For the study of Paul’s most famous letter, Romans, there are scores of commentaries. While one could certainly glean much from classic commentaries by C.K. Barrett in Black’s New Testament Commentary (BNTC; Hendrickson, 1991) and Charles Cranfield in the International Critical Commentary (2 vols.; T. & T. Cark, 1975-79), such works do not engage with the “New Perspective on Paul” — a debate that emerged in the last quarter of the 20th century and has shaped the study of Paul in his socio-historical context (whether one is a proponent of the view or not).
For those interested in a “New Perspective” commentary, the volumes by J.D.G. Dunn in the Word Biblical Commentary (WBC; 2 vols. [Word, 1988]) and N.T. Wright in the New Interpreter’s Bible ([NIB; ed. L.E. Keck; Abington 2002], 10:393-770) are both outstanding. Dunn’s commentary is focused more on details in the (Greek) text, while Wright’s is less technical, but includes more pastoral insight and reflection.
A number of commentaries seek to rebut the “New Perspective” and support a more traditional (Lutheran) approach. Perhaps the most careful of these is the one by D.J Moo in the New International Commentary on the NT (NICNT; Eerdmans, 1996). His analysis of Romans is thorough and he offers a balanced critique of multiple views on debated interpretations. Moo is also sensitive to theological questions and ministry matters.
If one is interested in a specifically Wesleyan interpretation of Romans (especially concerning “election” in Rom 9-11), Ben Witherington’s socio-rhetorical commentary is outstanding (Eerdmans, 2004). His writing style is accessible and his counsel eminently practical.
While Romans is the most commented-on Pauline text, 1 Corinthians is also much discussed. For an exhaustive examination of the Greek text by a well-respected NT theologian, turn to A.C. Thiselton’s exegetical opus in the New International Greek Testament Commentary (NIGTC; Eerdmans, 2000). Thiselton’s work exhibits a special expertise in philosophical hermeneutics and reception history.
For an equally useful treatment of 1 Corinthians, I would suggest the work of G.D. Fee (NICNT; Eerdmans, 1987) because it tends to be even more readable and engaging than Thiselton’s. For a recent study, consider the contribution of R.E. Ciampa and B.S. Rosner in the Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC; Eerdmans, 2010). Both of these authors bring special expertise to the text in the area of Paul’s use of the OT.
When it comes to the theology of 1 Corinthians, one need look no further than R.B. Hays’ brilliant commentary in Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, which also takes interest in Paul’s dynamic use and interpretation of the OT. In addition, Hays manages to reflect deeply on Paul’s wider epistemology and theology of wisdom and the cross.
Second Corinthians, while equal in importance, does not seem to be represented by as much serious commentary as 1 Corinthians. In terms of detailed discussion, though, there is one obvious option in M.J. Harris’ brilliant commentary (NIGTC; Eerdmans, 1997). Harris leaves no exegetical stone unturned in the Greek text and also takes theological issues seriously.
If you are not looking for a 1000+ page commentary (!), you will be interested in the work of D.E. Garland in the New American Commentary (NAC; Broadman & Holman, 1999). He offers a conservative reading directed towards pastoral exposition. Another excellent option is S.J. Hafemann’s work in the NIV Application Commentary series (NIVAC; Eerdmans, 2000). The NIVAC is one of the finest sets of commentaries written for the pastor, lay-leader, or serious student of the Bible. I recommend this series to seminary students and pastors, not only for preparation in preaching or Bible study, but also for personal edification and devotion.
Like Romans, Galatians tends to stir up academic controversy regarding perspectives on Paul’s attitude towards Judaism, the OT, the law, and the concerns of his original readers (all aspects related to the “New Perspective on Paul”). Pre-New Perspective commentaries on Galatians of note would include F.F. Bruce’s fine work (NIGTC [Eerdmans, 1982]). J.D.G. Dunn has published a short commentary on Galatians representing the New Perspective on Paul (BNTC; Hendrickson, 1993). His work offers much discussion of potential socio-historical issues behind the letter. A more theologically rich “New Perspective” commentary by R.B. Hays can be found in the NIB (2000).
There are a number of commentaries that have sought to challenge the “New Perspective” reading on Galatians, choosing to defend more traditional views. Perhaps M. Silva’s independent commentary entitled Interpreting Galatians (Baker, 2001) offers the most incisive counter-“New Perspective” reading. More recently, T.R. Schreiner has produced a lengthy commentary for the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary series (ZECNT; Zondervan, 2010).
Several commentators do not fit into an “either-or” category for the “New Perspective.” Many seek to draw out the best insights of the “New Perspective” without endorsing it completely. These tend to be some of the most useful commentaries because they do not get bogged down in trying to win an exegetical debate. In this middle category I would put two excellent commentaries. First, B. Witherington’s Grace in Galatia (Eerdmans, 1995) is lucid, theologically rich, and written from a Wesleyan perspective. G.D. Fee also offers a treatment of Galatians in the Pentecostal Commentary series that focuses on the rhetorical flow of the text and its theological substance (Deo, 2008).
For the study of Ephesians, two commentaries have earned deep respect from scholars, students, and pastors. A.T. Lincoln’s work (WBC; 1990) is a thorough treatment of the Greek text with particular interest in the cosmological dimensions of the letter. Lincoln works from the viewpoint that Ephesians is pseudonymously written — that is, he does not consider Paul to be the author of the letter. Alternatively, P.T. O’Brien makes a strong case for Pauline authorship of Ephesians (PNTC; Eerdmans, 1999). O’Brien’s work, while a bit less technical than Lincoln’s, is geared more towards readers who are interested in a pastoral exposition of the text.
For a more basic and lay-level commentary on Ephesians, consider the work by K. Snodgrass (NIVAC; Zondervan, 1996). This volume, also endorsing Pauline authorship, aims to help the reader to understand the text historically, analyze it theologically, and apply it personally.
Finally, renowned evangelical Pauline scholar, C.E. Arnold, has recently written a commentary on Ephesians (ZECNT; Zondervan, 2010). Arnold has a special research interest in the subject of folk religion and magic in the ancient world. He brings this knowledge to bear on the first century context of Paul’s letter and how Paul’s discussion of this subject might be of relevance for believers today.