Comments on Commentaries

A young home-schooling mother recently asked for some advice regarding which Bible commentaries in print would be helpful for her library. As to the online sort, there are many of varying quality, but some good material to be found in the public domain. But as to actual books that can be purchased, I offer the following. Please note, this guide is woefully inadequate, as I’m sure many of my collegues might point out:

  1. It is likely that a Bible commentary on the whole Bible by one man is not likely to be balanced. I prefer commentaries written by more than one person or a team of scholars and pastors.
  2. That being said, there are three “one man” commentaries I do recommend. Two are very old, and one is more current.
    1. The first is Calvin’s commentaries, which cover every book of the Bible except Revelation (and that is really sad). Calvin is a towering theologian and, while he will not be equally as helpful on every book of the Bible, he is an essential read. His works are all still in print, and available online in the public domain. I’m not sure the entire set is still available in print, but individual print volumes are available here.
    2. The second is Matthew Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible. It is known for its devotional and preaching qualities. I appreciate his outlines. It is not strictly a one-man commentary. The sixth volume, on the New Testament, was published posthumously and was edited by a number of his fellows. His six-volume set can be had for a fair price from Christian Book Distributors. Spend a little extra and get the six-volume, unabridged edition.
    3. A more current commentary on much, but not all of the Bible is by the late James Boice. Various volumes are available from online sellers.
  3. As a preacher, I have tried to build a library with two or three commentaries on each book of the Bible. I have not done so in print but have a number of online resources.
  4. Single-volume Bible commentaries can be useful but are often too brief to answer the questions you might have.
    1. The New Bible Commentary. This is also available with the New Bible Dictionary, and having a really good Bible dictionary is also essential.
    2. Holman’s Illustrated Bible Commentary
  5. Commentary sets by multiple authors are often good, but again, the entire set may not be.
    1. The NIV Application Commentary is mostly very good (there is also an Old Testament set). It is the abridged version of the more challenging New International Commentary Series. The NICS commentaries assume some knowledge of Greek and Hebrew, while the Application Commentary does not. Do not confuse the Application Commentary with the Life Application Commentary which is not as good. The NIV Application Commentary, like any other set, is uneven: I would not recommend purchasing the entire set, because authors like Peter Enns (Exodus) are not reliable scholars.
    2. The Reformed Expository Commentary is very good. The link points to the New Testament set, but a 10-volume Old Testament set is also available.
    3. The Bible Speaks Today is a set of commentaries on the Old and New Testaments that are excellent on most books (my experience is mostly with the NT volumes). It was originally edited by the late John Stott.
  6. Unless theologically trained, I would stay away from the following publishers: Abingdon, Westminster, Fortress, Augsburg. Some older titles under these imprints might be good, but there are a number of scholars who have a very low view of Scripture and that is evident in their writing. The Hermeneia Commentary Set is one example. Be aware that a publisher can publish both wheat and chaff.
  7. If I had a limited budget (and who doesn’t?), I would consider the following:
    1. Buy Matthew Henry’s unabridged set.
    2. As you are interested in various books of the Bible, add one or two on those books. For example, if studying Romans, look at John Stott’s volume in The Bible Speaks Today series and Douglas Moo’s NIV Application Commentary.
    3. Find a public-domain copy of Calvin’s commentaries online.
    4. Write to me and ask advice on other commentaries on other books. Check out https://www.bestcommentaries.com for a fairly complete list of commentaries, from devotional to scholarly.

Buying commentaries, dictionaries, and other resources is a daunting task (or at least it should be). Consultation with others who have more Biblical training is very important; don’t go it alone. There is truth to be found, but there are also those who wish to promolgate error.

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