Better Bible Study Tip #62: Explore the World of Commentaries

Every so often someone will ask me what set of commentaries I recommend. I never quite know how to answer that question. Different commentaries are good for different purposes. It’s kind of like a golfer asking which golf club he should use next; it depends on where he is on the golf course. If he’s driving, I’m going to recommend one club. If he’s putting, I’m going to recommend another club. If he’s in the sand trap, I’m going to recommend another club.

Some commentaries are written on a popular level, while others are written on a scholarly level. Some commentaries focus on exegesis, while others focus on application. Some commentaries are based on the English text, while others are based on the Hebrew or Greek text (Note: you can use most commentaries based on the Greek or Hebrew text, even if you don’t know Greek or Hebrew. You will find that you can usually just read around the Greek and Hebrew with minimal loss). Some commentaries do a good job developing the author’s particular viewpoint, while others try to provide an overview of different viewpoints. Different commentaries have different strengths.

For better Bible study, spend time discovering the world of commentaries. Don’t get stuck on just one set. Commentaries can be expensive, but if you have a church library you can save money by borrowing some of theirs. Many older commentaries are also available online for free, or for download using Bible study software. Sometimes discovering commentaries is like searching for gold. It takes time to search, but if you spend enough time sifting through various commentaries, you will eventually stumble across some incredible “nuggets” of wisdom.

Proverbs 14:11 reminds us that “in the abundance of counselors there is safety”. Discovering the world of commentaries can provide safety as well. Sometimes commentators will disagree with each other. Sometimes they will correct or balance out each other’s viewpoints.

Remember, it is important not to begin your Bible study with a commentary. You should only go to commentaries after you have done you own work (Bible Study Tip #60). If you’ve done your own exegesis well, you will find that the better commentaries more often than not will end up drawing the same conclusions. At the same time, if you are in the practice of discovering new commentaries, you may occasionally discover some compelling arguments to consider a different point of view. It’s always a good thing when we give ourselves the opportunity to correct errors in our own understanding. One way to do this is to do your own study first, and then spend time exploring the world of commentaries.