Choosing a Bible Commentary

Bible CommentariesWe all have limits.  Whether you’re a pastor preparing for a sermon or someone doing a personal Bible study, our time and money are precious.  Fortunately, there many resources available that help ease the tension between having a limited amount of resources and our desire to know God through a deeper understanding of His Word.  I praise God for raising up men and women who devote their lives to developing these types of resources for the sake of His church and its resources.

As a seminary student looking ahead at being a pastor, Lord willing, I am blown away by the amount of resources available to us here in America.  One of the types of resources that I am most thankful for are commentaries.  The amount of time and knowledge that goes into producing a commentary is incredible.  From a distance I have seen some of my professors going through this process.  It is an incredible opportunity and responsibility.  There is so much that could be said, but again, limits have to be established, and choices have to be made.  One of the difficulties that I’ve seen from this distance is the difficulty of whittling down what they want to say into the space that is available.  It really isn’t a decision all that different from our own as we study the Bible.  There is so much that has been said, that is written in hundreds of books…where do we even begin to look for answers to our questions, for help in understanding God’s Word?  How do we choose which resources to invest our time and money into?

Choosing The Best Commentary

As I’ve mentioned above, commentaries are a great tool, but still, there are so many.  How do I choose?  There is an online resource that I was introduced to a couple of years that I fell in love with (oh boy, you know you’ve been in seminary too long when you talk about commentaries in a way that could be confused with your relationship with your wife *wink* ).  It is bestcommentaries.com.  This website is a great tool in helping to make resource decisions that most of us wouldn’t know where to begin.  It is a website that you should take some time to explore, but there are two features that are my favorite on this website.

Best Commentaries

The first feature I find most helpful is the Best feature. If you click on the tab labeled “Best” at the top of the page, you are provided with a list of the top two commentaries for every book in the Bible.  Along with each book you are provided a score and links to on-line sites from which they can be purchased.

New Testament and Old Testament Books

The second feature that I find most helpful (and a little more detailed than the first) is the “OT Books” and “NT Books” tabs at the top of the page.  Under these tabs you are provided with a rated list of a large portion of the commentaries written on each book.  For example, under the “NT Books” tab, if you click on “Matthew,” there is a list of about 80 commentaries on Matthew, listed in order according to their score (in order to understand how the commentaries are scored, just click on the “About” tab on the top of the page).  What I really appreciate about this list is that each book is also tagged with some kind of combination of the letters – “T”, “P”, “D”, and “S”.  These taggings are a nice way to let one know the direction that the writer of the commentary took in writing the commentary.  For example, the “T” label indicates that it is can be considered a “Technical” commentary, diving into the technical details of the text and language. The “P” indicates that it was written with a “Pastoral” focus, the “D” with a “Devotional” focus, and the “S” indicates that it is considered a “Special Study.”  Obviously, commentaries don’t always fit into such neat boxes, so commentaries can be listed with different combinations of these emphases.

This resource has helped me a lot in my sermon preparation.  When I walk into the Moody library or begin to look online for a commentary to purchase, this website has helped me make decisions that save me time and money.  Instead of buying full sets of commentaries, I have committed to making sure I get individual commentaries that are the best for each book.  I hope that this will be a helpful tool for you as well as you aim to be a good steward of your resources and get to know God better through great study tools.

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About the Author

Dustin Schledewitz is originally from western Nebraska. He graduated from the University of Nebraska at Kearney with a degree in Middle School Math and Science. Soon after, he went to Moody Theological Seminary and graduated with an MDiv, with a pastoral emphasis, in the Spring of 2011. He is currently an associate pastor at Cornerstone Berean Church in Kearney, Nebraska. He has been married for six years to Erin and has a little boy named Elijah.



16 Responses to Choosing a Bible Commentary

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  2. John N says:

    Hey Dustin–I use this quite a lot too. A guy I know in Dallas has put this together. A couple of helpful hints in addition though–the ‘Best’ feature is largely determined by Evangelicals, so sometimes we don’t necessarily get a broad range of perspectives nor do we always get the best commentary. Case in point, the best commentary on John has got to be Raymond Brown’s commentary. But he is not an evangelical, so D.A. Carson is beating him soundly on the site. I asked Dan Wallace in a class on Mark which three commentaries he would take with him if he were stuck on a desert island and he said he would always include a nonevangelical one to take with him in order to check his bias. This tool can be very helpful, but it’s best to understand how it is constructed in order to get the broadest view:)

    • Dustin S says:

      John,
      Thanks for the reminder. You’re right, we need help in checking our biases, and a well-rounded collection of commentaries can help. I was wondering if you knew of any similar sites or resources for non-evangelical commentaries?

