A good commentary is like gasoline. If you possess a working engine, it will get you where you want to go. But if you’re prone to drinking it straight, you’re better off labeling it as poison.
This is why I and others warn against common but dangerous mistakes when using commentaries. We urge you not to awaken or arouse your study Bibles until the time is right. We’re committed to helping you break the addiction. We’d like to see our generation less dependent on so many Bible curricula and discipleship materials. We’re delighted when others promote the same cause.
However, please don’t think I’m against commentaries. Sure, I occasionally use strong language, but it’s because I care about you. I blog to help you build a good Bible study engine, and I want to help you see the connection between your unquenchable thirst and your choice of beverage. Don’t drink the gasoline!
I devour commentaries. I read them for the same reason I attend Bible studies: I can’t do this by myself, and I need the Christian community to help me know God better. The right commentaries stimulate me, provoking a fanatical compulsion to investigate the text.
The wrong commentaries make me feel like my 6-year-old daughter, who, on a 3-mile bike ride around town, despaired at every uphill stretch. Before long, she was calling down imprecations on herself and all she held dear: “I wish I didn’t even have a bike!” Substitute “a bike” with “this volume,” and you’ve got my sense when I spend good money on something that offers little more than word histories, cross references, and catalogues of debates between older commentators.
An excellent commentary, who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. And many websites and book lists and blog series exist to help you pluck the gems from the sediment. But it’s still hard to find a good match without consistent criteria to help you decide.
So I’ve created a page on the resources section of this site, recommending commentaries that model good Bible study. By “good Bible study,” I mean the following:
- observing the text carefully (not merely telling us what others have said about the text)
- taking note of literary devices
- making interpretive decisions primarily from the text and not merely by scholarly consensus
- showing, not merely telling, their conclusions
- spelling out the author’s train of thought (focusing on logic and meaning instead of on words, etymology, or cross references)
- focusing on the author’s main points (without getting distracted by every possible debate on isolated words or phrases)
- showing a conviction that the text will change our lives, both individually and corporately
Not every commentary I recommend will do all 7 things well, but I’ll look for a preponderance of evidence. And I award bonus points when the gospel of Jesus Christ takes center stage.
Now, before you click the button, please promise me you won’t misuse the list. Commit yourself to studying the text yourself. After you have guessed at the author’s main point and attempted to apply it, your engine will be thirsty and ready for a refill. You’ll get far more out of these commentaries if you don’t rely on them to do the work for you.
Are you ready? Do you promise? Take me to the page!