Resources on Ecclesiastes

Since I’ve been preaching Ecclesiastes for the last six weeks, I thought it might be helpful to share the list of commentaries I’ve been using.  Since it is nearly impossible to purchase and utilize every available commentary, I’m just going to comment on the ones I’ve used.  (If my count is right, there are around 25 commentaries on Ecclesiastes!)  Feel free to chime in if you have suggestions or comments.

Ecclesiastes (JPS Bible Commentary) Though not a Christian commentary, I’ve appreciated the exegetical/textual Jewish commentary on Ecclesiastes by Michael V. Fox.  The introduction is helpful and the book contains the entire Hebrew text of Ecclesiastes as well as Fox’s English translation and Hebrew notes.  It is rather brief, however; I often found myself wishing that Fox would have written more comments.

Recovering Eden: The Gospel According to Ecclesiastes (Gospel According to the Old Testament) Perhaps my favorite commentary on Ecclesiastes is Recovering Eden by Zack Eswine.  I appreciate and agree with Eswine’s perspective on Ecclesiastes: “Proverbs focuses on the norms, Ecclesiastes focuses on the exceptions.”  “The preacher gives voice to true human angst.”  Eswine also does a nice job of bringing the themes of Ecclesiastes to Jesus and his redemptive work.  My main critique of the book is that it is a little tough to find where each passage of Ecclesiastes is discussed – the book mostly follows the chapters of Ecclesiastes, but not always.  Still, I highly recommend this book.

Ecclesiastes (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries)  Michael Eaton’s commentary in the TOTC series is a decent traditional commentary.  The introduction was helpful yet concise, and several times in the commentary Eaton makes some helpful observations.  But it is quite brief and quite often he didn’t answer the exegetical questions of the text that I was asking.   If you can get a copy for a good price, I’d say go for it; if not, you may want to pass.

Whybray’s NCBC on Ecclesiastes is a pretty good textual/exegetical commentary.  He also notes that “If he [Qoheleth] sometimes occilates between what appear to be irreconcilable poles, he is merely expressing the tension within his own mind.”  I appreciate that perspective.  One critique of this commentary I have is that there is not much application in it.  However, I believe it is worth having.

Message of Ecclesiastes: A Time to Mourn, and a Time to Dance (Bible Speaks Today) I find Kidner’s BST commentary on Ecclesiastes to be helpful, but far too brief.  I do appreciate though it because it is almost devotional at times, and it does capture the main themes of Ecclesiastes (i.e. “God meets us in this book [Ecc.] in three main aspects: as Creator, as Sovereign, and as Unsearchable Wisdom).  Though Kidner does go through Ecclesiastes in a textual way, this commentary isn’t as exegetical as some of the other commentaries, but I do still like it.

Where Wisdom is Found J. V. Fesko’s book, Where Wisdom is Found, is essentially a collection of sermons on Ecclesiastes – specifically, sermons that find Christ in Ecclesiastes.  Because it is a collection of 15 sermons, it isn’t really an exegetical resource.  It’s not my favorite resource on Ecclesiastes because it seemed to me Fesko didn’t deal with the text at hand long enough.  Also, Fesko didn’t draw out the “tension” in Ecclesiastes as well as some of the other commentaries did.  Finally, I wasn’t always convinced that he went from Ecclesiastes to Christ in the best way.  Anyway, if you have other commentaries on Ecclesiastes you might not need this one.

Pundit's Folly: Chronicles of an Empty Life Around 20 years ago, Sinclair Ferguson wrote a little book on Ecclesiastes called The Pundit’s Folly.  It’s not really a commentary on the book; rather, it is a discussion of the main themes and topics of Ecclesiastes.  It is brief (88 pages), so Ferguson doesn’t deal with every part of the book, but it is a helpful summary of some important themes in Qoheleth.  It is a bit hard to use as a commentary, though, since it isn’t in the order of the text.  But it sells at a good price, so it’s worth it.

Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs - NIV Application Commentary Iain Provan wrote the Ecclesiastes commentary in the NAC series.  This one is pretty good. The introduction is helpful, the layout makes it easy to use and read, and I appreciate Provan’s reflections and application as well as his cross references.  It is tough to use if you’re only preaching on a few verses of a chapter, but if you want a solid Christian commentary, I’d recommend this one.

Again, I realize there are more commentaries out there.  (For example, someone recently gifted me a copy of Ryken’s Ecclesiastes: Why Everything Matters, but I can’t comment on it because I just got it a few days ago.)  Hopefully the list I’ve given will help you decide which ones you may want – and which ones you may not want.

shane lems

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8 comments on “Resources on Ecclesiastes

  1. Stephen says:

    It’s not exactly a commentary, but “Three Philosophies of Life” by Peter Kreeft contains a uniquely brilliant exegesis of Ecclesiastes.

  2. Oh yes, Stephen! Thanks for that. I should have mentioned Kreeft’s commentary on Pascal’s Pensees – Pascal should be read with Ecclesiastes. Thanks again!

  3. Ruben Cardenas says:

    This so made my day. I was just asking about this recently since I’ve been reading Ecclesiastes. Right on.

  4. vanceneudorf says:

    Thanks Ruben,
    I have been studying Ecclesiastes for the past 30 years (ever since my seminary days) and have come to love the book. I now refer to it as “the lost book of the Bible” for it has been buried under traditions, translations and commentaries that miss the books point entirely.
    Lately I was able to finish a 5 year project on a new translation and by the time I was done I had it memorized. The director of the Canadian Badlands Passion Play (where I work) helped me get it ready for a dramatic performance. I have been touring it around and it is amazing how people come to understand the book when it is simply recited, without any additional commentary or thoughts added to it. Last week a 90 year old man stood up afterward and said to the congregation “I have been reading the Bible all my life and have read Ecclesiastes many, many times but this is the first time I have understood what it meant.” I guess I should not be amazed that this ancient book of wisdom would still speak into people’s lives for it is still our best, and most complete, theology of work.

    Hope you enjoy it as much as I have.

    Vance – http://www.artofwork.ca

  5. Dante says:

    I consider this to be indispensable: M. M. Kline, “Is Qoheleth Unorthodox? A Review Article [of Tremper Longman in NICOT],” Kerux 13 (1998). You can find it at kerux.com He also did the notes on Eccl in the New Geneva Study Bible and I believe is working on a commentary.

    Other articles that are helpful include Andrew Shead, “Reading Ecclesiastes ‘Epilogically’,” TynB 48 (1997): 67-91 and G. H. Wilson, “‘The Words of the Wise’: The Intent and Significance of Qoheleth 12:9-14,” JBL 103 (1984): 175-92.

    There is also a decent treatment of Eccl in Barry Webb, Five Festal Garments, NSBT. Lastly, Jacques Ellul, Reason for Being and the only decent entry in Brazos Theo Comm Bible by Daniel Treier.

  6. jake BOSCH says:

    Is there any way that you would consider putting your sermon series on Ecclesiastes on line?

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