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Hot Takes on Top Commentary Sets (Now on Sale) in Logos

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The most important thing I have purchased for my Logos library—beyond what the major Logos packages already include—is commentary sets. I want careful, knowledgeable, reasoned opinions on interpretive questions. I want multiple opinions so that I can compare them through the Passage Guide. I do not find that this kind of “opinion polling” mires me in confusion or leaves me with nothing to say. I find that it is simply the better part of humility to listen to smart people—many of whom are gifts to Christ’s church (Eph 4:11–12).

I own the good majority of the commentary sets below, mostly purchased with my own money (full disclosure: a few Lexham titles I got for free as a Logos employee). I’m going to talk only about those series that I own and with which I have some personal experience. Hopefully, this will help you as you consider which sets might help you as a Bible student or teacher.

I’m going to divide the sets into categories and, within each category, rank them in my own loose order of their usefulness to me as a frequent Sunday school teacher, infrequent preacher, and inveterate Bible studier.

Standard commentaries

Standard commentaries are sets that attempt to treat effectively all the major and minor interpretive questions in any given biblical book. They often provide some level of synthesis, too, if only in their introductions but often in special features included throughout the commentary text.

A star (⭑) means that a given title made it to the semi-finals for the 2024 Logos March Matchups, an annual competition in which Logos users vote for their favorite products.

⭑ The Pillar New Testament Commentary Series has quite a number of heavy hitters. I love Carson on John. I’ve actually been known to open it up on my phone during church while my pastor was going through that Gospel. I’ve also turned for help many times to Moo on James. Ciampa/Rosner on 1 Corinthians has been a confident and insightful companion. Yarbrough on the Pastorals, too, is a go-to for me. Honestly, given my needs, this is the set I would vote for if I didn’t already have most of it!

⭑ The Evangelical Exegetical Commentary I do get for free as a Logos employee, just to be clear. But Baugh on Ephesians got one of the best D. A. Carson blurbs I’ve ever seen, so I regularly turn to it when studying Ephesians. I also met Boyd Luter on a trip down the Grand Canyon—a knowledgeable and humble guy. I’ve since enjoyed his Song of Songs volume. This set originally had an overly ambitious timeline. In recent years, Lexham has taken steps to speed up production. But the volumes that have come out have made users happy, me included. This promises to be a quality series.

⭑ The Baker Commentary on the Old Testament has some really heavy hitters, including Bartholomew on Ecclesiastes and Longman on Proverbs. Frankly, I’m not where John Goldingay is theologically, but I deeply love the Psalms, and I happily turn to him for insight in his more popular-level series (The OT for Everyone). In the BCOT, he has three full volumes on the Psalms. This is the main set I have my eye on during March Matchups, because I actually own only one volume (Bartholomew). It’s time for me to reveal that—for personal and not professional reasons—the BCOT is getting my vote for the 2024 March Matchups.

The New American Commentary is a Logos classic. It came in my first Logos package in 2007 or so, and I have repeatedly turned to it over the years. I like Stein on Luke, Matthews on Genesis, Stuart on Exodus, and (especially) Block on Judges and Ruth. Garrett on Proverbs is a stalwart; Garland on 2 Corinthians is one I trust; and it’s tough to beat Schreiner on 1 and 2 Peter and Jude.

One volume in the Understanding the Bible Commentary series rises to the top for me: Provan on 1 and 2 Kings. He’s a master. I’ve met him. He teaches at nearby Regent College. But the set is full of other responsible writers.

The NIV Application Commentary hasn’t always been as useful for homiletical application as I’ve hoped. Application to one’s own congregation is hard to get good help with. But with major names like Doug Moo (Romans), Darrell Bock (Luke), Iain Duguid (Ezekiel), Iain Provan (Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs), Daniel Block (Deuteronomy), and many others, I haven’t minded that the applications aren’t always repeatable in my contexts. I’m still getting insightful, accessible commentary.

Accessible commentaries

The commentaries below are some of the first I’d recommend to a beginner—though certain volumes are still very much useful for those who’ve spent years with commentaries.

The Tyndale OT/NT Commentary series is my first recommendation for those who are graduating from lower levels of study Bibles. Tyndale is a classic evangelical series that is continually being updated. It would take a while to list all the volumes I’ve used. The OT portion is especially valuable, and I’m a special fan of Derek Kidner (whose OT volumes can still be purchased outside the Tyndale set in which they originally came).

The standout volumes in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary start, for me, with Carson on Matthew. I have opened that commentary as much or more than any other I own. I love that Gospel, and I love Carson. I’ve also enjoyed Van Gemeren on the Psalms. The EBC (or Revised EBC) is another great way for people to graduate from study Bibles.

The ESV Expository Commentary is full of contributions from current major names in contemporary evangelical scholarship and preaching. Despite the name, it doesn’t really belong among “expository commentaries,” because it’s not a set of sermons. This is the kind of commentary I want to have around mainly for “plebiscites,” for the interpretive referendums I regularly like to have. I don’t do my interpretation by majority rule, but I still find it useful to get an aggregate opinion.

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Specialty commentaries

Specialty commentaries take a unique, specific angle on the text of Scripture. They help consistently highlight features that may or may not be covered in standard commentaries.

⭑ The Lexham Geographic Commentary is something I didn’t know I would ever need. And like all reference works (I find this fact really confuses my children), I might only need it a discrete number of times in my life. But having been to Israel, I can say that the LGC is like having a tour guide explaining key background information that I simply could not know otherwise. And the books—in print and in Logos—really are beautifully done. My good friend Doug Mangum has poured years of life into editing these. They’re good.

