Personal Thoughts About Commentaries (11): Hebrews

For my money the top three works in the list are indispensable. The next two are important to have. I do not think the warning passages in Hebrews have yet been tackled adequately (and who is up to the task?). I personally hold that Hebrews should be read alongside the Olivet Discourse.

  1. Peter T. O’Brien – Yes, I know the author has gotten it in the neck for plagiarizing (but it is odd plagiarism, like repeating phrases, not exegesis). Because of this you’ll have to search for it at a decent price. But this is really very good.

2. William L. Lane – Could easily be first. Fetches help from many sources (e.g. Thompson’s Beginnings of Philosophy, which he cites constantly). I tend to agree more with O’Brien and Bruce, but you can’t afford to be without this work.

3. F. F. Bruce – Great prose. Has read everything up to publication date. Always solid.

4. Paul Ellingworth – A must-have for close exegesis. Take a deep breath and plunge in.

5. Phillip Edgcumbe Hughes – I really like Hughes’s blend of pious scholarship and solid theology. Needs to be supplemented by one of the above.

6. David A. DaSilva – A socio-rhetorical work called Perseverance in Gratitude.

7. R. T. France – Lovely style joined to extensive learning.

8. George H. Guthrie – Guthrie is an acknowledged expert on Hebrews. This is in the NIVAC series. A more exegetical treatment by him would rank highly. (His contribution to the Carson/Beale Commentary on the NT Use of the OT is terrific).

9. William Gouge – Massive Puritan work with surprisingly good exegesis. Easier to navigate than Owen.

10. Donald A. Hagner – Compact, terse, and nearly always helpful at a pinch.

There are many good commentaries on Hebrews at all levels. On the scholarly level Harold Attridge is highly skilled and liberal. It’s a toss up between him and Ellingworth. Ellingworth wins because he offers a bit more. I don’t think one needs both. Gareth Cockerill is good and could easily swap with France. B. F. Westcott’s classic might also have made the list, as might David Allen (whose thesis about Lukan authorship is interesting, if not completely convincing). Then there are Messrs Schreiner and Witherington. Old John Brown (BoT) is excellent if supplemented by newer scholarship. Finally there is John Owen’s masterful 7-volume work, which in many ways stands by itself. A lot of great stuff in Owen, but lots to get lost in too.

13 thoughts on “Personal Thoughts About Commentaries (11): Hebrews”

  1. But — Homer Kent! with pictures!

    If I had to pick three, it’d probably be Westcott, Bruce, and Kent. I think this may be Bruce’s finest work.

    1. I’m glad you like Westcott. Bruce’s best work? That’s a hard one. I’d probably go for his book on Paul or his NT History, but his Hebrews is terrific. For me Kent is good, but I have just preached through Hebrews and didn’t find him that helpful. Of course, these are personal thoughts.

      1. Yes, and I value your thoughts!

        Bruce on Paul really disappointed me. I felt his portrait was harmed by his rejection of the Pastorals’ Pauline authorship. Westcott digs so deep, and seems to have a good grasp of the flow. Scholars were such giants in his day.

        Should have said: I always really appreciate your lists and comments.

  2. I have always heard that Owen in Hebrews is the gold standard. I assume that is both a) true and b) a position held by the masochistic?

    1. When you get Owen you have to approach him as Owen. Be prepared for thoroughness, erudition, pages of exposition upon one phrase, and solemn application. He does not indulge in digressions in Hebrews like in his other works (unless one includes the first volume). I used him quite a lot when I preached the book, but I confess to wanting to get to the point much quicker than he allowed. Gold standard? In some circles one is supposed to say that, but why? Because it is heavy, pious, and inexorably long? Who has the time? But if you do have it, it is of use for more than just Hebrews!

      1. Sorry, Paul. I was just interested in knowing whether you have favorite devotionals (or those you don’t like) – like some people prefer certain hymn books.

  3. These lists are always very helpful. Dr. Henebury, what are your thoughts on David Allen’s commentary in nac? Is it a good work to have? I’ve heard is fairly controversial. My interest in it lies in the treatment of Hebrews ch 6 – I understand Allen offers one of the most thorough treatments on the passage.
    I personally don’t care about the authorship controversy, but I want a good commentary that deals with ch. 6. I thought of O’Brien + deSilva, in order to have both calvinist/arminian perspectives. Maybe Allen/Bruce? Lane and Ellingworth might be a bit too much for someone without any greek knowledge.

  4. Emanuel,

    Allen’s book is pretty good. He’s quite thorough. You can’t go wrong with any of the combinations you give. As far as the warning passages are concerned I don’t think anybody gets it right. My choice? For the price, O’Brien and Lane.

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