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 Timothy and Titus
Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus have benefitted from a wealth of attention in the past few years and we are blessed with a number of good resources to choose from. Below is my short list.
The best all-around commentary on Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus is by Philip Towner in the New International Commentary on the New Testament (Eerdmans, 2006). Pastoral/Technical. Massive (934 pp.) and thorough. Towner has written two excellent commentaries on these letters and his familiarity with them is evident. Extensive intro that digs deep into literary analysis and theology. His arguments are mostly orthodox and well reasoned, but not always persuasive (e.g., he thinks that Paul’s instruction in 1 Timothy 2:8–15 was a response to nascent feminism rather than an appeal to God’s creation order in Genesis). There are several helpful excursuses (e.g., discussions about the nature of conscience and the concept of epiphany). While this is a technical commentary, it is not overly intimidating. All Greek and Hebrew words in the main body are transliterated (the footnotes contain the Greek text), and intermediate students will appreciate the linguistic and theological insights. The only thing this commentary doesn’t help with is application, but read on.
Lagniappe: Towner wrote a commentary in 1994 for the IVP New Testament Commentary that is more application-oriented and makes a terrific companion to his NICNT volume. Like other IVPNTC volumes, this is an exceptional value when purchased used. I recently saw the hardcover version for less than six dollars.
Pastors and teachers will love the work by John Stott in his two volumes for the Bible Speaks Today (IVP, 1984 and 1986). Devotional. Another superlative value (both volumes are available on the secondary market for a few dollars) that would be an excellent companion to Towner’s NICNT. Lots of application and warm theological insights.
The best advanced commentary is by William Mounce in the Word Biblical Commentary (Nelson, 2000). Technical. Mounce literally wrote the book on Greek grammar, and his expertise is evident throughout his analysis. Yes, it is dense (786 pp.) and academic. Yes, the WBC format is torturous. But this is the book to reach for when you want your linguistic questions answered. If the WBC format is too confusing, consider the technical analysis by George Knight in the New International Greek Testament Commentary (Eerdmans, 1999). Or check out the pricey volume by I.H. Marshall in the International Critical Commentary (T&T Clark, 1999). Phillip Towner (see my first choice above) helped Marshall with this resource, but there are some obvious differences between the two works. Marshall is more helpful with linguistics, but he is also more theologically liberal.
Andreas J. Köstenberger recently wrote the second volume for a new commentary series: Biblical Theology for Christian Proclamation (B&H Publishing, 2017). Pastoral. I have only had the opportunity to preview it, but I really like what I’ve seen. Biblically conservative and complementarian. Lots of theology. In the intro, Köstenberger says the series is designed to help pastors craft sermons, and the layout facilitates that. Clear exegesis with good segues between pericopes. Numerous diagrams and charts that provide instant access to questions that might arise (e.g., there are charts that list every mention of Timothy and Titus in other Scriptures). At first glance, this appears to be great new resource.
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 Hebrews.