The Lexham Research Commentary is practically cheating. There, I said it. It shouldn’t be this easy, or this inexpensive, to get a run-down of expert opinion on disputed or difficult matters within a given biblical book. I have friends, especially Paul Himes and David Wenkel, who supplied volumes to this series. Knowing their character and work ethic makes the LRC even more interesting and valuable to me.

The Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament is something I don’t need and therefore don’t use. I was trained to do what it does. But there was a time when this was the kind of thing I needed. And I mention it because if you’re in that stage where you know some Greek, but you don’t know how to use your knowledge to assist in your interpretation, then you could do little better than pick up some of these writers as models.

Historical commentaries

I wasn’t really taught by my models to use historical commentaries. They are a somewhat more recent addition to my exegetical toolkit.

The Reformation Commentary Series has proven useful and enjoyable for me. To many modern preaching audiences, Reformation writers are pretty much just as dead as ancient ones. It is powerful, then, for them to encounter Luther, Calvin, and others who show both profound agreement with my evangelical Protestant theology and yet who provide forceful insights that come from their different circumstances.

Non-evangelical commentaries

I’m an evangelical. I get the most help from evangelical commentators. But I can learn from anyone who has something to teach me, whether they come from a non-Protestant tradition or simply write from secular biblical studies perspective.

I’ll never forget picking up the commentary on 1 Maccabees in the Anchor Yale Bible Commentary and marveling at the learned, judicious comments. There are a few volumes that are especially appreciated by evangelicals, including Fitzmyer on Romans and Fox on Proverbs.

The main volumes of the International Critical Commentary that I have turned to are those written on Romans by C. E. B. Cranfield. He is a model of the judicious weighing of exegetical arguments. That’s what you need in a book like Romans. I’ve also used Davies and Allison on Matthew—and a few evangelicals snuck into the set during its history, including especially Marshall and Towner on the Pastorals, which is very valuable.

Expository commentaries

I do not honestly use expository commentaries much, because I am not a regular preaching pastor. But if I were, I could definitely see one or more of these being in my regular diet. I do think that my personal engagement with the biblical text can’t and shouldn’t be short-circuited by immediate appeal to others’ finished sermons.

But sometimes there just isn’t time, and I think that has to be okay. A few times when I have preached on short notice (that’s small-church ministry for you), I have simply strung together quotes from my Logos commentaries and have announced at the beginning of the message that many of my lines were going to come from other Bible teachers.

Benjamin Franklin witnessed a controversy once in which a certain preacher was caught plagiarizing from others. Franklin defended the fellow: “I rather approved his giving us good sermons composed by others, than bad ones of his own manufacture.” As long as you are honest about what you are doing, there are many worse things you could do than “steal” sermonic elements from other gifted preachers. It’s not stealing; that’s why they write commentaries: they’re inviting you to learn from their explanations, use their illustrations, and think through (and, yes, use) their applications.

The Bible Speaks Today is the one expository commentary I have used the most, because it rides the line between expository and traditional commentary. John Stott, author of several BST volumes, is brilliant. He helps me help others see what Scripture says.

The Reformed Expository Commentary features sermons from some of today’s Reformed luminaries, collected by P&R. If you’re a preaching pastor, it’s a good thing when a chapter of a commentary opens with, “One summer, a family man traveled to Paris, where he spent a morning enjoying Luxembourg Gardens …” This means you are going to get expert help with illustration, not just explanation.

Preach the Word is Crossway’s equivalent to the set I just mentioned. We really have an embarrassment of commentary riches. Want R. Kent Hughes or Barry Webb or Christopher Ash or Phil Ryken or Ray Ortlund or David Helm or Jim Hamilton to show you how to preach a given text? Get PtW.

Christ-Centered Exposition is Holman’s equivalent to the REC and PtW. Do we really need this many homiletical series? Why not? The promo video speaks repeatedly of exalting Christ in all of Scripture. How could there be too much of this?

James Montgomery Boice’s expositions are beloved by many who remember this great man’s ministry. As with the expositions of David Martyn Lloyd-Jones and those of John MacArthur and J. Vernon McGee, they bear the consistent mark and character of one man. This has upsides and downsides, of course. But many know how important it is for one particular Bible teacher to make a deep impression. Perhaps Boice or DMLJ or MacArthur or McGee will do that for you. For me, a dash of Boice and a dribble of Lloyd-Jones have given me what I wanted from collections of sermons, namely the impression of the gravitas they brought to the pulpit. That has had a greater impression on me than their specific exegetical judgments, the illustrations they used, or the applications they made.

Commentary on commentaries

I’m actually not the grand commentary master that I know some are. I never can bring myself to just read them from cover to cover. I have certain questions, and I go scurrying around in my commentaries in Logos looking for answers. Commentaries for some books (Obadiah?) I admit I’ve probably never even opened. But even so: I know where to find grace to help in time of exegetical need. And my multiple commentary sets rarely let me down.

Here’s what I will say after this big exercise in commentary hot takes: I just think there’s no excuse for preaching a dumb sermon. A bad one I can take. We can’t all be at our best all the time, and sometimes we preachers get jumbled or even a little incoherent. But dumb sermons, sermons which are based on zero listening to anyone else, zero homework—thou art inexcusable, O man. There are so many good models, and they’ve made it so easy to follow them, both in exegesis and in homiletics. Get wisdom, my friend; get wisdom.

Other book recommendations by Mark Ward

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Written by
Mark Ward

Mark Ward (PhD, Bob Jones University) is an editor in the book division at Crossway. He is the author of several books and textbooks including Biblical Worldview: Creation, Fall, Redemption (BJU Press, 2016), Basics for a Biblical Worldview (BJU Press, 2021), and Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible (Lexham Press, 2018). He is an active YouTuber.

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Written by Mark Ward