How Do I Choose a Commentary?

How Do I Choose a Commentary?

Anyone interested in studying the Bible has probably asked themselves this question.  With so many types of commentaries available, how do I know which ones will help me in my study?  A major factor to consider for most people is cost.  Commentaries are typically one book for each book of the Bible, sometimes two in the case of longer books.  At 66 books of the Bible a full set could be easily hundreds, if not thousands of dollars.  If someone is going to invest in commentaries, it certainly would be wise to find ones you will actually use.

Fortunately, there are helpful websites out there.  My favorite is (subtitled:  rotten tomatoes for biblical studies).  This site rates commentaries by books of the Bible, as well as other Christian books by category (such as discipleship or cultural issues).  Commentaries are divided into academic categories:  technical, pastoral and devotional.  A devotional level commentary is best suited for a reader without theological training who will mainly be using a commentary for personal study or teaching a Sunday school class.  Pastoral level commentaries are, as you would guess, for pastors or Bible teachers.  Technical level commentaries are geared toward pastors, seminary students and academia.  With some technical level commentaries, a knowledge of Greek or Hebrew is helpful and sometimes necessary for understanding a major part of the text.

Another thing about commentaries is that you don’t necessarily need the newest, most up-to-date version.  Yes, scholarship changes somewhat over the years, but God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow so many/most interpretations should stay fairly consistent over the years.  For example, one of the top 10 commentaries on Romans as rated by Best Commentaries is copyrighted 1965.  However, newer commentaries may reflect more current discussions among those with scholarly interests. For me, I try to balance quality, price and date.

You can also find good Christian authors to read from the commentary section.  Someone who is selected to write a commentary on a certain book of the Bible is considered to be an authority on that book.  Those authors frequently write books on theological subjects and many times those are popular level books, meaning they are for the average reader and not necessarily for someone who is seminary trained.  If you are concerned about content and, as a discerning Christian you should be, be sure to read books published by respected publishing companies such as IVP (Intervarsity Press), Baker, Zondervan, Thomas Nelson and Tyndale House.

Money saving tips:

Buy used.  I personally like Thrift Books, eBay and Amazon in that order.  Thrift Books has older, hard to find or out of print books at a reasonable price as well as new books.  Buy Kindle.  I subscribe to Gospel eBooks and I check Tim Challies “Kindle Deals” every day, plus the daily and monthly deals on Amazon Kindle.  My price preferred price for almost any book is $5 or less.  One of my best Kindle buys is the New International Commentary on the New Testament on Luke for $2.99, which retails for $50-$60 in hard cover.  I have to admit, I love a good deal!

When choosing commentaries or theological books, you should consider the writer’s perspective.  What denomination is he or she?  There are Protestant as well as Catholic authors.  Old Testament commentaries might be written by a Jewish rabbi.  While the Jewish perspective might give some interesting insight into Old Testament scriptures, be cautious about using these commentaries for a theological viewpoint because they are written from the perspective of looking forward to the messiah’s coming and do not consider that the Messiah has already come in the person of Jesus.  Using commentaries or books from other denominations or faith traditions can be enlightening, but again may not be an interpretation favored by your faith tradition.

I do recommend one commentary series that I’ve found particularly interesting this year.  In fact, I’ve read the volumes on Galatians and 1 Corinthians cover-to-cover.  The NIV Application Commentary is easy to read, written by knowledgeable authors, and contains three sections on every passage of scripture:  Original Meaning, Bridging Contexts, and Contemporary Significance.  The Original Meaning section gives you the historical background and meaning, while the Bridging Contexts and Contemporary Significance sections transition and take the reader into the current culture.  If you aren’t especially interested in the Greek meaning of words in the original text, but are fascinated by the historical context, this is the commentary for you.  

I urge you to try multiple commentaries in your studies.  You will probably find some you like better than others and some that serve your specific purpose better than others.  Be sure to look online too because some classics are no longer copyrighted and can be found on sites such as or .

Happy studies.

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