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.
Several good commentaries have been written about this theologically thorny letter; below is my short list.
Pride of place goes to Douglas Moo in the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, (Baker, 2013). Technical/Pastoral. Strengths include a detailed introduction, great exegesis of the text, and insightful theology throughout. Moo’s presentation of other views is always fair, and he offers persuasive evidence for his conclusions. Some knowledge of Greek is helpful, but transliterations and translations are provided alongside the Greek text. If you have room on your bookshelf for only one commentary on Galatians, this is the one to get.
My second favorite is by Timothy George in the New American Commentary (Broadman, 1999). Pastoral. There is a lot to like about this intermediate level commentary–great introductory materials followed by a detailed verse-by-verse examination of the text. George is a historian, and his comments are filled with the kind of rich background details that help teachers bring the passage to life. Highly recommended.
Lagniappe: This book is available on the secondary market for less than $15; a phenomenal deal.
My third recommendation is by Thomas Schreiner in the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Zondervan, 2010). Pastoral/Technical. The ZECNT series is designed to provide useful but not overly technical help with the Greek text, and the layout reflects that. Schreiner divides the letter into 24 units. Each unit covers literary content, main idea, diagrammed translation, structure, exegetical outline, explanation of the text, and theology in application. Greek words are not transliterated, but students who want to better understand the Greek text will appreciate this commentary.
The best commentary on the Greek text is by F.F. Bruce in the New International Greek Testament Commentary (Eerdmans, 1982). Technical. This resource has been around for 40+ years, and several areas (particularly the introduction) are dated and/or irrelevant. Theological content is weak (get Moo for that). So why get this pricey little book? Because it is still offers the best linguistic help for Galatians, and Bruce’s historical background info is helpful. To compare this with another good technical commentary, set it alongside Richard Longenecker’s work in the Word Biblical Commentary (Zondervan, 1990).
Lagniappe: Students of biblical Greek should check out Interpreting Galatians: Explorations in Exegetical Method, 2nd Edition (Baker Academic, 2001), by Moisés Silva. The first edition (1996) was a textbook on exegesis that used Galatians as a “test case,” but Silva’s revision makes it clear that his goal is not a how-to resource, but a transparent exegesis of the Galatians. This book is obviously not for everyone, but I include it as a little something extra because it is a fascinating read, and it offers a unique opportunity to sit alongside a master exegete at work.
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 Ephesians.