Top 6 Commentaries on Psalms

The Psalter is among the most extensively studied book in the Bible. Thus, this list is expanded to six commentaries. The Psalter is full of defeat and triumph, desperate petition and exuberant praise, dark lament and hopeful waiting. It is a book that remembers the past, perceives the present, and looks forward to God’s future universal reign. There a plethora of helpful commentaries on the Psalms, but I have thus far found six to be the most helpful. Before getting into the list, I should note two different, but valuable resources on the Psalms. First, is Susan Gillingham’s Psalms Through the Centuries. It is an outstanding resource for learning about the interpretive history of Jews and Christians on each Psalm. You’ll get a large dose of Jewish Midrash, Targum Psalms, Rashi, Origen, Augustine, Calvin, etc. Thus far, only Psalms 1-72 have been published. Second, is Timothy and Kathy Keller’s The Songs of Jesus. There is not a better devotional to lead you through reading and praying the Psalter.

1. A Commentary on the Psalms (Kregel Exegetical Library, 3 Volumes) by Allen Ross $$$

Allen Ross has written a masterful three-volume commentary on the Psalter. He covers each Psalm in a user-friendly format that teaches the Psalms instructively. Each Psalm includes (1) a translation with footnoted text-critical and exegetical notes, (2) a discussion of the composition and possible historical context, (3) a brief exegetical summary and outline, and (4) a detailed exposition of the Psalm. Ross is keen at moving from exegesis to theological exposition. The only downside of set is the price. Each volume is rather inexpensive, but the total adds up quickly with all three. This set would be valuable for lay people, pastors, and scholars alike.

2. Psalms (Continental Commentaries, 2 Volumes) by Hans Kraus $$$

This two-volume commentary on the Psalter is more critical than Ross but full of exegetical and theological insight. This commentary has taught me the more than the others. Kraus is very detailed. Each Psalm is (1) translated with footnoted text-critical issues (2) a discussion of the form of the Psalm—organization, structure, meter (3) possible setting and author of the Psalm (4) detailed verse by verse exegesis and (5) the purpose and thrust of the Psalm. This last section is deeply theological and often Christological. The downside of Kraus’ commentary is two-fold: his somewhat critical stance and the price of the set. Overall, this commentary is probably not suited for laypeople (though the “purpose and thrust” sections of the Psalm would be) but is better for teachers, pastors, seminary students, and scholars.

3. Psalms (REBC) by Willem VanGemeren $$

This commentary is one of the stronger volumes in the REBC series. Thankfully, the editors of the series gave VanGemeren his own volume to work through the Psalter because he does a magnificent job. This conservative commentary is detailed, but not verbose. Each Psalm has an overview, then verse by verse exposition, followed by exegetical notes. Additionally, there theological and devotional reflections spread throughout. If you can only purchase one commentary on the Psalms, this is the one.

4. Psalms 1-72 (NIVAC, Vol. 1) by Gerald H. Wilson and Psalms 73-150 (NIVAC, Vol. 2) by Jamie A. Grant & Dennis W. Tucker Jr.

I admit that I prefer Wilson’s commentary in vol. 1 over vol. 2. Volume 2 is too Christologically cautious in their exegesis. Nonetheless, Grant and Tucker’s commentary is a solid contribution. Wilson sees an important Davidic motif in the compiling and arranging of the Psalter which lends to messianic expectation built into the Psalms. This interpretive grid comes out throughout his discussions. The layout of the commentary is simple and helpful with each Psalm being discussed in three sections: original meaning, bridging contexts (usually NT discussion), and contemporary significance. I recommend this two-volume set (especially the first) to laypeople and scholars alike.

5. Commentary upon the Book of Psalms by John Calvin (FREE online!)

Calvin’s commentary on the Psalms is masterful. Undoubtedly, it is more theological than most on the list, but Calvin is an exegetical theologian so he remains tied to the text. (Or is he a theological exegete? Idk, but you get my point.) The downside of this commentary is that Calvin is not brief—it takes a while to work through even one Psalm. The biggest strength of this commentary is (1) Calvin is very balanced in his approach to interpreting the Psalms Christologically and (2) Calvin is peculiarly good at combining theology, exegesis, and devotion.

6. Psalms (TOTC) by Tremper Longman III $$

This is an affordable and full commentary on the whole Psalter. Longman manages to say a great deal in a somewhat small space. A strength of this commentary is Longman’s consistent move to New Testament’s use of the Psalm and Christological interpretation. I disagree with Longman’s view on the overall structure of the Psalter (he sees little purposeful compiling outside of a few small units), which I think is very important to understand its message. Nonetheless, it’s still a valuable contribution to studying the book.

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