Ever since the arrival of Longman’s Old Testament Commentary Survey this past May, I have eagerly awaited my own copy of D. A. Carson’s New Testament Commentary Survey. It could not have come at a better time. I’m currently working on a dissertation chapter that surveys a particular theme as it runs through the entire canon. This means I need rapid access to the best commentaries on virtually every book of the Bible. Together, Longman and Carson have saved me hours, and both volumes are always at arm’s length.
Carson is known for his candid assessment of all things biblical, and this book is no exception. I am glad to recommend Carson’s Survey as the most useful book of its type. Chapter one introduces readers to NT commentary sets or one-volume commentaries. Very few series meet with Carson’s approval. He urges readers to consider volumes on a case-by-case basis rather than buying an entire set of commentaries. Chapter two surveys NT introductions and NT theologies, a feature lacking in Longman’s companion volume but apparently scaled back compared to the 6th edition. Chapter three, by far the longest, evaluates commentaries on individual books. Carson weaves his analysis into paragraphs that stretch into page after page. For example, commentaries on Matthew fill nine pages, and Mark six. Readers will need to read the whole section carefully in order to decide which commentaries are worth their time. Unlike Longman’s 5th edition, this book is no “fast food” restaurant. The menu takes quite a while to read. This weakness is partially mitigated by the chart at the end that highlights “best buys,” but that chart includes only one or two commentaries for each NT book.
If I had not first seen Longman’s OT Commentary Survey, I would have been totally delighted with Carson’s book. However, for a number of reasons, Longman’s style is preferable. Whereas Longman’s book is laid out as a catalog with bold headings for each commentary, Carson’s analysis is written in prose paragraphs, with no more depth of analysis than what Longman offers. One must hunt for names in italics to find evaluation of a particular commentary. Carson commends so many commentaries for each book that students are scarcely helped in deciding between them. Authors are not treated alphabetically, which means more time is required to locate his appraisal of each book.
Carson and Longman take different approaches to the slightly awkward question of how to evaluate the commentaries they themselves have written. Longman lists his in an appendix without offering an evaluation. Carson speaks of his own work approvingly in the third person. Something between these extremes would be more helpful.
Perhaps the most disappointing difference between these volumes is that Carson does not categorize commentaries according to their intended audience the way Longman does (L=laypeople, M=ministers, S=scholars). Nor does he offer a 5-star rating system so that readers can quickly find the most useful commentaries. Using stars forces Longman to make a clear determination of a book’s value for its intended audience, something Carson does not always clearly express. While Carson’s narrative is helpful, I often find myself wondering, “What’s the bottom line? Which commentary should I consult?”
In the end I would still recommend Carson’s Survey for pastors and students who need help deciding which commentaries to use for study and preaching. It is affordable and will no doubt save time. However, I hope Baker Academic will encourage Carson to bring his Commentary Survey in line with Longman’s style for the 8th edition. Readers will be most grateful for the increased ease in accessing Carson’s expert opinion.
Thanks to Baker Academic for providing me with a review copy.