Commentaries I use: The Epistle to the Hebrews

The Epistle to the Hebrews is without question an essential when it comes to understanding the biblical view of the person of Christ, His atonement and the New Covenant.  Any individual who has not cherished this letter through extensive and careful study is lacking a fundamental key to understanding many of the themes of the Old and New Testament as well as how these two testaments relate to each other.  There are many commentaries available on this letter and to be quite honest, it is the book in the bible to which I own the most commentaries. To suggest only a few will be difficult however I will try to limit the number to only five commentaries.

The first recommendation I would like to make is a massive study to the letter written sometime in the 17th century. An Exposition of Hebrews by Puritan John Owen is a masterpiece and without any question a foundational commentary to have. It is a massive tome with a total of 7 volumes. Owen delves deep into the study of this timeless epistle with careful research and especially pastoral care. You can tell when reading this commentary just how much Owen adored this epistle and cherished every moment of writing these multi volumes. Spurgeon once said of this commentary: “Out of scores of commendations of this colossal work we select but one. Dr. Chalmers pronounced it, ‘a work of gigantic strength as well as gigantic size; and he who hath mastered it is very little short, both in respect to the doctrinal and practical Christianity, of being an erudite and accomplished theologian.” The only difficult thing about this commentary is that it is written by someone living in the 17th century and there are times that you will have to re-read what was written in order to understand what Owen was truly attempting to say. The commentary is also a bit pricey ranging usually over $100 however it is available in electronic form for free on many websites.

The second recommendation I would like to make is, again, from the Pillar New Testament Commentary series. It is written by one of my favorite expositors, Peter T. O’Brien and titled “The Letter to the Hebrews”.  This commentary is certainly far more readable than Owen’s and while the number of pages is significantly less than that of the famous puritan commentary, O’Brien makes good use of the space he is allotted. This commentary has one of the best introductions to the letter available delving into the historical and cultural predicaments of those days. O’Brien also does a fantastic job in dealing with the authorship of the letter weighing the evidence of what we are told and not spending an enormous amount of time on speculation. This commentary is well balanced in providing an exposition of the book with fine scholarship with some expanded thoughts in the footnotes yet allowing space for pastoral care within its pages. If someone is only looking to own one commentary on the book of Hebrews, this would be my suggestion to them.

My next pick is a considered by many as the most used commentary on Hebrews. It is from the New International Commentary on the New Testament series written by F.F. Bruce and called “The Epistle to the Hebrews”. There is a new version of the Hebrews commentary in this series however Bruce’s exposition of the book is still a classic. While I feel it is very similar to O’Brien’s commentary is many ways, this commentary has some unique attributes to it as well. I felt that Bruce did a fantastic job on Hebrews 7 and the priesthood of Melchizedek. Bruce also spends much time comparing translational decisions on key words which I found very useful when addressing certain difficult passages. I find this is a good complimentary volume to the PNTC by O’Brien even though they are quite similar.

My fourth commentary suggestion would be a hefty volume published by Baker Books called “An Exposition of Hebrews” written by A.W. Pink.  The commentary is a massive one volume exposition of approximately 1300 pages. Pink’s commentary is not as scholarly oriented as the previous two recommendations but I feel that for the average individual who wants to understand this glorious epistle, this is the commentary for you. What I love about this commentary is the fact that it delves deep into every theme of Hebrews and one can learn much about the theology without getting overly technical. One drawback about this however is that sometimes Pink tends to get off track and he plays far too often with typology which could tend to be confusing for some. I still believe that this is a tremendous work and worth having especially if you have no real theological background.

I would like to mention one last commentary even though I am doing so hesitantly. There are numerous individuals who suggest this commentary and hail it as the best around. It is, once again, called “The Epistle to the Hebrews” written by Paul Ellingworth from the New International Greek Testament Commentary series. The commentary is probably the most extensively research commentary on Hebrews that I have come across and without a doubt a scholarly masterpiece. The reason why I am hesitant to mention it is because this exposition of Hebrews is not for everyone. It is one of the most technical commentaries I own and unless you are well learned in Greek, Hebrew, Latin and several other languages then this commentary might not be overly beneficial for you. It is, in my opinion, more a grammatical and historical analysis than a theological commentary. I should add that there is a place and an appreciation for this type of volume however it will only truly be enjoyed by those attending seminary or those with extensive training in the original languages.

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