New Testament Commentary Reviews: 1 & 2 Thessalonians

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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 Thessalonians

Paul’s letters to the church in Thessalonica have generated some excellent commentaries, and choosing between them will take some research. Below are five to consider.

  • The best all-around commentary on Thessalonians is by Jeffrey Weima in the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, (Baker, 2014). Technical/Pastoral. A massive (704 pp.) and thorough resource by a respected scholar who has devoted much of his ministry to the study of these two letters. Weima knows the Thessalonian corpus well (check out his works cited), and he often shares the views of earlier exegetes. I find this incredibly helpful, even when I don’t agree with him (e.g., after listing seven options, he concludes the Restrainer is Michael the Archangel). Helpful introduction (60 pp.) that goes into detail about why the Gospel was so violently opposed in Thessalonica. There are also some valuable indexes in the back matter, but most of the book is devoted to exegesis. And it is masterful. Weima spends a lot of time with technical details about the text and how it has been understood over the years. Knowledge of Greek will enhance the usability of this commentary, but most of the words are transliterated, and Weima’s lucid writing style makes this a very accessible resource.

    Lagniappe: If you want to dive deep into Pauline research, Weima co-authored An Annotated Bibliography of 1 and 2 Thessalonians (Brill Academic, 1998). This lists new for $125+ but can be picked up in the secondary market for ten bucks or so. An exceptional value.

  • Another good all-around commentary is by Gene Green in the Pillar New Testament Commentary (Eerdmans, 2008). Pastoral. More accessible than Weima, but at a price: there is little linguistic help. Where Green shines is in cultural and historical background. He paints a detailed portrait of first-century Thessalonica and the challenges they faced. Highly recommended.

  • The best introductory commentary is by G.K. Beale in the IVP New Testament Commentary (IVPNTC), IVP. Devotional. Greg Beale’s concise (279 pp.) analysis is a double blessing. It’s a readable and reliable devotional guide for lay readers, and it’s filled with theological insights and practical applications–a treasure chest for pastors and teachers. I recently saw this resource in the secondary market for twelve bucks; grab a copy when you find it for a good price. You will reach for it often when reading Thessalonians.

  • There are several good technical commentaries on these letters. The standard for many years has been Charles Wanamaker’s New International Greek Testament Commentary (Eerdmans, 1990). Many will not agree with Wanamaker’s judgment that 2 Thessalonians preceded 1 Thessalonians, but that takes nothing away from his masterful handling of the Greek text.

  • Advanced students will get a lot of language help from Wanamaker, but intermediate students may prefer the more accessible work by Gary Shogren in the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Zondervan, 2012). There is less dialogue with proponents of higher criticism, and Shogren’s prose is more lucid than Wanamaker’s.

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 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus.

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2 thoughts on “New Testament Commentary Reviews: 1 & 2 Thessalonians

  1. Hi!
    Thanks for the helpful blog. I’ve heard some mixed thing about Gordon Fee’s volume in NICNT.
    Any thoughts about that one?

    • Grace and peace, Nima. Fee did not make my favorites list, but his NICNT is excellent. Pros: good exegesis, clear and easy to read. Cons: intro is too brief to be of much value and light on theology.
      Fee’s NICNT would be a good addition to any NT library, but I recommend purchasing it after Shogren and Weima.