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David Murray has a list of 20 tips on how to use Bible Commentaries. Here are just 5 of them:
1. Use them
“It seems odd, that certain men who talk so much of what the Holy Spirit reveals to themselves, should think so little of what he has revealed to others. My chat this afternoon is not for these great originals, but for you who are content to learn of holy men, taught of God, and mighty in the Scriptures. It has been the fashion of late years to speak against the use of commentaries…A respectable acquaintance with the opinions of the giants of the past, might have saved many an erratic thinker from wild interpretations and outrageous inferences” (C H Spurgeon).
2. Use them for appropriate tasks
Commentaries vary in size, detail, level, and theological basis; they also have different roles in the exegetical process. The following classification is partly chronological – the first books are used earlier in the process than the latter books. (The books in brackets are OT focused and are merely exemplary not exhaustive).
- Critical: Emphasis on technical matters like the composition of the text rather than its meaning (e.g. International Critical Commentary, some Word commentaries).
- Expository (Original Language): Close and detailed exposition of the text, usually requiring some knowledge of the original languages (e.g. some Word commentaries, New International Commentary on the OT, Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Mentor series by Christian Focus).
- Expository (English): Stay close to the text but do not usually deal with critical issues and do not require original language knowledge (Focus on the Bible series by Christian Focus, Evangelical Press Study Commentaries).
- Summary: Do not explain everything but focus on main points and present conclusions rather than extensive arguments. Excellent summaries of a verse or passage’s teaching. Big is not always better. (e.g. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, Bible Speaks Today).
- Classical: Reputable commentaries from the past that usually do not deal with technical issues, but rather the theological meaning of the text (Banner of Truth Geneva series, John Gill, John Calvin).
- Applicatory: Suitable for lay-people, usually with more of an applicatory focus (NIV Application Commentary).
- Homiletical: Tend to be the result of sermon series or at least more sermonic in style (e.g. Welwyn, Dale Ralph Davis).
- Devotional: Extensive comments on spiritually rich texts. Focus on edification rather than critical or controversial issues (e.g. Matthew Henry).
3. Use recommended commentaries
Ask pastors and professors for their recommendations on various books. Weigh the recommendations. Just because a Word series’ commentary on one book is good does not guarantee that they are all good.
Spurgeon: “The best commentators are those who have written upon only one book. Few men can comment eminently well upon the whole Bible.”
There are many OT commentary guide books (e.g. Tremper Longman III, Douglas Stuart, Charles Spurgeon, etc). Here are some online recommendations:
- Joel Beeke’s best OT Commentaries
- Joel Beeke’s best NT Commentaries
- Best Commentaries
- Best Commentaries: Top 2 for each book
- Ligonier: Top 5 Commentaries on every book of the Bible
- Desiring God recommendations
4. Use them late in exegesis
If you use commentaries too early, they will take over and suppress your own thought. Do your own exegesis rather than collate the work of others.
5. Use them to get started in exegesis
This may seem like a contradiction to #4, but what I mean is that you should use commentaries earlier in the process if you get stuck, or perhaps can’t even get started. They can provide helpful or even essential historical, geographical, or cultural background.
Use them to help you with specific issues but leave most commentary reading towards the end of your research. Remember to pray and seek the Holy Spirit’s help rather than just open the nearest book.
Continue here for 15 other tips!