New Testament Commentary Reviews: Revelation

Bible book

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.

Revelation

Assembling a list of commentary recommendations on this book is challenging because your preferences will depend on your theology and eschatology. There are five basic approaches to interpreting Revelation: preterist (the prophecies point to the book’s immediate historical context and have mostly been fulfilled), historicist (Revelation predicts the whole course of Christian history), futurist (the prophecies point to events that are still in the future), idealist (the book is a symbolic portrayal of the struggle between God and Satan and is not strictly tied to historical events), and eclectic (a variation or combination of one or more of the aforementioned approaches). Three other terms are commonly used to better identify the positions: postmillennial, amillennial, and premillennial. Premillennialism is further divided into the Dispensational (pre-trib) and Historic (post-trib) camps. Your determination as to which are the “best” resources will depend on your personal beliefs, but there are a handful of books that are always at the top of the “best of” lists. Below are five premier commentaries that will help you better understand this complex and controversial book.

  • One of the best all-around commentaries on Revelation is by Grant Osbourne in the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Baker, 2002). Technical/Pastoral. Written from a historic premillennial perspective, this 896-page commentary is filled with helpful background info on the people, places, and events mentioned in Revelation. Like other commentaries in this series, the Greek text gets a lot of attention, but transliterations are provided alongside the text, and intermediate students will find it very accessible. Osbourne’s solid exegesis, clear explanations, and fairness in presenting other perspectives makes this a very appealing resource.

  • Even more accessible is the volume by Robert Mounce for the New International Commentary on the New Testament (Eerdmans, 1990). Technical/Pastoral. If you are looking for a concise (439 pp.) commentary on the English text that is easy to understand without being simplistic, this is it. Like Osbourne, Mounce writes from a historic premillennial perspective, but he has a deep appreciation for other views, and they are well represented. Greek and Hebrew words/phrases are transliterated in the main body, but Greek text is used in the footnotes (Hebrew is always transliterated). This is a first choice for many.

  • Those in search of a commentary on the Greek text have a couple of options. Some will prefer the three-volume tome by David Aune in the Word Biblical Commentary); my favorite is by Gregory Beale in the New International Greek Testament Commentary (Eerdmans, 1998). Still going strong after twenty years, this is a masterful analysis from an idealist, amillennial perspective. Beale partnered with Carson to author the Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (incredibly helpful and highly recommended), so it is no surprise that his commentary excels in explaining the connections between Revelation and the Old Testament. This alone is worth the hefty price of this volume, but there is much more. Beale is an outstanding exegete and this lengthy (1245 pp.) analysis really allows him to stretch out. A “must have” for advanced students.

  • The best introductory commentary on Revelation is Greg Beale’s abridgment of his NIGTC volume: Revelation: A Shorter Commentary (Eerdmans, 2015). The technical notes were removed, and the reader is left with 576 pages of Beale’s insightful comments and conclusions. Interspersed throughout are “Suggestions for Reflection” that provide teachers with helpful ideas on applying the text. All this for a third of the price of the NIGTC volume. Highly recommended.

  • Pastors and teachers will also appreciate the devotional commentary by Craig Keener in the NIV Application Commentary (Zondervan, 2004). Devotional/pastoral. Keener’s analysis is easy to read, easy to understand, and filled with applications and illustrations. If you are new to teaching or unfamiliar with Revelation, the NIVAC is a good entry point, but don’t let it be your only commentary on the Apocalypse. Couple it with Mounce, Osbourne, or Beale’s abridged version.

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.

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