I’ve spent the past few months preaching and teaching through James’ epistle, which was quite the faith-strengthening and repentance-increasing endeavor. Since there are dozens of commentaries on James, I couldn’t use them all. Here are the ones I’ve used to some extent, with a brief review of each.
1) Craig Blomberg and Mariam Kamell’s Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: James. As I mentioned before on this blog, I do highly recommend this commentary. The layout is great, the exegetical discussions are understandable and level-headed, and the scholarship is superb. As with all commentaries, there are parts you may disagree with, but overall this is one of my favorites since it includes an exegetical outline and application section of each part of the epistle.
2) Anthony Selvaggio, The 24/7 Christian. This would be a good book to use for a Bible study group going through James’ epistle. It is written for average parishioners, so if you’re looking for exegetical depth and scholarly discussion, you won’t find it here. The structure was a bit bothersome (since it was half topical and half chapter by chapter) but Selvaggio has some great pastoral theology sections that are gospel centered.
3) J. A. Motyer, The Message of James. I really like this shorter commentary. Motyer has a broad knowledge of Scripture, so his comments are full of allusions and cross references. The layout is straightforward and the commentary is not deeply academic/scholarly, but it is very solid and helpful. Motyer’s writing style is unique, so I had to read some sections a few times, but I wouldn’t want to have gone through James without this commentary.
4) Daniel Doriani, James. This is a commentary from a Reformed perspective which aims at applying the biblical message. In my opinion, this commentary was hit-and-miss. Some sections were very helpful as far as exegesis and application, but others weren’t as much. To be honest, I didn’t get much preaching help from this commentary that wasn’t in my other commentaries. If you get (or have) any other non-technical commentaries on James, you probably won’t need this one.
5) Doug Moo, James (in the Tyndale Series). This is a good commentary, but very brief – almost too brief. Though I didn’t use it every week, I did find some helpful parts scattered throughout – Moo is a fine NT scholar. Sometimes, however, the brevity took away from the usefulness of the commentary. I do recommend it, but remember it is brief and not overly technical.
6) Luke Timothy Johnson, The Letter of James (in the Anchor Bible series). This was one of my favorite commentaries on James. I especially liked his lexical and grammatical discussions. He would explain each phrase grammatically, using a wide variety of sources, from the early church to modern-day scholars. I didn’t like the format (no footnotes – the notes were in the text, which makes for cumbersome reading), but I do highly recommend this resource if you study James in-depth. One more note – the introduction is quite long (about 40% of the book!).
7) R. Kent Hughes, James. This one was sort of like Doriani’s (listed above) though I liked it better than Doriani. It’s hard for me to explain why, but I ended up using Hughes much more than Doriani. The only quibble I have with Hughes’ commentary is that there were so many stories and anecdotes I ended up skimming those, since they didn’t always bolster the commentary sections. Still, I do recommend this commentary.
8) Robert Johnstone, The Epistle of James. This one isn’t really a commentary. Instead, it is something like a series of lectures or sermons on James’ epistle. The chapters I did read where somewhat helpful (though remember this is from the 19th century). One reason I didn’t use this book for every single sermon was because of time: the chapters take some work to read through. I do recommend it though, if you have some extra time and if you can find it for a decent price.
9) Ralph Martin, James (in the Word series). I used this one on and off. I realize it is a standard and solid commentary on James’ epistle, but I didn’t use it all the time. I found out that using Johnson and Blomberg, along with the other ones, were enough for my purposes. And to be honest, the formatting on these Word commentaries makes them a burden for me to read because the text is all smashed together and the notes are in the text (rather than footnotes). Still, the content is solid, and if you need a technical and solid commentary, you’ll want this one.
10) Thomas Manton, James (in the Crossway Classics series). I really enjoyed this commentary. The content was great and the layout was very orderly – it’s easy to read. This was one of my favorites; in fact, it is devotional enough that it is a joy to read just for pleasure! I also wrote a few notes in the back cover for when I study and preach on other topics that James covered. You need this book to get the solid Puritan exegetical/practical emphasis in your studies and preaching.
I also used Calvin and Matthew Henry, which are also quite good (of course). From time to time I also used The Ante-Nicene Fathers’ scripture index, but I didn’t find much there that was overly helpful.
Feel free to comment on the above or add your own favorites.