New Testament Commentary Survey. 5th ed.

By D. A. Carson
Grand Rapids : Baker (2001). 142 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Dennis Swanson
13.1 (Spring 2002) : 112-113

 Solomon declared that the “writing of many books is endless” (Eccl 12:12), and in the genre of biblical commentaries, endless is perhaps too limited a term. An unscientific survey of book catalogues by this reviewer showed that several dozen commentary series are in process, several more in the planning stages, and several long-finished series have been or are being revised. The individual or stand-alone commentary titles currently in print number in the thousands. With the availability of all these works from every possible theological, denominational, and methodological perspective, it is a daunting task to attempt to keep up with the literature, much less make informed recommendations.

Several bibliographies specializing in biblical commentaries are in print. The one bibliographic series that has attempted to maintain a level of currency is the fifth edition of New Testament Commentary Survey. Continuing the work in the first two editions by Anthony C. Thiselton, D. A. Carson of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School has produced three editions of this eminently useful survey. The author has stated as his purpose to provide theological students and ministers with a handy survey of the resources, especially commentaries, that are available in English to facilitate an understanding of the NT (8).

The work has four sections (1) Introductory Notes; (2) Supplements to Commentaries; (3) Individual Commentaries; and (4) Best Buys. It also has an author index and a listing of abbreviations of commentary-set titles. In the introductory section the author briefly details the purpose of commentaries and the relative strengths and weaknesses of various types. He ably discusses the question often asked by students whether to buy a particular set of commentaries or works on individual Bible books. He covers both current and older sets, grouping them by multiple author and by single author. In the section he briefly lists works of NT introduction and NT theology. The author’s “Best Buy” section is a listing of two or three individual commentaries on each book of the NT.

The bulk of this work centers on the listing of individual commentaries on each NT book. Instead of a simple listing of each work with comments, the author has developed a running narrative approach which is refreshing and much more readable than the traditional bibliographic method. He lists title, publisher name, and the list price (per the information he had available). The strength of this work is the brief comments on each title. Carson readily admits that he is rightly accused of being “trenchant” in his comments. “I have tried to be careful, but in a survey this condensed I prefer to be a shade too trenchant than too bland” (9). The comments are interesting, provocative, and occasionally acerbic. He has taken the same tactic as Charles Spurgeon did in his Commenting and Commentaries (London: Passmore and Alabaster, 1876) as far as the comments are concerned, and he upholds that tradition well.

The author does not take a middle road and makes his views quite evident. He has little use, bordering on disdain, for dispensationalism and commentaries of that position. He also has little use for “popular” commentaries. Works that are edited sermon series often come in for rather critical comments; which w ill certainly upset some readers whose favorites fall into that category. Occasionally there are ad hominem comments and his references to “poorly trained preachers,” “the mythical well-read layman,” and “unsophisticated Sunday School teacher” seem unnecessarily peevish.

That aside, this work is highly recommended for both its informative value and the unique accomplishment for a bibliography, it is interesting and entertaining to read.