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.
This is one of the most challenging letters in the New Testament. We are blessed to have a number of excellent commentaries to aid our study. Below are seven of the finest.
The best all-around commentary on Hebrews is by Peter O’Brien in the Pillar New Testament Commentary (Eerdmans, 2010), but it was withdrawn from publication by the publisher and is only available on the secondary market. The best available commentary is by Richard France in the updated Expositor’s Bible Commentary, (Zondervan, 2006 revision). Pastoral. A concise (180 pp.) verse-by-verse exposition that has little interaction with other commentators. France uses his limited space on exegesis of the text. Greek words/phrases appear in Greek with transliterations and an English translation alongside. Technical comments are limited to the footnotes. France is well-versed in the Old Testament and he deftly fleshes out the many references and parallels. My one complaint is the book’s brevity. I wish there was more.
Another resource teachers and preachers will appreciate is by George Guthrie in the NIV Application Commentary (Zondervan, 1998). Pastoral/Devotional. Guthrie is very familiar with this letter, and his comments overflow with helpful insights and applications. It works as both a devotional guide to read along with Hebrews and as a teaching resource for pastors and teachers. There is little attention to technical matters, so preachers/teachers will want to supplement the NIVAC with O’Brien or France and one of the technical analyses mentioned below.
There are several contenders for best technical commentary. My favorite is the two-volume set by William Lane in the Word Biblical Commentary (Nelson, 1991). The WBC format is more challenging than other technical resources, but this one gets pride of place because Lane is more accessible and offers more theological insights. But advanced language students may prefer the comprehensive work of Paul Ellingworth in the New International Greek Testament Commentary (Eerdmans, 1993), or Harold Attridge in Hermeneia (Fortress Press, 1989), or Craig Koester in the Anchor Bible (Yale, 2001).
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 James.