Having just launched a months-long sermon series on the book of Acts (called “Acts and the Early Church”), the pastoral staff at University Assembly would like to encourage its congregants not only to read along as the series unfolds, but also to use a good commentary or two to help shed light on this gripping yet sometimes befuddling story. This post lists and discusses a number of important commentaries, mainly evangelical in orientation though not exclusively so, which we hope will help guide readers in their selection(s). We’ve included four different levels of commentaries here: (1) introductory commentaries; (2) mid-level commentaries; (3) advanced commentaries; and (4) technical commentaries. While the first and second of these categories require no knowledge of Greek, the third and fourth require at least a basic familiarity with it. We encourage you to find a commentary or two (or more!) that suits your level of training and interests.
As the name of the NIVAC series implies, the focus of this commentary is on application. Still, it provides an explanation not only of the original meaning of the text but also the process of bridging the historical-cultural divide that separates us from Luke and his original readers. Fernando, who approaches the text as a committed Methodist, currently serves as Teaching Director of Youth for Christ in Sri Lanka.
An evangelical, theologically sensitive, and pastorally oriented commentary based on the New International Version. Also prizes matters of historicity. Written by a Presbyterian minister and biblical scholar, who served for most of his life at Columbia Biblical Seminary and Graduate School of Ministry in Columbia, South Carolina. Larkin died in 2014.
In this entry on Acts, Marshall (1934–2015) offers a good blend of theological, literary, and historical reflection on the text, though with an emphasis on the latter. Probably the best introductory commentary on the book, though it does not give as much attention to application as Fernando’s commentary above. Marshall was a longtime lecturer at Aberdeen University in Scotland, where many of our New Testament professors at Denver Seminary went for their PhDs.
Another engaging, theologically sensitive commentary conversant with issues relevant to the late-twentieth and early-twenty-first-century church. Very helpful for preaching and teaching in ecclesial settings, as well as for personal devotions. According to New Testament authority D. A. Carson, Stott’s “modeling of the move from exegesis to exposition” in this commentary “is sans pereil”—unmatched. Well-known as rector of All Souls Church in London, Stott (1921–2011) was one of the leading evangelical preachers and evangelists of the twentieth century.
More useful in the local church than Bruce’s more technical commentary on the Greek text (Eerdmans, 1990). Emphasizes historical-cultural context to the slight detriment of Acts’s theology. Longtime professor at the University of Manchester in England, Bruce was widely regarded as the “dean” of evangelical New Testament scholars during his lifetime (1910–1990).
Longenecker, Richard N. “Acts.” In Luke–Acts, vol. 10 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, edited by Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland, 663–1102. Rev. ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006. 440 pages.
One of the best commentaries in this series, which aims chiefly at a “grammatico-historical” interpretation of Scripture. Essentially, this entails close attention to grammar and syntax, word meanings, idioms, and literary forms, all in relation to the historical and cultural settings of the text. Written by a New Testament scholar most closely affiliated with Wycliffe College and McMaster Divinity College, both in Ontario, Canada. This particular volume also includes commentaries on Luke (by Walter L. Liefeld and David W. Pao) and John (by Robert H. Mounce).
As the subtitle of this “reading” indicates, the focus of this book is on culture and literature—a rare accent among the commentaries. Creative and stimulating, it charts both narrative features (i.e., plot and character development, shifting points of view) and cultural scenarios that inform the story of Acts (i.e., honor-shame contests, patron-client relations, purity-pollution boundaries). Spencer is currently a New Testament professor at Baptist Theological Seminary, Richmond, Virginia, and co-chair of the Bible and Emotion Group at the Society of Biblical Literature.
In this groundbreaking commentary, Witherington, a highly respected New Testament scholar in the United Methodist tradition, takes what he calls a “socio-rhetorical” approach to Acts. This means that he pays particular attention to both the structure of the text and the social world of the first century (the relationship between early Judaism and early Christianity, the relationship between Christians and the officials of the Roman Empire, etc.). However, Witherington also attends to the usual emphases of history and theology, as well as to the relationship of Acts to the Pauline letters.
A recent contribution, with original translations, by a mainline critical scholar. Theologically rich and steeped in narrative analysis. Understands the high level of literary style as an expression of the book’s theology and its telling of the church’s story. Holladay has taught at Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, Georgia, since 1980.
Written by an Anglican “Aussie,” this commentary offers a thorough verse-by-verse exposition, drawing on recent scholarship in the fields of narrative criticism, theology, and historical-social background. Another distinctive feature is that it attends to the reasons why Like presents material the way he does. Prizes the theology of the book and, in fact, includes an entire essay on its main theological themes: God and his plan, Jesus as Messiah and Lord, the Holy Spirit, salvation, the gospel, the atoning work of Jesus, witness and mission, miracles, magic and the demonic, and the church. Quotations from the Greek text are transliterated. Highly recommended.
The sequel to Bock’s earlier two-volume commentary on the Gospel of Luke in the same series (Baker Academic, 1994–1996; 2,150 pages). In addition to focusing on the traditional subjects of theology and history, it is also particularly strong on sociology and the philology and grammar of the Greek text. Quotations of that text are provided in both Greek and transliteration.
Quite likely the most exhaustive commentary on any single book of the New Testament published in the history of Christianity. And by a Pentecostal! A current colleague of Witherington (whose work is discussed above), Keener is currently professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. Since this commentary so meticulously focuses on the first-century setting of Acts, it is valuable not only for the study of that book but also for early Christianity in general.
Probably the best single-volume commentary, or “one-stop shop,” on Acts for those who know, or are at least familiar with, New Testament Greek. As with other entries in the ZECNT series, each section of the commentary proper includes subsections on literary context, main idea, translation and graphical layout, structure, exegetical outline, explanation of the text, and theology in application. Like Peterson above, Schnabel also includes a full essay on the book’s theology. Greek quotations are not transliterated. The author is currently Mary French Rockefeller Distinguished Professor of New Testament Studies at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Hamilton, Massachusetts.