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.
A letter with much to say to the church, but good commentaries on Ephesians are few. Below is my short list.
The best all-around commentary on Ephesians is by Peter O’Brien in the Pillar New Testament Commentary, but it was withdrawn from publication by the publisher and is only available on the secondary market. My top recommendation for available commentaries is by Frank Thielman in the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, (Baker, 2010). Technical/Pastoral. I prefer O’Brien to Thielman, but both are excellent. Doug Moo, one of today’s most respected Bible scholars, had this to say: “Thielman’s Ephesians admirably combines those features that distinguish excellent commentaries on Scripture: breadth of research in both classical and contemporary writings, careful attention to the form and structure of the Greek text, clear writing, and appropriate theological and practical application.” Amen, Dr. Moo. Transliterations and English translations are included alongside the Greek words, and intermediate students will find it very accessible.
My second recommendation is Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary (Baker Academic, 2002), by Harold Hoehner. Technical. A massive (960 pp.) commentary on the Greek text with an emphasis on linguistics. The text is not transliterated, so familiarity with Greek is essential. Exhaustive (and occasionally exhausting) introduction that goes on for 131 pages and has a good defense of Pauline authorship. If you are looking for help with the Greek text, you will appreciate this resource. If you are looking for help with exposition or theology, you will do better with Thielman and O’Brien.
A book I recommend to new and developing teachers is by Klyne Snodgrass in the NIV Application Commentary (Zondervan, 1996). Pastoral/Devotional. Introductory material is scant and the commentary is tied to the NIV text, but Snodgrass offers alternate translations when the NIV goes awry. The text is examined pericope by pericope from three perspectives: original meaning, bridging contexts, and contemporary significance. This commentary is easy to read and understand, and it’s a terrific resource if you are new to teaching or unfamiliar with this letter, but it should not be your only book on Ephesians. Couple it with Thielman’s commentary for a more in-depth understanding of Paul’s message.
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 Philippians.