How to Choose a Bible Commentary
There are so many Bible commentaries available in English that it can be hard to know how to choose. A single commentary may cover the whole Bible, one of the testaments, a section of the Bible, a book of the Bible, or just part of a book of the Bible.
Commentators write for different reasons and varied audiences.
You might start with an overview that teaches you how to tell one commentary from another. Good choices are:
- New Testament Commentary Survey by D. A. Carson (2002)
- Commentary and Reference Survey by John Glynn (2003)
- Old Testament Commentary Survey by Tremper Longman (2003)
Check the website of your seminary or denomination for suggestions of commentaries favored by like-minded preachers.
- Center for Excellence in Preaching (Reformed)
- New Testament commentary list (Lutheran)
- Old Testament commentary list (Evangelical)
- Commentaries old to new (Catholic)
“I wish there was one full commentary set with excellent commentaries throughout, sort of a one-stop preacher’s commentary kit. Usually I find sets vary in quality and insight,” says David P. Dwight, senior pastor of Hope Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Richmond, Virginia. He reads widely among commentaries and authors instead of depending on a particular publisher.
While his top choices vary by author and topic, Scott Hoezee, director of the Center for Excellence in Preaching, says, “The Interpretation series is, in almost every instance, gold for preaching.”
Gordon Atkinson, who pastors Covenant Baptist Church in San Antonio, Texas, often turns to Interpretation commentaries. He notes that many, such as Terence Fretheim on Exodus or Thomas G. Long on Hebrews, “are written for preachers by people who have done a lot of preaching themselves.”
Other Atkinson picks include:
- William Barclay for historical insights
- Scholarly volumes that apply to sermons, such as Douglas Moo on Romans and Joel Green on Luke
- Word Biblical Commentary series because it divides material according to whether it’s immediately useful for preachers or better for deep scholarly perusal
When Presbyterian pastors Chris O’Reilly and Peter Bush were teaching laity to preach in rural Canadian churches, they gave everyone a single volume commentary, New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition(IVP, 1994).
Before buying a new commentary, you might check online reviews, read an excerpt through Google Booksor Amazon’s “search inside this book” feature, or try to borrow a copy on interlibrary loan.
At The Text This Week, you can search for a particular Scripture passage. Click on your passage to find relevant historic and contemporary commentary.