Commentaries to Avoid Like the Bubonic Plague

Per Benjamin’s excellent suggestion in the last post, I am going to post what I think are the most remarkable duds in modern commentary writing.

Whole Bible commentaries: Broadman Bible Commentary, Barnes’ Notes (the portion that isn’t Barnes himself), most volumes of the New Century Bible

Genesis: Coats, Skinner, Speiser, Westermann; Exodus: Coats, Noth; Leviticus: Gerstenberger, Noth; Numbers: Gray, Levine, Noth; Deuteronomy: Driver, Von Rad; Joshua: Soggin; Judges: Soggin, Moore; Ruth: none come to mind; Samuel: Hertzberg, Smith; Kings: Long, Robinson, DeVries; Chronicles: DeVries, Myers; Ezra-Nehemiah: Batten, Myers; Esther: Moore, Paton; Job: Driver/Gray, Pope; Psalms: Briggs, Leslie, Gerstenberger, Weiser; Proverbs: McKane, Toy, Scott; Ecclesiastes: Longman, Barton; Song of Songs: the Puritans (the only book of the Bible that they got wrong not so much in what they affirmed (although they often went off the deep end with their allegory), but in what they denied); Isaiah: Gray, MacKenzie; Jeremiah: Carroll; Lamentations: none come to mind; Ezekiel: Cooke; Daniel: Hammer, Porteous; Minor Prophets: ICC commentary; Matthew: Albright/Mann, Allen; Mark: Cole, Gould; Luke: Leaney; John: MacGregor, Tasker; Acts: Blaicklock; Romans: Dodd, N.T. Wright; Corinthians: Tasker; Galatians: Dunn, Cole, Martyn, Tenney; Ephesians: Simpson; Philippians: Muller, Vincent; Colossians/Philemon: Herbert, N.T. Wright, Dunn; Thessalonians: Frame; Pastorals: Dibelius/Conzelmann, Lock; Hebrews: Buchanan, Hewitt; James: Ropes, Tasker, Reicke; Peter/Jude: none come to mind; 1-3 John: Bultmann, Strecker; Revelation: the sky’s the limit here. It’s easier to say what shoud we keep than what should we throw, since the former list is much shorter than the latter.  


  1. January 3, 2008 at 4:15 pm

    Thanks for that Rev. Keister. Are there any series that we should stay away from (thinking Interpretation here or Anchor) or are all of them hit-or-miss. Also would like to hear your thoughts on Tuell’s 1 & 2 Chronicles in the Interpretation series.

  2. greenbaggins said,

    January 3, 2008 at 4:20 pm

    Neither series you mentioned are complete flops. Indeed, there are quite a few gems in the Interpretation and Anchor Bible series. I gave a few series which I think are flops at the beginning of the post. I don’t actually own Tuell on Chronicles, though I am fairly sure I will buy it eventually.

  3. Larry said,

    January 3, 2008 at 4:55 pm

    May I ask — what don’t you like about Tasker?

  4. Jeff Cagle said,

    January 3, 2008 at 4:56 pm

    Whatcha got against Tasker?

  5. greenbaggins said,

    January 3, 2008 at 5:01 pm

    Tasker is just not incisive, in my opinion. I am half-way through his Matthew commentary, and hardly anything has been useful. There is less underlining in that book than in almost any other of my Matthew commentaries. I have not found his other commentaries helpful, either. Others may find him less so, but I can hardly recommend him.

  6. GLW Johnson said,

    January 3, 2008 at 5:06 pm

    Now you’ve gone and done it- you have dared to touch the anointed one himself. Prepare for the wrath of the Wrightites in the FV to descend on you in all their fury. They will come after you with torches and pitchforks and will tar and feather you as a biased, bigoted, unclean, flea-inflected dirt bag who obviously lacks the scholarly ability to properly appreciate the good bishop genius.

  7. January 3, 2008 at 5:21 pm

    […] have now added a post that details some commentaries to […]

  8. Mark T. said,

    January 3, 2008 at 5:26 pm

    Pastor Lane,

    Interesting that you mentioned Barnes’ Notes: when they completed the set (and I have no idea what criteria they used to finish it) they plugged in EB Pusey for the Minor Prophets. This is remarkable because he has nothing in common with Barnes, and it’s ironically remarkable since he has spawned new disciples in the FV. That said, I found him very scholarly and helpful when I studied the Minors, though smells and bells were not in my vocabulary at that time. (If I remember correctly, Spurgeon gave him a cautious nod in Commenting on Commentaries.)

    Re Revelation, I’m curious if you’ve read Chilton. I found him both interesting and dangerous; interesting because he made more solid connections to the OT than anyone else and dangerous because he oftentimes arrived at bizarre conclusions. Have you seen his work?

  9. Mark T. said,

    January 3, 2008 at 5:28 pm

    Dr. Johnson,

    I have one word for you: “Checkmate.”

  10. Daniel Kok said,

    January 3, 2008 at 5:28 pm


    I would like to hear why you don’t recommend N.T. Wright. Are there other deficiencies than NPP?

