisting him and … well they gave me no real insight other than not surprisingly he is working with a massive bibliography.

The Pastorals – Abraham Malherbe – I have long been a fan of his work on the relationship of Paul and ancient letter writing. I also enjoy his 1 Thessalonians commentary immensely. Will his commentary replace Marshall’s ICC volume as my first source for the Pastorals? That is doubtful, but it will certainly by on my bookshelf!

James – John S. Kloppenborg – I have read many of Kloppenborg’s works on Q and have always enjoyed his scholarship. While I do not use James in my research often, the name Kloppenborg has me intrigued enough to purchase this volume.

Next post I will consider upcoming volumes from ICC, NIGTC, and others.

Jewett_RomansI imagine there are plenty of posts on this topic already, but I really struggled to find this information when putting together my own wish list a few years ago.   This is a short list of the one commentary I consider the must own for each of the 7 undisputed letters of Paul.  Of course if you have the money this list should be widened substantially.  My main criteria are: excellent bibliographies/footnotes, new (as they have more up to date bibliographies), a good introduction, in depth exegesis, interaction with Greek, English, and in general the more pages the better.  My favorites come from Hermeneia, NIGTC, Anchor Bible, and Word Biblical (WBC).  Additionally, I have a strong preference for the format of Hermeneia and NIGTC.  This list was made with the help of D.A. Carson’s excellent though succinct work, New Testament Commentary Surveythiselton_1Cor2.

Romans: Jewett – Hereneia:  Brand new and massive.  This is an excellent resource for Romans.

1 Corinthians: Thiselton – NIGTC: The bibliographies and footnotes are excellent.

galatians2 Corinthians: Martin – WBC: I don’t love this commentary but I haven’t found anything better.  Heremeneia you need a 2 Corinthians volume!

Galatians: Longenecker – WBC; Betz – Hermeneia: Okay, Betz’s work  may be a bit dated and in some ways flawed but I still enjoy his commentary a great deal.

Philippians: O’Brien – NIGTC; Martin – WBCthessalonians_malherbe

1 Thessalonians: Malherbe – Anchor Bible; Wanamaker – NIGTC

Philemon: Barth and Blanke – Eerdmans: A Philemon commentary over 500 pages … you had me at 350.

Feel free to mention any commentaries that fulfill my criteria that you think should supplant the ones I have listed.