I love commentaries. I don’t have as many as I’d like to have, but I love the ones I have, and I like having the church library just down the hall to fill in some gaps in my own library.
Obviously, there are some that I like more than others, and some I trust very deeply. Others I read more for word study or just for a quote or two.
Some do not see the need for such volumes. 300 pages on James? Who needs that much material? (My dad has a 10-volume commentary just on Hebrews, and each volume has about 250 pages!!!)
Most preachers have at least a few volumes, while some have hundreds. When studying a particular Bible book, many preachers will “bulk up” their library on that one book. They may buy 4 or 5 commentaries on Matthew, for example.
Many Christians simply can’t spend that kind of money on commentaries, so let me offer a few suggestions on commentaries for as many people as possible.
1. Purchase a few volumes (used, if possible, to save money) by brothers in Christ. It’s worth starting with Burton Coffman, Gospel Advocate, and/or Truth for Today. If possible, buy these whole sets (although, personally, I would recommend Coffman only on the New Testament).
2. Use the church library for other commentaries. Many church libraries have several single volumes and even a few sets. What a resource that often goes untapped! Less than 30 minutes in the church library can give you 3 or 4 perspectives on the same verse or section of Scripture. If you’re teaching, you may even find a very useful outline or quote.
3. Look online for commentaries. Yes, there are a few older commentaries now available for free online. You will probably want to use those by names you recognize. Often, someone who can’t publish a commentary just puts “his volume” online, and it wasn’t published for a reason!
4. While some don’t think it’s worth it, Matthew Henry’s commentary is still worth adding to your library. You won’t agree with everything he writes, but Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible has stood the test of time. For the money, it’s a good investment.
5. Check the Scripture references and compare, compare, compare. This is the main way to use commentaries. If only one writer has a particular view, it’s probably not the proper thought on a passage. If you see several saying the same thing–especially if they agree with our brothers in Christ–you probably have gotten to some of the meat of the passage.
6. Always go back to the Bible. I quote from a couple of commentators more than others (Woods and Barclay, for example), but I try not to be a walking commentary. I’d rather be a walking Bible. After all, it is still true that the Bible is its own best commentary.
What other suggestions would you give?