  11. greenbaggins said,

    January 3, 2008 at 5:32 pm

    All too often, he neglects actual exegesis, interestingly enough. It is rather ironic, given the fact that he is touted (and touts himself) as an exegete. He is more interested in the “flow” of the narrative, but doesn’t always support that flow with exegetical detail. As a result, what often happens is a construct forced on the text (exile-return in Romans, for instance).

    Mark, I have seen Chilton’s work on Revelation. I’m not a post-mil guy myself, so I find his interpretation less than convincing.

  12. Fred Greco said,

    January 3, 2008 at 8:52 pm

    But Lane,

    Wright is, as it were, so to speak, that is to say, so absolutely, in a certain way, so to speak, trendy and (after a manner of speaking) influential right now.

    Even if – not to be dogmatic here – he is, after a manner of speaking, less than (or perhaps not as much as, depending on how one views this) forthright and decisive (perhaps it being a better thing to say more indecisive, or even less decision oriented) on matters.

  13. GLW Johnson said,

    January 4, 2008 at 7:29 am

    My late professor of Biblical and Systematic theology at T.E.D.S., the late S.Lewis Johnson, Jr. taught through the Greek text of Romans every year for over 30 years. I asked him back when Guy Waters and I first conceived of the project that became ‘By Faith Alone: Answering the Challenges to the Doctrine of Justification’ (Crossway,2007) if he would do a critique of NT Wright’s handling of the major texts on justification in Romans. He said he would. He read Wright’s entire commentary on Romans(which had just been released by Abington as part of the New Interpreter’s Bible). He was profoundly disappointed for the very reason you lightlighted-it lacked exegetical substance. In particular Dr. Johnson found Wright’s handling of Rom.3:21-31: 5:12-21and 7:1-25 deporable. Dr. Johnson was not able to contribute to our book due to illness and passed into glory a few months later.By way of addition to your list, Dr. Johnson had a very high opinion of WGT Shedd’s ‘ Critical and Doctrinal Commentary on Romans’ and E.H. Gifford’s ‘The Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans with notes and introduction’. This was originally part of the old ‘Speaker’s Commentary’ but was so outstanding that it was later reprinted by itselfby the now defunct James Familypublishing back in 1977.

  14. Larry said,

    January 4, 2008 at 9:30 am

    In the spirit of the last comment, I would also commend Charles Hodge on Romans and 1 & 2 Corinthians.

  15. greenbaggins said,

    January 4, 2008 at 1:26 pm

    Fred, (12) very funny!

  16. Jeff Cagle said,

    January 4, 2008 at 2:21 pm

    Larry (#3) and me (#4):


    Jeff Cagle

  17. Joshua W.D. Smith said,

    January 8, 2008 at 3:11 pm

    Re: #5. Notice, oddly enough, that this has simply not happened. And Daniel Kok, the fact that you dare to question Lane’s rejection of Wright just shows that you must be fronting for the FV.

    That was facetious, in case you couldn’t tell. Just applying Gerety-Clark reasoning…

  18. February 15, 2008 at 2:02 am

    […] Commentaries to Avoid Like the Bubonic Plague […]

  19. Chad said,

    February 21, 2008 at 8:48 pm

    Lane, what did you not like about Longman on Ecclesiastes? I assume you mean Tremper Longman. It seems brief.

  20. rjs1 said,

    May 26, 2008 at 7:08 am

    What about James D. G. Dunn on Romans?

  21. greenbaggins said,

    May 26, 2008 at 11:21 am

    Chad, sorry for not answering your query earlier. Longman on Ecclesiastes guts the book of any positive theology, saying basically that only the narrative framework is orthodox (he therefore has a completely untenable understanding of Ecc. 12:9). I found it worse than useless.

    RJS, Dunn is essential to read on Romans if one has all the other excellent commentaries in order to counter-balance Dunn’s untenable NPP readings. Dunn is a fine scholar, and his commentary is not one that we can afford to ignore.

  22. December 30, 2009 at 12:59 pm

    […] Commentaries to Avoid Like the Bubonic Plague Possibly related posts: (automatically generated) […]

  23. December 31, 2009 at 8:58 am

    I have been pleasantly surprised in recent years at the remarkable breadth, rigor and reverence of the Albert Barnes (c. 1840) series. I had (wrongly) been under the impression that this set was seriously dated. Far from it. It really is a goldmine, and I cannot recommend it too highly.

    Conversely, I had high expectations of NTW’s Romans and was quite disappointed: tendentious, question-begging and insubstantial. Murray and Cranfield leave him in the dust.

  24. Dennis McFadden said,

    January 1, 2010 at 2:38 pm


    You are too funny! Watching you dismiss out of hand books that my seminary profs deemed “essential” and I have spent more than three decades scratching my head asking “why?” over is refreshing! You have punctured the baloons of some of the most pompously bilious academics ever. Well done!

  25. greenbaggins said,

    January 2, 2010 at 9:02 am

    Dennis!! Welcome to my blog. First time comments are held in the moderator’s queue, which is why yours didn’t show up right away. You shouldn’t have that problem again, should you wish to comment more.

  26. February 8, 2016 at 2:15 am

    I’ve never met anyone who hated Westermann’s Genesis commentary. As usual, his adherence to the Documentary Hypothesis has caused some of his claims to age poorly, but it’s accessible and he engages the bulk of the available views very helpfully.

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