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 I do my own study, generate a list of questions to answer. When I get stuck on the questions or want to see what others think, I come back to commentaries. Sometimes that generates more questions, and sometimes that confirms answers. I also turn to commentaries which I hit a “dead end” and don’t know what step to take next. (I call that “study block”, like writer’s block.)
You can buy multi-volume commentaries or one-volume commentaries. Before buying books, check your bible study software. Many times you can buy great commentaries as electronic add-ons and plug-ins to your software. Don’t forget to include online sermons and podcasts in your commentary search. There’s now a wealth of those online!
My commentary rules:
- Always consult more than one commentary.
- Consult both classic and contemporary works.
Adventuring Through the Bible: A Comprehensive Guide to the Entire Bible, by Ray C Stedman. (My favorite 1-volume commentary)
New International Bible Commentary, 1 volume, ed. FF Bruce (Zondervan)
Tyndale Commentaries, multi-volume (InterVarsity Press)
New Bible Commentary, 1-Volume commentary. (InverVarsity Press)
Online Commentaries & Study Bibles
For modern commentary recommendations, try one of these:
Alfred Edersheim: Sketches of Jewish Social Life
Alfred Edersheim: Old Testament History
Alfred Edersheim: The Temple —Its Ministry and Services
Alfred Edersheim: The Life & Times of Jesus the Messiah
Jacob Abbott: Cyrus the Great (1904)
Jaocob Abbott: Darius the Great (1904)