New Testament Commentary Reviews: 2 Corinthians

Open Bible and notebook

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.

2 Corinthians

Many good commentaries have been written about this very personal letter, and picking a few for your library will require some investigation; consider the seven listed below.

  • The first book I reach for is by David Garland in the New American Commentary (Broadman, 1999). Pastoral. Light on technical info, but in all other aspects a model commentary–clear, concise, and backed by solid reasoning and good theology. Get this one first. Garland is a master exegete and expositor.

    Lagniappe: the current price of this commentary (less than $15 hardcover and $3 ebook) makes it especially attractive.

  • My second recommendation is by Frank Matera in the New Testament Library (Presbyterian Publishing, 2003). Technical. I can recommend only one commentary from the hyper-critical NTL series, but it’s a good one; Matera has given us a concise (332pp) resource that is packed with instructive insights. The intro is brief (32pp) but helpful. All Greek in the text is transliterated; words/phrases in the footnotes are not. One of my favorite features is the inclusion of the author’s fresh translation of the Greek text, and I especially like the way Matera explains his word/phrase choices in the footnotes. The translation is followed by magnificent verse by verse exegesis. Matera is a Catholic scholar, but pastors and teachers of all stripes will find much here to stimulate their thoughts. The only negative is the price, but don’t let that deter you from previewing this fine commentary.

  • Another resource worth looking at is by Paul Barnett in the New International Commentary on the New Testament (Eerdmans, 1987). Pastoral/Technical. Most commentaries read like textbooks; this one is an exception. Barnett is easy to read and follow, and his theological insights are often helpful. His background information of the culture of Second Temple Judaism is also perceptive. On the downside, the technical info is a bit anemic. For language help, consider Harris’s NIGTC below.

  • A new favorite is by Mark Seifrid in the in Pillar New Testament Commentary (Eerdmans, 2014). Pastoral. I haven’t had time to do more than preview this new addition to the PNTC series, but I like what I’ve read so far. Like other PNTC volumes, the text is arranged pericope by pericope and examined verse by verse. Seifrid focuses on exegesis and spends little time in discourse with other scholars. In an interview he said, I intentionally concentrated on commenting on the text… There is a danger within current interpretation of directing one’s comments to the guild of scholars rather than to the believing community. I tried to avoid that danger.” Good choice. The result is a detailed analysis of 2 Corinthians with lots of theological reflection alongside. Seifrid’s lucid narrative is a bonus.

  • My fifth recommendation is by Linda Belleville in the IVP New Testament Commentary (IVP, 1996). Pastoral/Technical. The IVPNTC series is intermediate level and designed to facilitate application of the biblical text. The series is hit and (mostly) miss, but Belleville’s volume knocks it out of the park. The intro is lengthy (46pp) and helpful. Technical comments are mostly confined to the footnotes, and all Greek is transliterated. Belleville investigates 2 Corinthians pericope by pericope in a narrative format, so finding info on a particular verse may require some digging, but your labors will be rewarded with penetrating insights and sound reasoning. This work may be twenty-plus years old, but it has lost little of its value. 

    Lagniappe: this superb commentary can be purchased in the secondary market for less than $10. Students on a budget should consider pairing this with Garland’s NAC. Ginormous value.

  • The best commentary on the Greek text is by Murray Harris in the New International Greek Testament Commentary (Eerdmans, 2005). Technical. There are several things to like about this book, starting with the 125 page introduction that allows the reader to study Paul’s letter in its context. Harris provides a detailed explanation of the missive’s theology and does a terrific job with the literary, historical, and chronological background. And the theological observations are not limited to the intro; they are sprinkled throughout the commentary. Teachers and pastors will not find the lengthy linguistic discourses very helpful for preparing lessons, but students proficient in Greek who are looking for help with the language will welcome Harris’s 1,117 page tome.

  • A book I recommend to new and developing teachers is by Scott Hafemann in the NIV Application Commentary (Zondervan, 2000). Pastoral/Devotional. One of the better contributions to the NIVAC series. Hafemann is easy to read and understand, and this is a terrific resource if you are new to teaching or unfamiliar with this letter. But don’t let the NIVAC be your only commentary on 2 Corinthians. Couple it with Garland’s NAC.

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 Galatians.

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