Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Choosing the Best Commentaries

Do you have a strategy for buying commentaries?

I am always on the lookout for good commentaries, but it's not always easy to know where to find them.  With limited resources, you hate to burn $30, $50, even $75 dollars on a commentary that ends up being of little use to you. What I usually end up doing is buying commentaries by authors I already know and trust (I'll buy any commentary I find by Walter Brueggemann, Will Willimon, Fred Craddock, David Garland, Scott McKnight. . . ). This is a fine strategy in some regards, but it leaves holes in my library in both scope and the number of perspectives represented.

My ideal library would be the size of a university library.  In my actual library I'll settle for having three exceptional commentaries for each book of the Bible. First, I like having one really thorough, technical commentary that can take me through all the ins and outs of the biblical language and the major historical critical issues. I prefer this to be a more recent publication as that hopefully ensures coverage of the most recent scholarship. Dr. David Garland's volume on 1 Corinthians in the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament is an example of what I'm talking about. Then I like to have two or three less technical but still thorough commentaries. I want these to be from different theological perspectives (moderate/liberal/conservative, Anabaptist/Mainstream Protestant/Catholic, etc.). The idea is to hear different voices as they read the same text. I find my sermon preparation deeply enriched by the variety of voices within the church including and sometimes especially the voices with whom I disagree most often. These diverse voices help me think of familiar texts in new ways.  

The nerd in me would love to churn through 7-8 commentaries a week in sermon prep, but the full time pastor in me has learned that 3-4 good commentaries are enough.  

What about you?  What do you look for in a commentary?  Who are some of your favorite authors?  What are some of your favorite volumes?  


  1. I agree, hard to find time to make it through more than 3 commentaries. One thing I do is to really ask friends what they have found helpful before buying. I like Ben Witherington III Social Rhetorical Commentaries, as well as Word Biblical for my more technical piece.

  2. Kevin, thanks for reading and commenting. Good to hear from you. Hope you and your family are well. I really like Witherington's commentaries as well. Starting tomorrow I'm going to go book by book and list my favorite commentaries and invite others to share their favorites, as well. That way we can share our best insights before shelling out our cash.