EerdWord Greatest Hits: “The Inside Story of the Pillar New Testament Commentary” by Milton Essenburg

It’s summer vacation time in the Eerdmans Internet marketing department — and to celebrate, we’re reposting a few “greatest hits” from our first year and a half in the blogosphere.

Today’s selection originally appeared April 27, 2011. Enjoy!

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Milton Essenburg has worked at Eerdmans for forty-five years. He specializes in editing and proofreading commentaries and theological works.  He also checks proofs before they are sent to the printer.

Milton Essenburg
Milton Essenburg

For some time I had dreamed of starting the best commentary series on the market. Then, in 1990, with the demise of The Reformed Journal and an empty nest at home, I had more time to make that dream come true.

First, I read the article “Which Is the Best Commentary?” by I. Howard Marshall in the November 1991 issue of The Expository Times. Of his three categories of commentary I liked the mid-sized one — not too technical but offering enough help for preaching and exposition. I also relished his comment, “The ideal is a combination of exegesis and exposition in a readable fashion.”

Second, I visited neighboring seminaries and found that they preferred commentaries featuring solid exegesis, profound theological reflection, a firm grasp of the totality picture of the biblical book, creative readings and interpretations, and, if not direct application, at least strong hints in that direction.

In looking for a model for such a series, I ended up with D. A. Carson’s The Gospel of John. Now Carson’s John was an overgrown Tyndale New Testament Commentary, and I had been impressed with a number of Tyndale’s authors, including Douglas Moo and N. T. Wright. But since it was first published by Inter-Varsity Press of the United Kingdom, we would also have to make arrangements with them.

Since Carson’s John had a pillar on its cover, I decided to call the series The Pillar New Testament Commentary. That may sound silly, but authors like R. K. Harrison (in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia) point out that pillars represent reliability, solidity, substantiality, and permanence, that they held up temples, and that in pagan circles they were intended to bring glory to the gods (for us read soli Deo gloria!).

Paul's Letter to the Romans
Paul’s Letter to the Romans (PNTC)

I wrote D. A. Carson about my ideas, and he was highly favorable toward them. But, as might be expected, he went far beyond, which is why we later named him General Editor of the series.

On November 27, 1992, Carson replied to my letter, “I think that there is an enormous market (and need!) for commentaries that are warm — that is, written from a perspective in which the author attempts no artificial ‘objectivity’ but writes as a Christian at a high level of competence but with devotion displayed in the way he or she shapes sentences and paragraphs. Within such a framework some overt application or useful historical parallel can be slipped in to strengthen the nurturing component in the book. The unique factor in the Pillar series, as I see it, is that the series as a whole is not too technical, and every volume has as a goal not merely the conveying of information but something of nurture and edification as well.” (Compare Marshall’s remarks above.)

He continues, “Ideally, the Pillar series should be first-class exegesis capturing the flow of the argument, with sufficient interaction with the secondary literature to ensure that the work is current, while at the same time reflecting unselfconscious warmth, a certain spiritual vitality that shows itself in the form of expression and in unobtrusive application.”

In developing the PNTC, we set out to create the very best sort of Bible commentary series, and I truly believe that we have succeeded. Thus, I agree wholeheartedly with Matthew Miller in his March 9, 2010, blog post that Eerdmans’ Pillar New Testament Commentary is now “The Best Commentary on the Market” for three reasons— (1) its series editor, D. A. Carson; (2) the degree to which it has met its goals; and (3) the strength of its authors. To this he adds, “The foundation is in place for The Pillar New Testament Commentary to become the best New Testament commentary of all time.” It’s a dream come true.

For more information see “The Pillar New Testament Commentary” on and google The Pillar New Testament Commentary.

Click to visit the series page for the Pillar New Testament Commentary or to order the latest volume, Colin G. Kruse’s Paul’s Letter to the Romans.