So they read distinctly from the book, in the Law of God; and they gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading.
What is a commentary? It is simply a book that attempts to explain what a book in the Bible has to say.
It will give a basic introduction to the Bible book. Things like the author of the book, time of writing, who it was first written to, the basic theme or purpose of the book.
A commentary will then go verse by verse, or chapter by chapter and explain the meaning of the text of the Bible. The commentary author will sometimes refer to the original biblical languages of Greek and Hebrew. It may give several possible interpretations of a passage, especially if that passage is controversial or hard to understand. I like a commentary that then gives the author’s view of which is the right interpretation.
Some commentaries are very lengthy and detailed. Some skip over many verses and just hit the high points. Some are very technical and scholarly. Some so scholarly that you need to know Greek and Hebrew and maybe another language or two to keep up with it. Other commentaries are more expositional and devotional in nature.
Some of the best commentaries are by pastors who have preached through that book in the Bible. They include the meaning of the passage, doctrine, as well as illustrations and practical application of Scripture. These are sometimes called expositional commentaries.
For laymen, Sunday School teachers, and most pastors, I think good expositional commentaries are the most helpful. Two or three expositional commentaries, along with a more scholarly, technical commentary or two can be a good combination. You can buy them yourself or check out your church library. You don’t have to buy all the commentaries; you can start out by getting two or three on a particular Bible book.
Below are some of my recommendations. But I’d advise you to check them out for yourself to see if they are a good fit for you. Even if we believe the same basic things, my favorite commentator may not be yours. Remember that some commentators are better with one book than the next. Also, some book editors have edited out the illustrations and personal stories to condense the book; in my opinion this seriously diminishes the book.
A set of commentaries cost more at first, but the set is usually cheaper than over time buying all the individual volumes. Will you always agree with the commentary author? Of course not, but the authors listed below are conservative and believe in the divine inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible. Not all are Baptist, but all are conservative, evangelical, and helpful.
Some of my favorite expositional commentaries and authors:
The first commentaries I would recommend would be the Bible Exposition Commentary by Warren Weirsbe; Thru the Bible Series by J. Vernon McGee; and the volumes by H. A. Ironside. These are a great place to begin.
While they are not in a set, I would also highly recommend the commentaries on individual books in the Bible by John Phillips, R. L. Sumner, Paige Patterson, W. A. Criswell, Jerry Vines, Adrian Rogers.
Other popular commentaries you may want to check out:
Holman Bible Commentary, Herschel Hobbs, John MacArthur, James T. Draper, John F. Walvoord, Albert Barnes, James M. Boice.
A more scholarly, technical set of commentaries:
The New American Commentary by Broadman & Holman. While these are scholarly, they are fairly easy to understand. The entire set is expensive, but they can be purchased one at a time. Or, talk your church into buying these, as well as some of the above, for the church library.
For the study of LifeWay Sunday School lessons, the Advanced Bible Study; Herschel Hobbs, and some of their other lesson study tools are very helpful. Check out what LifeWay has to offer.
The above commentaries can be ordered through a local Christian Bookstore, LifeWay, Amazon.com, etc. There is no end to commentaries, even the good ones, but these can get you started.
-David R. Brumbelow, Gulf Coast Pastor, March 23, AD 2010.
Bibles and Bible Study
Scofield Bible, First 100 Years