Recently, I wrote about five great study Bibles I’ve used and recommend. A good study Bible is one of the most indispensable tools in a Christian’s Bible study tool belt. For those desiring a deeper level of study, perhaps those leading a small group Bible study or teaching a Sunday school class, or just wanting to better understand the Bible for their own living and worship, the next level of study is a good commentary. What is a commentary?
A commentary is essentially a study guide to a book of the Bible. It provides in-depth information about the context, historical background, and various ways the passage being studied has been interpreted throughout history.
Commentaries can be powerful study aids, but listing my favorites is difficult because there is a variety of academic levels and styles. Some commentaries are so technical that without knowing at least some basic Greek or Hebrew, they wouldn’t be of much use. Others are more devotional, designed for the lay Christian who is seeking a better understanding of God’s Word. And there are commentaries in the middle. One of my favorite websites is http://bestcommentaries.com, where pastors have ranked commentaries in all sorts of categories. So, for instance, you can go on that site and find which commentaries pastors have ranked the highest for the book of Philippians, or what the best devotional commentaries are. Below I will list some of my favorite commentary sets (although I’m still new enough in the study process that I haven’t used all that many commentaries… not to mention they tend to be rather pricey, so it can take a pastor decades to build his collection).
Devotional commentaries are great entry-level studies that bring a lot more depth to your study than a study Bible, but leave out the more technical (and often more boring) stuff. Here I have two recommendations:
- The Bible Speaks Today
- The BE Series
These are more in-depth that devotional commentaries, but still primarily English-based. They’re written in a slightly more academic style, but you don’t need to know Greek or Hebrew to get what they’re talking about. These commentaries also may have some practical application points, but not as many as devotional commentaries. This is because they’re focused on helping you understand what the Scripture is saying, and then they let you figure out how that applies to your life.
- The New American Commentary
- The IVP Bible Background Commentary
- The Word Biblical Commentary
This category of commentaries is focused more on the original language manuscripts than on the English translations. They often give you the passage in Greek or Hebrew and then give you their own English translation. In the commentary sections, they will give Greek or Hebrew clauses, often with no translation because they expect you to know the language. Because these commentaries are pretty academic in style, they tend to give a synopsis of all the various views and interpretations of a passage, in addition to the commentator’s own view. They can tend to be a little dry at times! Because I am a beginner at Greek and am only starting Hebrew this Fall, I haven’t used many technical commentaries. The two below I do use frequently, however.
- The New International Greek Testament Commentary
- The Expositor’s Bible Commentary
Although I haven’t used the following online commentary sites, they’ve been highly recommended to me by people I trust. In the digital age we live in, no blog post would be complete without at least a couple online options!
What study aids do you use?