There are questions that I wish people would ask. Questions like: “If I had the means, what one set of New Testament commentaries should I purchase?” I’ve never been asked that. But it’s a great question and perhaps answering it will lead to some people actually thinking about it and then following up on it.
One possible answer would be John Calvin’s commentaries. I love John Calvin’s expositions of Scripture. I often refer to them. Even after nearly 500 years, Calvin almost always has something valuable to offer. But…there are three things that put Calvin in second place. First, it’s not complete. Calvin didn’t produce a commentary on the book of Revelation (in the Old Testament he also missed Judges, Samuel-Chronicles, Ezra-Nehemiah, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs). Second, when it came to the synoptic gospels (Matthew-Luke), he chose to work with a “harmony” method, rather than commenting on each book individually. That has its advantages, but it can be difficult to find commentary on a particular passage in those books. Third, Calvin was commenting nearly a half millennium ago. He worked in literary Latin or French and had a rhetorical style with which many people today struggle to readily connect, even when he’s translated into English. So Calvin is great, but would not be my first recommendation.
My first recommendation is the New Testament Commentary set produced by William Hendriksen and Simon Kistemaker. Hendriksen (1900-1982) was a Christian Reformed minister. He also served as a New Testament professor at Calvin Theological Seminary from 1942-1952. The first volume of his New Testament Commentary was on the Gospel of John and it appeared in 1953. He later wrote volumes on about half of the books on the New Testament. After his death in 1982, Simon Kistemaker began the work of completing the set. Also with a Christian Reformed background, Kistemaker served as a professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi. He wrote the volumes on Acts, 1-2 Corinthians, Hebrews, and James-Revelation.
Why would I recommend this commentary set? First, it is complete, covering the entire New Testament verse by verse. Second, it is written with exceptional clarity. Both Hendriksen and Kistemaker were scholars and gifted communicators. The average person in the pew shouldn’t struggle with these volumes. Third, most importantly of all, Hendriksen and Kistemaker had a high view of Scripture. They were Reformed in their theological perspective, confessional men. Consequently, the New Testament Commentary set is trustworthy.
When I say that it’s reliable, I don’t mean to say that I always agree with Hendriksen or Kistemaker. I have my differences on various passages — for example, I don’t follow Hendriksen on Romans 11:26, “And in this way all Israel will be saved…” As he typically does, he lays out several of the options and chooses for one, but I disagree with his choice on that passage. Same thing for 1 Timothy 2:15, “Yet she will be saved through childbearing…” Nevertheless, it’s not the case that the interpretations with which I disagree result in an attack on the Reformed faith. They still fall within the pale of confessionally Reformed orthodoxy.
So, if you’re in the market for one set of NT commentaries, I highly recommend the New Testament Commentary set published by Baker. When I just need to quickly check out at least one reliable Reformed interpreter, NTC is my first stop. It’s getting on in years now, but still valuable and still faithful. It’s worth having on your shelf.
NOTE: Sadly, it appears that this set is out of print. That means you’d you have to find it used. It’s also available electronically for Logos.