I’m a big believer in the use of commentaries. I put them second on my list of books to buy, once you have the basics. This is mainly because some parts of the Bible are just strange. Others are thousands of years old and in a geography you may not be familiar with. The books of the Bible were written in different languages than we speak today and was given to an audience with a vastly different understand of the world. Finally, good commentaries can give you the differing views out there on a particular difficult topic, or even historical views that have changed due to some new information.
Which ones should I buy?
The unfortunate (for your wallet) answer is, all of them. Seriously, maybe not everything that exist (dozens of commentaries on each of the 66 books), but I have come to believe that you should get the best one you can find for each book, though some can be grouped together. A friend of mine told me this once and I really didn’t like it. It’s tedious and expensive, but it really is the right answer. Well, actually, it is the best answer for some. Most people aren’t going to go buy something like that New International Commentary full set of 46 volumes that cost about $1,500. If you want that many and are willing to spend, it’s better to go book by book.
Why is this case? Honestly, some volumes of a set are just weaker than others. I’d also argue that some books (of the Bible) are more familiar to you with less technical issues, in which case, you can get by with a cheaper, less in-depth commentary.
There are multiple levels of technicality, depth and type of commentary to buy. First would be a single volume(ish) and this is where I’d recommend starting if you haven’t used commentaries before. The second level is for Bible study or devotion, these will be shorter, less technical and written more to a believer about a text and growing in the Word. Third level is for those prepping to lead a Bible Study or a pastor for a sermon; or someone looking to invest the time for a deeper understanding. Final level is academic. These may be highly technical and not always translate the original languages. They will be most engaged in scholarship and least engaged in personal growth. Most people will never need/use these if they aren’t a pastor, seminary student, professor or big nerd.
Example of a commentary length/depth based on 1 Peter (which is only 5 Chapters) –
New Bible Commentary – 17 pages
Expositor’s Bible Commentary – 80 pages
Tyndale Commentary – 248 pages
Word Biblical Commentary – 416 pages
Single Volume(ish) – I say ‘ish’ because, while there are good intentions of getting a commentary to one volume, that leaves you with one big-ass book. I personally use and recommend the New Bible Commentary. I also use the abridged version of the The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, which is actually two books, Old and New Testament.
- Expositor’s Bible Commentary – This is another great into/first step, offering lots of great info from an evangelical perspective and can be had at a great price when you buy use or the old (12 volume) edition.
- NIV Application – Has its feet in both the study and devotional side, though is quite large at 42 volumes.
- Sets like the Weiserbe and Boice (I haven’t used either, put Boice is on my list) that are more focused on devotion is something I have in mind here. If you ever buy an entire set from a single author, it must be for devotional purposes, as no one person can be an expert on every book of the bible.
- New American Commentary – These are solid scholarly written books, while remaining somewhat brief (41 volumes, so combing some books). Easy to find used volumes for $10-15.
- Tyndale – Probably the least technical of those I’d recommend. Also, great prices, they printed them in paperback and you can find old copies or used ones at a great price. Olive Tree often has them on sale for $99, which is a hell of a deal.
- Baker Exegetical Commentary
- New International Commentary
- New International Greek Commentary
- Word Biblical Commentary
Other Places for Recommendations:
You’ll probably notice that I didn’t go into detail about which commentary for which book. Two reasons for this, my main goal is to give you an idea of what’s out here and secondly, I haven’t read multiple commentaries on every book of the Bible. Instead, I use these guys to help me select which commentaries to get.
You can also find all the commentaries I’ve used or recommend at my amazon store.