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Best Commentaries on Leviticus
February 25, 2013
Series Introduction: I live in a small house. I work in a small office in a small church. For those reasons and others I will never have a huge library. When I add a book I almost always remove a book, a practice that allows me to focus on quality over quantity. Over the past couple of years I have focused on building a collection of commentaries that will include only the best volumes on each book of the Bible. I know when I’m in way over my head, so before I began I collected every good resource I could find that rated and reviewed commentaries. I studied them and then began my collection on the basis of what the experts told me. Since I did all of that work, and since I continue to keep up with the project, I thought it might be helpful to share the recommendations.
My focus is on newer commentaries (at least in part because most of the classics are now freely or cheaply available) and I am offering approximately 5 recommendations for each book of the Bible, alternating between the Old Testament and the New. Today I’ll share what I learned about Leviticus.
I had more difficulty sorting through the options for Leviticus than I had with any of the previous books. The top recommendation was very clear, but after that it was quite a bit more cloudy. In the end I chose commentaries that were recommended by multiple experts and that were both conservative and Evangelical in flavor.
Gordon Wenham - The Book of Leviticus (The New International Commentary on the Old Testament). The clear leader in the field is Wenham whose volume is recommended by every commentator on the commentaries. Jim Rosscup of the Master’s Seminary quotes Dan Phillips who says it is a “Sparkling, inviting and generally convincing effort at showing the modern meaning and relevance of Leviticus, based on the legitimate and inherent meaning of the text. [It is] indispensable for preaching or teaching, and rewarding for personal (serious) study.” Note that Wenham’s work on Genesis is also the most-recommended volume for that book. (Amazon, Westminster Books)
Mark Rooker - Leviticus (New American Commentary). Determining that Wenham’s was top of the class was quite simple; finding which commentaries to recommend subsequently proved much more difficult. Rooker’s work is widely praised and is the second I would add to a collection. Keith Mathison says, “Many of the commentaries in the NAC series are strong, and Rooker’s work on Leviticus is a good example. It is both exegetically thorough and well written.” High praise, indeed. (Amazon)
John Currid - A Study Commentary on Leviticus (Evangelical Press Study Commentary). Currid’s volume has not been as widely reviewed as many of the others. However, Derek Thomas says of it, “Clearly and cogently presents Leviticus as a series of directories for public worship and establishes the importance of Leviticus for the NT. Especially helpful on the Holiness Code.” I love Currid’s work because I consider him especially conservative and trustworthy. (Amazon, Westminster Books)
R.K. Harrison - Leviticus (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries). The Tyndale Old Testament series is intended to be concise. Harrison’s volume reflects that concision with a page count of only 254. The series is not only concise, but also very readable, so this may well be the best choice for someone who wants only one commentary, and one that is written with a general audience in mind. At the very least, it may well be a great place to begin to get an overview of the book. (Amazon)
John E. Hartley - Leviticus (Word Biblical Commentary). It is hardly possible to find a review of any volume in the Word Biblical Commentary series that does not reference its unfortunate and annoying layout. Nevertheless, Hartley’s work comes recommended by several of the experts (who tell you to just try to work around that layout). This is the one volume John Piper recommends in his one-commentary-per-book round-up. (Amazon, Westminster Books)
Because Andrew Bonar’s commentary is quite old it falls outside the boundaries of the top-5 I am recommending. However, it is considered an exceptional volume and one that is very much worthy of a place in your collection. C.H. Spurgeon was apparently especially fond of it (Amazon, Westminster Books). Finally, I am fond of the Preaching the Word series. Though I was not able to find many reviews of Kenneth Matthew’s Leviticus: Holy God, Holy People, I would expect it to be well worth reading (Amazon, Westminster Books).
Let me close with a question: What are your preferred commentaries on Leviticus? Are there some you’ve found particularly helpful or are there some we would do well to avoid?