New Testament Commentary Reviews: James

Book and notebook on desk

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.


The controversial and oft ignored letter of James has been the subject of several good commentaries. Below are seven of the best.

  • I have two favorite all-around commentaries on this letter. The first is by Doug Moo in the in Pillar New Testament Commentary (Eerdmans, 2000). Pastoral. Concise (287 pp.) and packed with helpful info. Cogent reasoning, clear writing, and solid theology. There’s a lot to like here. Advanced students will want to couple Moo with one of the technical analyses below.

  • Another favorite is by Dan McCartney in the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Baker, 2009). Technical/Pastoral. McCartney’s 368 page analysis is not as accessible as Moo’s, but it’s every bit as helpful. Great exegesis and theologically deep. I especially like McCartney’s four excursuses: faith as the central concern of James; faith, works, and justification in James and Paul; James and wisdom; and James and suffering). The text is laid out pericope-by-pericope but examined verse-by-verse. Transliterations are provided alongside the Hebrew and Greek text. Highly recommended.

  • My third recommendation is by Craig Blomberg and Miriam Kamell in the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Zondervan, 2008). Technical/Pastoral. This was the first volume in a new series designed to provide useful but not overly technical help with the Greek text, and it has been well received by busy pastors and teachers who are tasked with creating weekly lessons. The ZECNT series is formatted to facilitate study–each unit covers literary content, main idea, diagrammed translation, structure, exegetical outline, explanation of the text, and theology in application. Kamell examines linguistic issues, and Blomberg focuses on application. Greek words are not transliterated, but intermediate students who want to better understand the original text will appreciate this commentary.

  • The best introductory commentary is by J. Alec Motyer in the Bible Speaks Today (IVP, 1985). Devotional. A reader-friendly analysis of James that goes beyond what is normally found in popular commentaries. Very helpful in understanding the structure of the letter. I recently saw this on the secondary market for less than four dollars. It will repay your investment many times over.

  • Several good technical commentaries are available for this letter. The most accessible is by Scot McKnight in the New International Commentary on the New Testament (Eerdmans, 2011). Technical/Pastoral. Exhaustive (497 pp.) and well-written. Especially helpful with the historical setting that prompted the letter. All Greek and Hebrew words in the text are transliterated (the footnotes contain non-transliterated words).

  • Another superior analysis is by Luke Timothy Johnson in the Anchor Bible (Yale, 2005). Technical. Johnson’s introduction to this letter is the best I’ve seen. Greek words are transliterated but not defined, and they are plentiful, so knowledge of the language is requisite.

  • A third technical resource worth considering is by Peter Davids in the New International Greek Testament Commentary (Eerdmans, 1982). Technical. Concise (264 pp.) and helpful with linguistics. Greek words are not transliterated or defined (Hebrew is transliterated). Students who want language help but do not read Greek will be better served by McKnight.

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 1 Peter.

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