Monday, July 19, 2010

Which commentary should I buy?

From time to time I am asked by students which commentary series they should buy. My answer is always the same. Don’t buy an entire series unless you are getting an irresistible deal! I speak from experience.

When I was in seminary I bought all of the then available volumes in a respected series. But I soon discovered that there were some duds. Every series, no matter how well respected, is going to have some volumes that are disappointing. Furthermore, not every commentary is suited for every task. Like a set of screwdrivers or drill bits, you need different tools for different jobs. While the Word Biblical Commentary series may provide some great linguistic and exegetical insights, you are not going to get the type of modern day application for preaching that you will find in the NIV Application series. In fact, like your home toolbox, you will probably need both and will use both at the same time; sort of like using your hammer with a screwdriver (with apologies to Craftsman tools).

Rather than buy every volume in a set, investigate and find out which ones are the best of the lot and buy those ones. Your bookshelf will not look as cool as it would with all those matching dustcovers, but you will benefit from a variety of approaches which will enrich your study as you prepare to teach and/or preach.

If you want to know more, Bill Muehlenberg provides a good summary in an article in Christianity Today: How to Pick a Good Commentary.


  1. Additionally, one may benefit from having a few commentaries on the same book, each commentary coming at the text from a different perspective. I make it a point to purchase only commentaries of texts that I am currently working on. I borrow them first, to assess their relative worth, and then, I invest in the one or two that are most beneficial. It may also benefit the student to read a few reviews of the commentaries, in order to gain a perspective on that particular volume's strengths and weaknesses (that is, also taking account of the particular reviewer's slant/bias/perspective with a grain of salt).

  2. Jason,
    This is a good point. For instance, I have numerous commentaries on Romans and each one brings something new. Your point about borrowing first is also insightful. Those with access to a good library can benefit from using a variety of sources before they put down the money.