      • John Dyer says:

        Dustin,
        I’m the “guy in Dallas” who put the site together, and I just wanted to drop by (a year later!) to say thanks for the kind words about Best Commentaries. Regarding the earlier commenters ideas, I do wish there were more reviews from non-Evangelicals to help round out the discussion. So if you ever find any sites that have good reviews, please let me know so that I can add them to the site and help round out the discussion! Blessings, JD

  3. April says:

    “There is so much that has been said, that is written in hundreds of books…where do we even begin to look for answers to our questions, for help in understanding God’s Word?”
    The Bible is ‘where’ we look for answers to our questions, The Holy Spirit is who we go to for help in understanding God’s word, not commentaries/humans. Doing the latter leads to “leaning onto your own understanding” instead of relying solely on the Holy Spirit.

  4. April says:

    ” I praise God for raising up men and women who devote their lives to developing these types of resources for the sake of His church and its resources”
    In the Bible, we are told to ask God for wisdom and understanding, and that the Holy Spirit will help us understand and bring the Word to our remembrance. NEVER did God say to go to a human for these things. That would be undermining of himself!
    God is all powerful; we do not need anyone else!

    • Dustin Schledewitz says:

      April,
      I’m currently working on a blog that I hope will elaborate on the relationship between the Holy Spirit, personal reading, and community in Bible study. I hope that it is helpful. Let me know what you think!
      God Bless,
      Dustin

  5. April, I appreciate you sharing your perspective. I am wondering, though, if you believe that consulting commentaries is unbiblical since they rely on human understanding, what would you say about pastors preaching the Word every Sunday?

    • Kyle Fallon says:

      Hi Steph. If that were the case, you would still be relying on your own interpretation which is still a “human” take. The New Testament is full of the Apostle Paul who taught of ministries and gifts of the Spirit, which uncludes teachers and Bishops, etc.. Begin reading the epistles and letters and you will find an over abundence of God’s scripture supporting this. <

  6. Kyle Fallon says:

    As I worked in a Christian bookstore, I learned and passed on to customers that when looking for commentaries for study, to look first to see what Bible the author uses for his notes. I would not want to be reading the KJV and having the commentatory using the NLT. With many, that changed a little in their shopping efforts. <

  7. Brian Lawson says:

    E.M. Zerr, James Burton Coffman, and David L. Roper – are the best Bible commentators.
    Happy reading!

  8. Hey,

    Just dropping by; great post.

  9. Bruce Woods says:

    Re: Bible Commentaries

    Two points to consider carefully: (1) Depth – obviously a single book commentary will dive a lot deeper into subtleties, idioms & alternate translations of the original autographs and have a lot more supplementary material about the author & the times, places and circumstances per the original recordings. (2) Biases – all commentaries are written per author biases – reformed, Catholic, Lutheran, conservative, liberal, evangelical, differing viewpoints of the “last days”, traditional vs late dating of the books [especially per the exodus and several prophetic books], authorship attributions, prophecy vs history viewpoints, etc. Starting a couple of centuries ago, a school of “higher” criticism began which [per their arguments] dated the Exodus almost 200 years later, and started an authorship theory of the Pentateuch which basically splits its authorship among several recorders over hundreds of years. Additionally, per this school many prophetic works [e.g., Daniel] are ascribed to unknown recorders as a history several hundred years later than [Daniel's] presumed authorship. This school also splits Isaiah into 2 or 3 separate works and generally suggests that the prophetic books were really histories that proved a point. This school is also biased towards denying some of what was recorded as true events and recasting them as parables and recorded for teaching and guidance purposes. Some in this school deny that The Revelation deals with future times and is basically a commentary about the Roman persecution of the early church and the subsequent victory of the church in becoming the established religion of Rome. Some in this school hold the opinion that much of the Bible is benign myth, not inerrant [from a spiritual point of view], not THE Word of God nor necessarily the last word on how mankind gets to know of God and live guided by God’s laws. {BTW, virtually every argument and postulate put forth by this school has been refuted or are up against counter-arguments that are equally valid or possible. True, there are some issues that remain ambiguous or cannot be determined either way but this school does not have the rock-solid foundation it thought it once had – despite its continued dominance in some major, liberal-biased theology schools.

    So, before you invest in a commentary, know where the author is coming from. My personal suggestion is to get a solid, evangelical, conservative one-volume commentary of the OT & the NT – even one that might be called an introduction. Then as you study more, or do an in-depth book study, add individual commentaries as you wish. But, please remember this truism: the best commentary on the Bible is the Bible itself!

  10. George Cromwell says:

    who is known to have written a commentary base upon what the Holy Spirit has revealed unto them.

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