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New Testament Commentary Recommendations (6)

1 and 2 Corinthians

Regrettably, I've never preached all the way through 1 Corinthians. I've preached and taught several courses on chapters 12-14, but never the whole book. Still, I've spent some time examining the available literature and can make some recommendations.

The best overall commentary on 1 Corinthians is still Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, NICNT (Eerdmans, 1987, 880 pp.). Fee's work replaces the volume in this series by F. W. Frosheide (1953, 415 pp.), and not a day too soon! Don't bother purchasing Grosheide. Fee is excellent, although he writes with an agenda to promote his egalitarian views on women in ministry (his treatment of 1 Corinthians 14:33-35 is especially abysmal). Aside from this, his commentary is the first you should purchase.

Running a close second is the very technical work by Anthony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text in the New International Greek Testament Commentary (Eerdmans, 2000, 1446 pp.). Yes, it is very technical and will be a bit too much for those who cannot read Greek. But he is extremely thorough and insightful throughout.

I've only skimmed David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Baker, 2003, 870 pp.), but his work is always worth the price. Ben Witherington, III. Conflict and Community in Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians (Eerdmans, 1995, 492 pp.) is good, especially on 2 Corinthians.

There are three mid-level commentaries that are accessible to all students, the best of which is by Craig Blomberg in the NIV Application series (Zondervan, 1994, 352 pp.). Craig S. Keener has written 1-2 Corinthians in The New Cambridge Bible Commentary (Cambridge, 2005, 299 pp.), but it is terribly short. This is regrettable, as Keener is always helpful and typically provides a wealth of information for the expositor. In this volume only 122 pages are devoted to commentary on 1 Corinthians and a mere 104 on 2 Corinthians. I'm sure Craig would have preferred it to be otherwise, but the limitations placed on him by the editors of the series left him no choice.

One final work worth a look is by Richard B. Hays, First Corinthians in the Interpretation series (John Knox Press, 1997, 299 pp.). Hays is an incredibly brilliant NT scholar whose works I've enjoyed in other areas of study. I've looked briefly at his commentary and found it helpful. But if you are looking for only one on the English text, get Blomberg.

So, in sum, get Fee, Thiselton, Garland, and Blomberg.

Having just finished writing a book of 100 meditations on 2 Corinthians, I'm obviously much more familiar with resources on this letter.

Standing all alone, in my opinion, in terms of exegetical insights and the exhaustive way in which he handles the text, is Murray J. Harris, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Eerdmans, 2005, 989 pp.). Don't be put off by the fact that he interacts extensively with the Greek text. Everyone can profit from this magisterial work. Get it!

Running neck and neck for second place in my library (and heart) are the two volumes in the New International Commentary on the New Testament series. The original contribution was written by Philip E. Hughes, Paul's Second Epistle to the Corinthians (Eerdmans, 1973 [1962], 508 pp.). Some don't appreciate Hughes as much as I do, but when I first preached through 2 Corinthians this was my primary source. The replacement volume, by Paul Barnett, is just as good and in many ways better and more comprehensive: The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (Eerdmans, 1997, 662 pp.). Both of these are deserving of your attention and purchase.

Also very helpful, and somewhat technical, is the Word Biblical Commentary written by Ralph Martin (Word Publishers, 1986, 527 pp.). I frequently found his insights helpful. Although considerably less technical, David Garland has done a great job for the English reader in his contribution to the New American Commentary (Broadman & Holman, 1999, 587 pp.).

Margaret E. Thrall, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, two volumes in the ICC series (T & T Clark, 1994/2000, 977 pp.), is a massive work, but far more critical and less conservative than the others available. If you get Harris, Barnett, and Martin, Thrall can be skipped (and you'll save a lot of money too!).

As for commentaries that were written for those without a knowledge of Greek, there are several good ones. The best by far is Scott J. Hafemann in the NIV Application series (Zondervan, 2000, 536 pp.). Scott has probably written the best commentary in this entire series (slightly edging out Moo on Romans and Burge on the Johannine Epistles). His treatment throughout of Paul's perspective on suffering is simply brilliant (and convicting!). Unlike others in this series, his contemporary application is very helpful (those familiar with the structure of the NIV Application commentaries will know what I mean).

I can't recommend Linda Belleville 2 Corinthians, the IVP New Testament Commentary Series (IVP, 1996, 357 pp.), as enthusiastically as Carson does, but it is still worth reading if you have the time. Colin Kruse, The Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians, Tyndale New Testament Commentary (Eerdmans, 1997), is a good replacement for the occasionally helpful original volume on 2 Corinthians by R. V. G. Tasker (1977).

Finally, no one should preach or teach through 2 Corinthians 10-13 without consulting D. A. Carson's, From Triumphalism to Maturity: An Exposition of 2 Corinthians 10-13 (Baker, 1984, 186 pp.). Yes, it is short, but it is rich and powerful. It has recently been reprinted (2007) under the title, A Model of Christian Maturity.

So again, get Harris, Barnett, Hughes, Hafemann, and Carson.