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This Sunday, Lord willing, I will finish preaching through the book of Acts. It’s been almost two calendar years and over 60 sermons. Over two years and five dozen sermons I’ve used a number of commentaries. None of them were bad (I try to research these things ahead of time). A few were outstanding.

Here’s my short commentary on the commentaries I used.

Before starting a long series on Acts, you need to read The Acts of the Risen Lord: Luke’s Account of God’s Unfolding Plan (IVP 2011) by Alan J. Thompson. This is yet another excellent volume in D.A. Carson’s series New Studies in Biblical Theology. Thompson provides an excellent overview of the book, with special attention to the major theological themes. Read this book first (after reading Acts) to make sure you can see the forest before exploring the trees.

The best commentary on Acts is the one by Darrell Bock (Baker Academic 2007)  in the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament series. Bock is exhaustive without being exhausting. His conclusions are judicious and his application, though relatively sparse, is solid. This was my go-to commentary. An easy to use and well laid out series.

For sheer girth, you may want to consult Craig Keener’s massive first volume exegetical commentary on Acts (Baker Academic 2012)–over 1000 pages (!) on just the introduction and Acts 1:1-2:47. This promises to be a landmark set of volumes. For most preachers, however, the material was too extensive to be helpful. Great resource in specific questions, but not one you are going to verse by verse.

Also on the large size is Eckhard Schnabel’s Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Zondervan 2012). Schnabel may be the world’s foremost expert on the mission of the early church. His earlier volumes on Paul the Missionary and Early Christian Mission are invaluable. His Acts commentary is also helpful, especially for those who know Greek, though I found the length and lay out of the book cumbersome.

After Bock, the two commentaries I followed most carefully were the ones by I. Howard Marshall (IVP 1980) in the Tyndale series and David Peterson’s contribution (Eerdmans 2009) to the Pillar series. Marshall is great for preachers–short, pithy, quotable. I didn’t always agree with his conclusions, and he spends too much time debating other commentators. Peterson is careful and especially good on application, though anchoring his commentary in the TNIV gives a book published only five years ago a dated feel.

Ben Witherington’s social-rhetorical commentary (Eerdmans 1998) is great when you want detailed background information. I didn’t use the commentary every week because of its length and because the new commentaries have plundered many of his insights. F.F. Bruce’s volume in the NICNT series (the best layout of any commentary series) is good, but is less necessary if you have some combination of Bock, Peterson, and Schnabel (sounds like a great law firm).

And of course, I used Calvin. Always read at least one old commentary. It will keep your bearing, show your biases, and be more unapologetically devotional.

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10 thoughts on “A Short Commentary on Commentaries (Acts)”

  1. Steve says:

    Any thoughts on John Stott’s “The Message of Acts” from The Bible Speaks Today series?

  2. Kevin DeYoung says:

    I’ve heard that it’s very good. I’ve used Stott profitably with other books. I just didn’t pick up his commentary this time.

  3. jack says:

    What do you think about the ML Jones on Acts? Curious on your thoughts. Thanks by the way for your outstanding thoughts on being a Christian. As a Master’s Seminary Grad and pastor in Alabama I appreciate them very much.

  4. Matt says:

    Thanks for blogging this. Your book recommendations are both insightful and a pleasure to read.

  5. I was disappointed in Stott’s BST, after having heard good things about it. Marshall’s TNTC and Longenecker’s EBC are much better at about the same level of detail.

    I’m glad to hear you liked Bock so much (and I just noticed Carson’s latest update to his commentary survey also likes it, although it seems as if he thinks Peterson edges Bock out just a little). I was worried given how much shorter it is than his excellent Luke volumes. I’ve spent some time in Peterson and liked it a lot. But if Bock is at least as good, and takes less time to read, that might mean I’d give it priority over Peterson if I have to choose.

  6. Thanks very much for this. I fear the TNIV comment on Peterson’s commentary may be a little unfair (am I allowed to wonder if there is a natural DeYoung ESV bias?) as the TNIV is in large measure taken up in the 2011 edition of the NIV – I haven’t found it in any way dated on that front I have to say (thereby, alas, revealing an NIV bias on intelligibility grounds).

  7. I don’t think he was suggesting that the TNIV translation itself is dated. But the fact that it’s a defunct translation makes the commentary feel dated to the short period of time when that translation was being produced.

  8. Chita says:

    Thanks everyone for your comments and especially DeYoung’s insightful survey.
    Just wondering though if anyone has had a look at Acts NIVAC by Fernando? Your thoughts.

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Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. He is chairman of the board of The Gospel Coalition, assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte), and a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have seven children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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