About one year ago I preached through the Epistles of John. As I preach through various books of the Bible I want to post what commentaries I found the most useful for my studies in preparing to preach. When I am about to study and preach through a book, I rely heavily on the opinions and the reviews of others as to which commentaries and reference works to purchase. Given that a commentary costs anywhere between $25-$50, making a careful decision is very important. Many times I have purchased a commentary only to resell it on eBay because I found it completely useless. So I want to help others out from my experiences by recommending which commentaries I personally found helpful. This does not necessarily mean you will find it as helpful as I did, but at least it is another opinion to help you weigh your decision before spending your hard earned money. I won’t post on all the books I preach and teach on simply because sometimes there are not enough options to make a ranking valuable. For example, there are not many commentaries on Colossians or 2 Peter to make a recommendation. Colossians only has two or three mainstream, non-technical commentaries (no Greek knowledge required) to choose from: the New American Commentary, the Pillar Commentary, and the NIV Application Commentary. Below is my ranking of the non-technical commentaries of Epistles of John that I purchased.
In recommending these books for your purchase, I would purchase the first three. It is hard for me to decide between these three because each contributed to my studies in different ways. None of them were my “go to” commentary for help. Sometimes I found one useful, but another time it did not help. Another time a different commentary helped, but not every time. I was surprised that I was unable to find a hands down number one commentary to commend. They all had weaknesses, but these are the ones that I found to be the most helpful more frequently.
1. New American Commentary, Daniel L. Akin
The New American Commentaries seemed to get overlooked and are not typically ranked along the more well-known commentary series. But they should be considered in any preacher’s library. Not only do these frequently deal with the issues in a thoughtful and helpful way, but also give excellent summaries which aid in sermon preparation. Do not let this commentary on John’s epistles pass you by. My only reservation is that some verses seem to be given a shorter amount of treatment where a deeper discussion could have been useful.
2. Pillar New Testament Commentary, Colin G. Kruse
If I had the money to purchase two commentaries, Kruse’s would be my second choice. It was very helpful in explaining many of the difficulties in the text. One of the strengths of this commentary is the many additional notes and fleshing out of deeper topics. Kruse expands on such topics as monogenes, the Son’s preexistence, sinless perfectionism, God’s seed, and many more notes. My only reservation to this commentary, but this reservation is true of all of these works, is that some verses are given very limited treatment. Sometimes Kruse goes deep on a verse, and sometimes a short paragraph is all that is given.
3. Baker Exegetical Commentary, Robert W. Yarbrough
This commentary is good, but not to the excellence that I expect from the Baker Exegetical series. Yarbrough’s work does not remotely equal the work of Bock or Jobes in this commentary series. Again, Yarbrough is helpful in some places, but not consistently helpful through out. To me it felt like by having these first three commentaries I got all the information I needed to equal one good commentary. They are not three great commentaries, but three good commentaries that add together to become one great commentary. If you rely only on Yarbrough I believe you will be missing out on some key information.
4. An Expositional Commentary, James M. Boice
I am always a fan of Boice and his expositional work. Boice always has some useful thoughts.
5. NIV Application Commentary, Gary M. Burge
Burge was not as useful as I had hoped. The NIV Application Commentary series is definitely a “hit or miss” opportunity. Some of the publications are terrific, while others are not very helpful. I have the tendency to think that the more recent the publication, the more useful it is. It seems to me the earlier works spent more time on the application section and did not offer much for the original meaning and bridging context sections. Burge’s work was done in 1996 and in my opinion falls into the earlier works category of not very helpful. A few good thoughts but not recommended, in my opinion.
6. Life In Christ, Martyn Lloyd-Jones
Lloyd-Jones is helpful in many places, but some of his expositions simply become too much. Preaching four lessons on one verse can be useful, but it is not truly expositional preaching. It becomes topical preaching from the same verse, losing the connections to the surrounding context. Again, a very thought provoking book but its value is more toward preaching ideas rather than a preaching of the text like Boice.
Anyway, I hope that is helpful to those of you who are preaching and teaching through John’s epistles. This was one of the harder reviews because no commentary was a clear-cut favorite of mine. Coming soon will be my reviews on the commentaries for the Gospel of Luke and for the Gospel of John.