Getting Your Commentary Library off to a Great Start
Recommendations for building your collection
The call to vocational ministry often carries with it some level of preaching and teaching in the congregational setting (1 Timothy 3:2; 2 Timothy 2:24; 4:2). This responsibility can seem overwhelming. Some ministers lack the technical skills to interact with the original languages of Scripture or are a bit rusty in their biblical history or geography.
Thankfully, there are Bible commentaries. Regardless of your Bible knowledge, you need commentaries to guide you in your studying and preparation. Publishers produce a wide variety of them, but how do you select good ones that will provide you with the information you need? Here are some suggestions:
Recognize the limits of your study Bible. Some ministers do not consider using commentaries because they have study Bibles. They believe these tools provide sufficient information. Study Bibles do provide some information regarding the background of biblical books and explanations of specific passages. But they rarely offer adequate insight for the development of sermon content. Besides, many congregants have study Bibles, so if that’s all you use, you may be repeating what is already in front of your listeners. Bible commentaries provide deeper interaction with the text, unveiling truths of Scripture that can help you bring it to life, frame it in context, and show people how it points to Christ.
Avoid using commentary series by a single author. Single-author commentaries on the entire Bible, such as Matthew Henry’s commentary, served as useful resources to ministers and lay leaders for many years. However, no one person has expertise in the entire Bible. This lack of knowledge does not discredit their faithful work for the Church. But when your biblical commentary comes from only one person, it limits your capacity as a leader to read, observe and communicate the text in a way that ministers to a wide variety of people.
Seek diversity in your commentaries. When possible, use a variety of commentaries. This will broaden your perspective regarding your studies. No commentator can sufficiently meet your biblical, theological and pastoral needs; no commentary series can either. A variety of perspectives will challenge you to look at the passage in a way you did not initially consider. You may not always agree with the commentary’s interpretation, but that doesn’t mean the commentator provides an inaccurate reading of the text. It may simply reveal the commentator’s unique perspective.
Find commentaries that meet your needs for sermon preparation. Not all commentaries are created equal. Therefore, you must determine which ones meet your needs. Commentaries often fit into one of three major categories: technical/critical, personal/devotional, and pastoral/exegetical. Each of these types can benefit the minister and the congregation.
Regardless of your Bible knowledge, you need commentaries to guide you in your studying and preparation.
Technical/critical commentaries approach the biblical text in the original languages and engage additional scholarly materials (academic articles, books and other commentaries). The commentators often translate the biblical texts from the original languages, leading to variations between your translations and the one that appears in the commentary.
Personal/devotional commentaries guide readers through the text. They emphasize personal development, application of the Scriptures to daily life, and introspection for spiritual formation.
Pastoral/exegetical commentaries bridge the gap between the technical and devotional commentaries. These commentaries often address the pastoral duty of connecting the biblical text with the concerns of present-day hearers of God’s Word.
Stop looking for the perfect commentary. If you are looking for a perfect commentary, stop searching. You will never find it. The art and science of illuminating a text’s cultural and geographic circumstances for a specific audience shift as we apply the gospel in a variety of cultural contexts. Instead of searching for an ideal fit, utilize commentaries for the information you can glean from them to minister most effectively to those God has called you to lead.
Your interaction with commentaries should enhance your study of Scripture — not transform it into a frustrating task that adds to the stress of life and ministry.
Following are some recommendations to aid you in this process. Remember, no single commentary or series will meet all of your needs, so be willing to diversify your commentaries as much as possible.
- New International Commentary on the Old Testament
- New International Commentary on the New Testament
- Word Biblical Commentary
- Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries
- Tyndale New Testament Commentaries
- The Bible Speaks Today
- Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament
- Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the Old Testament
- Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament
- The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, rev. ed.
Materials from these series should get your commentary library off to a great start!
This article originally appeared in the January/February 2019 edition of Influence magazine.