At more than 2000 years removed from the writing of the Old Testament, one might expect that the rate of commentary-writing would have slowed to a mere trickle. Not so! Commentaries appear on the market every month, designed to meet a wide range of needs for a wide range of people. For those afraid of drowning in the sea of biblical scholarship, Tremper Longman’s book is a life vest. His Old Testament Commentary Survey is a one-size-fits-all for a discipline full of tailor-made commentaries. It is one book that will save both time and money.
Busy church leaders and students on a tight budget cannot afford to buy books indiscriminately. They need to know—and quick!—which commentaries are worth their time and money. With papers to write, sermons to prepare, and Bible studies to lead they ought to have a trusted expert close at hand who can point them to the very best resources. Tremper Longman III is that expert.
Longman is no stranger to the challenge of writing commentaries, having authored volumes on Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Daniel, Nahum, Proverbs, Jeremiah, Lamentations, and Job. He has also served as general editor for at least three multi-volume commentary series (Baker Commentary on the Old Testament: Wisdom and Psalms; NIV Application Commentary; Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Revised Edition) and a consulting editor for the Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. As his list of publications shows, his interests range beyond commentaries. He was a senior translator for the New Living Translation and a consultant for several translations. His other books (some of them co-authored) address issues of pastoral ministry, marriage, biblical history, wisdom literature, and literary interpretation of the Bible. He has over 33 combined years of teaching experience at Westmont College and Westminster Theological Seminary, specializing in Old Testament. In short, he is just the sort of Evangelical biblical scholar whose opinion I would love to have on any given commentary.
So how does this book work? Longman lists at least a dozen commentaries on each book of the Old Testament, grouped by book. Following bibliographical information, he evaluates the work in a few sentences, orienting readers to the approach taken, including strengths or weaknesses. Each entry is coded to show the intended audience (L=laypeople; M=ministers and seminary students; S=scholars) and rated with between one and five stars to show the overall value. With just a quick glance, readers can easily select the best Old Testament commentary on any given book.
The book has several other features as well. Longman includes separate sections for commentary sets or series, one-volume commentaries, and 5-star commentaries, plus a list of all the commentaries he has written (which are not rated). Wheaton authors fare well in his critique— Karen Jobes, Daniel Block, John Walton, Gary Burge, and Andrew Hill are all given 5-star reviews. Still, his lists cover the full range of perspectives from conservative to critical and he does not shy away from giving kudos to books that are not authored by Evangelicals.
If there is a downside to this book, it is unavoidable. A book like this is out of date as soon as it goes to press. Though it came out in 2013, Longman did not include Daniel Block’s NIVAC volume on Deuteronomy, John Walton’s NIVAC volume on Job, and Jacob Milgrom’s commentary on Ezekiel 38–48, all published in 2012. Since some commentaries he reviews are listed as “forthcoming” it’s too bad that some of these most recent are missed. No doubt he’ll catch them in the next edition. At under $12 on Amazon, there’s no reason to hesitate. This is the one book you can’t afford not to buy.
A word to theologians is also in order. Longman insists that the theological message of a book must come through in a commentary. Writers who fail to exposit the overall message or at least gesture towards New Testament implications do not get high marks. On the other hand, Longman is openly cautious about commentaries written by theologians. Those who disregard the historical setting of a book do not fare well. In the Brazos series, Telford Work (Deuteronomy) and Peter Leithart (Kings) receive 4 stars; F. A. Murphy (1 Samuel), on the other hand, gets a scathing critique and no stars at all. Generally speaking, Longman favors the Two Horizons Series over Brazos, and two of those volumes even make it to his 5-star list (G. W. Grogan on Psalms and R. A. Parry on Lamentations). Overall his assessment seems fair, given his aims. Reading between the lines, Longman’s own methodology would include both literary-historical exegesis and reflection on theological significance. Commentaries that lean too far to one side or the other are less useful.
I would highly recommend this resource for pastors, seminary students, and Bible teachers at any level who are serious about understanding Scripture. I am certainly glad to add it to my library, where it will see frequent use, and I hope to review D. A. Carson’s New Testament Commentary Survey when the 7th edition is released later this year.
I’m grateful to Baker Academic for providing a free review copy of the book.