Commentaries can be useful for “getting your bearings” on a particular book or passage, but should not be a substitute for your own work (in my opinion).
I usually start by searching commentaries for background, historical and archeological evidence — which they typically do really well. Then do my own work and come back to commentaries when I’ve started to reach some conclusions and what to see what others think. Commentaries can also get you thinking when you hit a dead end and don’t know what step to take next in your study. You can buy multi-volume commentaries or one-volume commentaries. (I include online sermons and MP3s in the commentary category.)
My commentary rules:
- Always consult more than one commentary.
- Consult both classic and contemporary works.
My favorite one-volume commentary is Adventuring Through the Bible: A Comprehensive Guide to the Entire Bible, by Ray C Stedman. It is often my starting point when beginning a new study because Ray Stedman gives a great overview of the themes of each book.
Before buying, check your bible study software. Many times you can buy great commentaries as electronic add-ons and plug-ins to your software.
- New International Bible Commentary, 1 volume, ed. FF Bruce (Zondervan)
- Commentary on the Whole Bible, 1 volume condensed or 6 volumes, Matthew Henry (You can often find this one online; Blue Letter Bible is one place)
- Tyndale Commentaries, multi-volume (InterVarsity Press)
- New Bible Commentary, 1-Volume commentary. (InverVarsity Press)
Online Commentaries & Study Bibles
- Calvin’s Commentary on the Bible
- Albert Barnes Notes on the Whole Bible
- Matthew Henry’s Complete Commentary on the Bible
- Geneva Study Bible