There are a large number of commentaries on Leviticus today. Rather than describe all of them, I will describe several to be aware of and to consider for your personal library.
If you're trying to narrow it down to one to three, here's my summary:
Gordon Wenham’s commentary in the NICOT series is outstanding. First published in 1979, it is still relevant today. His writing is exceptionally clear, his analysis careful, and his theological instincts strong. He throws enough light on the text to explain it and yet does not overburden readers with needless detail. His brief connections to the NT are also helpful. At times, the anthropological explanations he gives of various concepts in the book might be presented as more certain than is the case. Still, this commentary will continue to serve readers well for many years to come. (The NICOT series is somewhat academic but one does not have to have Hebrew to use this commentary.)
G. Geoffrey Harper’s Teaching Leviticus: From Text to Message (2023) is an especially helpful tool for preachers and teachers who are looking to connect the ancient text to modern life. Harper is Director of Research and Lecturer in Old Testament at Sydney Missionary & Bible College, Australia. He did his PhD work under Gordon Wenham and has spent a lot of time thinking about Leviticus and how to preach and teach its message today. This book does two main things. First, it provides a helpful overview of the content of each chapter in Leviticus. The discussion does not go into great detail, and readers will want another commentary for that purpose, but it does give you the general sense of each chapter. But second—and this is where Harper focuses—each chapter gives a thorough discussion of how preachers or teachers might bridge from ancient text to modern audience. I know I will be consulting it any time I preach on Leviticus in the future.
For a long time, John Hartley’s commentary (1992) in the Word Biblical Commentary series was one of the few evangelical commentaries that provided in-depth discussion on points of Hebrew grammar and translation (and it does an excellent job of that). A more recent commentary that does the same is Sklar’s commentary in the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the Old Testament (ZECOT) series (2023), which answers questions those using the Hebrew might have but does not require the user to have Hebrew in order to read the main body of the text (see description further below). A complement to that commentary is Sklar’s Additional Notes on Leviticus (2023), which goes into even further depth on many points of Hebrew grammar and translation (see description below).
I have found Derek Tidball’s commentary in the Bible Speaks Today series (2005) to be exegetically sensitive, apologetically aware, and theologically deep. Far from simply distilling the work of others, it seems he has really struggled with the text on his own. (The Bible Speaks Today series is not as academic as NICOT but still gives a good exposition.)
Jacob Milgrom was a liberal Jewish rabbi who devoted a large part of his academic career to the book of Leviticus. The fruit of that work is his three-volume commentary on Leviticus in the Anchor Bible series (here , here , and here ). His commentary is unrivaled in its interaction with secondary literature and it is full of helpful grammatical/exegetical comments. Thankfully, most of his insights are already gathered in other more recent commentaries. I would not recommend buying these volumes unless you were doing very in-depth academic research in Leviticus.
Jerry Shepherd has contributed the Leviticus volume to Zondervan's The Story of God Commentary series (2023). This series is meant to provide solid exposition of the text while keeping an eye on issues related to biblical theology in general and the person of Jesus in particular. Shepherd's work is clearly written, well informed by the secondary literature, and has many helpful points of application to bridge from Leviticus to modern day life.
In 2014, I published a commentary on Leviticus in the Tyndale Old Testament Commentary series. That series is meant to give a solid exposition of the text but not be as academic in orientation as the NICOT or World Biblical Commentary series. A friend and I also wrote a Leviticus Bible study that is meant to be used alongside the commentary for groups wanting to study Leviticus together.
In 2023, I published a commentary on Leviticus in the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the Old Testament series. That series is meant to be more like NICOT or Word in terms of its academic level, though I have written it such that one can make use of the main body of the text even if one has not had Hebrew (or if Hebrew is only a distant memory!). My original manuscript was 160,000 words too long (which means I no longer have any moral authority to require my students to stay within assigned page limits!) As I trimmed it down to size, I kept many of the more secondary notes and observations and turned those into a book entitled Additional Notes on Leviticus. It is freely available as a pdf and is also published (for those liking to have an actual book in their hands).
Along with the normal goals one has in writing a commentary, I had five specific goals in mind when writing the Tyndale and the ZECOT commentaries:
I tried to be aware of issues in the text that will seem strange, or simply wrong, to modern people. As you are aware, Leviticus has many of these! In a few instances the issue was large enough that I provided an excursus in the ZECOT, e.g., “Do the Prohibitions against Homosexual Sex in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 Apply Today?” (493–502), and “‘Slavery’ in Leviticus 25” (696–699; also in Tyndale, 307–310). In a similar vein, one of the longest application sections in the ZECOT is that of Leviticus 18, where the topic of sexuality is discussed in significant (and hopefully helpful) detail (505–514).
Where possible, I’ve tried to use language throughout the commentary that translates well to the person in the pew. (It seems to me that pastors are sometimes left with the hardest work: translating academic parlance into everyday language.)
In the application sections, I always kept in mind how this would have applied to an ancient Israelite before I consider how it also applies to us today (this helps keep the application rooted in the original message of the text as opposed to allegorical leapfrogging from the Old Testament into the New Testament).
The commentary maintains a strong focus on the grace that God provides to us and on the mission to which he calls us—emphases that are central to Leviticus itself.
The theology of Exodus through Numbers leads me to believe that we read Leviticus best when we read it as the story of the heavenly King (the Lord), who has come to dwell in his palace-tent (the Tabernacle), where he is served by his palace servants (the priests), and which rests in the midst of his covenant people (the Israelites). Reading Leviticus through that lens brings it to life in exciting ways.
So how do the two commentaries differ?
In general, the Tyndale is more concise (it is 336 pages) and does not interact a lot with secondary literature. The ZECOT has much more detail (it is 835 pages) and much more interaction with secondary literature. For examples of how both commentaries compare on explaining the same passage, see the explanations on the story of Nadab and Abihu found in Lev 10:1 – 3 (Tyndale here and ZECOT here).
The Tyndale commentary allows for 400–500 words of application for each chapter, which is relatively brief. The ZECOT commentary allows for one seventh of each chapter to focus on application, which gave me space to break down each application section into three or four points, each of which could serve as a main preaching or teaching point, along with corresponding explanation. Compare samples on the application of Leviticus 10 (Tyndale here and ZECOT here). Note that the sermon outlines I provide are based on the ZECOT commentary.
So once again, if you're trying to narrow it down to one to three commentaries, here's my summary:
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