Thousands of commentaries have been written about the Bible, and it’s easy to become confused because these resources are written to various audiences. Choosing the “best” will depend upon the kind of analysis you desire. Commentaries are often divided into three categories:
Devotional/Introductory–the primary focus is application of the Word and growing in Christ. Lots of “how to” questions are answered.
Pastoral/Intermediate–these commentaries also contain application but are more information oriented. Some go deep into the history or cultural background of the text, while others pay more attention to linguistics. Lots of “what does it mean” questions are answered. Useful for any Christ follower and especially helpful to those who teach.
Technical/Advanced–primary value is to teachers and advanced students. Some technical commentaries focus on textual criticism (the reliability of the text), while others address linguistics (the text itself). Lots of minutiae. These commentaries contain Greek text (sometimes transliterated, sometimes not) and require familiarity with Koine Greek to extract their full benefit, but even those with no knowledge of Greek will find these commentaries useful.
My recommendations identify which category each book falls into. Some commentaries overlap; when they do, both categories will be noted (e.g., Pastoral/Technical). The recommendations are listed in order of their helpfulness to Bible students, teachers, and pastors.
1, 2, 3 John
John’s three letters have been the subject of a number of good commentaries. Below are four of the best.
There are two excellent all-around commentaries on the Johannine Letters. Your favorite will depend on your background and interests. Students with little or no knowledge of Greek will get more from Colin Kruse’s work in the Pillar New Testament Commentary (Eerdmans, 2000). Pastoral. Concise (255 pp.) and well-written. The first fifty pages are intro, and his analysis of 1 John is about 150 pages. Coverage of the other letters is meager (sixteen pages on 2 John and fourteen pages on 3 John), and left me wishing for more. There are also twenty-two helpful excursuses (e.g., sinless perfection, the Antichrist, the Son’s pre-existence, sins that do and do not lead to death, etc.). Kruse does a good job of presenting the interpretations of other exegetes, though at times I wish he were more clear about his own position. Transliterations and English translations are provided alongside the Greek text. Technical comments are few and limited to the footnotes. Very accessible.
My other recommendation for best all-around commentary is by Robert Yarbrough for the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Baker, 2008). Technical/Pastoral. This is my personal favorite, but I list it second because it is more technical, and students unfamiliar with Greek will be unable to access all the resources. Nevertheless, this commentary is worth everyone’s consideration–it’s thorough (464 pp.), well-written, and filled with theological insights. Lots of interaction with contemporary and historical scholars. Highly recommended.
My favorite introductory commentary on John’s letters is by John Stott in the Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (IVP, 1988). Devotional. One of the best in the series and a classic for more than thirty years. Teachers and preachers will appreciate Stott’s clarity and conciseness (234 pp.). Good exegesis and timeless applications. This is a phenomenal deal on the secondary market (the hardcover is less than six dollars).
The best technical commentary is by Karen Jobes Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Zondervan, 2014). This 368-page commentary is the place to start for intermediate and advanced students who want to gain a deeper understanding of John’s epistles and their context. I especially appreciate how Jobes explains the relationship between the letters and the fourth gospel. In her view, “the letters cannot be properly understood without reference to John’s Gospel as the interpretive framework for the metaphors, images, and theology common to both.” The analysis of 1 John is 210 pages, with 34 pages devoted to 2 John and 58 pages to 3 John. There is also a helpful chapter on the theology of John’s letters. Intermediate and advanced students will find much to love in this commentary.
Did I miss a commentary you are interested in? Drop me a line. These are not the only resources I am familiar with–these are just my favorites.
Next: Recommended commentaries on Revelation.