There is no shortage of outstanding commentaries on Ephesians. Choosing the “top 5” is not an easy task and several commentaries that I will leave out could have easily made the list. Before starting the list I have to mention one tool that I have found to be SO helpful in my study of Ephesians:
Ephesians: Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament by Benjamin Merkle, Price:$
This series has impressed me thus far and Merkle’s work on Ephesians is no exception. This is less of a commentary and more of…you guessed it, an “Exegetical Guide.” Every paragraph is analyzed through a structural layout diagram and then each Greek phrase is discussed in detail. This discussion focuses mainly on grammar, syntax, and exegetical problems. Each paragraph unit ends with a “For Further Study” section that lists several resources that would aid further research of the topic at hand. Additionally, each paragraph unit ends with a section titled “Homiletical Suggestions” which gives a short outline that would be helpful for the pastor/teacher. I highly recommend this resource for the student or pastor that has studied or is studying Greek.
1. Ephesians by Clinton Arnold (Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament)
Topping the list is Clinton Arnold’s commentary on Ephesians. Arnold has spent a lot of time studying Ephesians and the ancient city of Ephesus, even writing his Phd dissertation on Ephesians. The amount of time he has spent studying the book is evident not only in the introduction but also in the superb commentary itself. The layout of the series is very user friendly. It goes paragraph by paragraph through the text, discussing the literary context, main idea, and structure of the passage (a structural layout and an exegetical outline are supplied). Then, Arnold moves on to commenting on the Greek text verse by verse (sometimes separating by clause). The last part of each section is “Theology in Application” which entails theological reflection on the given text and how it might be applied in the Church. Arnold’s exegetical skill is obvious, making at times, even scholarly discussion easy to understand. He seems to have a knack for following Paul’s argument at every turn. It also doesn’t hurt that he’s just a good writer who is fun to read. Within the commentary, Arnold’s at his best when discussing how the cultural situation/background in Ephesus affects the interpretation of the text. One other point that struck me was the humility he had before the text. For a scholar as prolific as Arnold, discussing a book that he has so extensively studied, his humility is refreshing and something I deeply appreciated. In conclusion, though there is plenty of Greek discussed, one does not have to know a lick of Greek to greatly benefit from this commentary (though those that know Greek will benefit even more). Scholars, pastors, and laymen would all benefit from using this commentary when studying Ephesians.
2. Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary by Harold Hoehner
Dr. Hoehner was a long time professor of New Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary and his commentary on Ephesians is his magnum opus. It is an exegetical masterpiece and the most extensive commentary on the list. Hoehner’s detail is at times overwhelming. He lifts up and looks under every rock found in this letter…and then he also digs in the mud that was uncovered. If I had to describe this commentary with one word it would have to be systematic. From the introduction, to his defense of Pauline authorship, to the commentary itself, everything is carefully and methodically laid out. Even though the commentary is written at a scholarly level, Hoehner provides plenty of pastoral insights as well. The only reason this commentary is not ranked number 1 on the list is that Hoehner’s detail can sometimes detract from following the flow of Paul’s argument. I should mention though, when Hoehner does leave the flow of the letter to dive into some detailed exegetical discussion, he normally concludes the section with a short summary hoping to retrieve Paul’s flow of argumentation. Combining this commentary with Arnold’s would be ideal. Arnold does a great job keeping his eyes on the forest while studying the trees, while Hoehner dissects the trees (and their leaves) better than anyone else.
3. Ephesians by S.M. Baugh (Evangelical Exegetical Commentary)
The Evangelical Exegetical Commentary is a great, new series that is the first of its kind. It is the first ever commentary series produced specifically for an electronic format (Logos Bible Software). The commentary format on Logos is exceptional and very user-friendly. It connects the user to all of the other resources in their library and is linked to additional resources that can be purchased if desired. The usability of the commentary is not its only upside, Baugh has written a fantastic commentary on Ephesians. This commentary stands out for several reasons. First, Baugh doesn’t simply review and restate what other commentators have said, he brings fresh and original commentary. Second, Baugh has spent a large part of his scholarly career studying Classical literature and ancient history. Guess which city has been his primary interest in this research?…Ephesus. This commentary is studded with helpful primary sources and historical background. Third, most pericopes have a section devoted to Biblical theology which brings out the themes in Ephesians across the Biblical canon, something that is always beneficial. Lastly, Baugh does a great job of blending the technical (which there is plenty of) with the pastoral. In summary, if you use Logos then this is a must buy. If not, I still highly recommend this commentary because of the unique contributions that Baugh brings to the table.
4. Ephesians by Frank Thielman (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament)
The BECNT series is one of the most consistent commentary series available. Frank Thielman’s commentary on Ephesians is no exception. Prior to this commentary, Thielman had already done extensive work in Ephesians, writing the chapter on Ephesians for Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament. This experience in Ephesians shines through, especially in Thielman’s grasp of Paul’s use of the OT (Paul likes using OT passages at crucial junctions in his letters). Another plus for this commentary is the reader-friendly layout of the series (second only to the ZECNT). Each major section has it’s own introduction where Thielman dives into the structure of the section and overviews the flow of Paul’s argument. Then, each minor section has a short intro/overview before he gets into the nitty-gritty (cue Nacho Libre impersonation) exegesis. Lastly, there’s a short conclusion that flows seamlessly into the beginning of the next section. Overall, Thielman’s commentary is strongest on following Paul’s argument and dealing with Paul’s use of the Old Testament. This commentary is similar to Arnold’s in the sense that scholars, pastors, and laymen would all benefit from using it.
5. The Message of Ephesians by John Stott
John Stott is a prominent name within Evangelical circles and was a primary leader of Evangelicalism until his death in 2011. He’s authored numerous commentaries and books, some of which are classics. This Ephesians commentary is among his better works. Unlike the other commentaries on the list Stott’s commentary is not technical. He deals sparingly with the Greek text and focuses more on the flow of the letter, pastoral insights, and devotional applications. However, don’t equate technicality with value because Stott’s non-technical commentary is of great value. He has an innate ability to communicate the flow of the text effectively and powerfully. Stott is a phrase-maker. About every other page he will say something about the text that makes you stop and say, “Whoa.” He’s a great writer and his love for Christ is evident on every page. Another plus about this commentary is that there’s a study guide with questions in the back of the book. This makes the commentary a great fit for personal or group study. Take advantage of this great and inexpensive commentary!