Technically you don’t need a commentary to do your Bible study. That was my emphasis in the last How to Study the Bible post – that the Bible is its own best commentary. Yes there are some tremendous reasons to use a commentary, but you don’t need one.
But what if you DO want to use one? What kind of commentary is best for your study?
There are two main types of commentaries, but only one is recommended for your personal Bible study.
1. Sermonic Commentaries
A sermonic commentary is what it sounds like: sermons in the form of a commentary. Many preachers have these type of commentaries.
For example, I work with evangelist and pastor Stephen Manley who has several commentaries that have come out of his preaching. As he preaches through Matthew and Acts, he writes a commentary off of his sermon. In other words, the commentary contains the concepts, emphasis, and often same illustrations as his preached sermon.
Spurgeon’s sermons or D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones commentaries are a similar concept. They are manuscripts (sometimes word-for-word) that someone wrote while the individual preached.
Sermonic commentaries can be great additions to your reading and enrichment in the Word. However, these are not great to use in your personal study. When you use sermonic commentaries in your own Bible study, you are not wrestling with the text of Scripture but are using someone else’s conclusions and study as your own. Yes, they could give you additional insights that you may have missed in the text, but IF you use them, make sure you use these at the very end of your study.
2. Word Commentaries
Word commentaries are often exegetical commentaries on the text. Rather than drawing conclusions, these commentaries often help you with background, grammar, original languages, and other insightful things within the text itself.
The problem with these type of commentaries is that you still have to do most of the work of Bible study. But that is also the benefit. Rather than giving conclusions, word commentaries help give you greater access to the text that you might not otherwise have.
I do love good resources, and commentaries are some of those books which I love. But we as students of Scripture must be careful that we don’t turn to commentaries to shortcut or bypass our personal saturation within the text. In Bible study the process is just as important as the destination, and commentaries can often shortchange that process.
But in all fairness, commentaries can stimulate thoughts and ideas, give you insights into the text, help with background, grammar, and language, as well as confirm concepts and conclusions you have about the text. So there are benefits to using them.
But of the two types of commentaries, word commentaries are what you need to use in your study. While the sermonic commentaries can be enjoyable to read, reveal tremendous truth, and can give you great wisdom and insight, they also do the work of Bible study for you, which defeats the point of saturating within Scripture.
What are some good word commentaries, you ask?
I recommend getting a copy of David Bauer’s book An Annotated Guide to Biblical Resources for Ministry – which outlines the best commentaries for each book of the Bible. His top suggestions have short reviews, and he also includes a list of secondary suggestions – almost all of which are exegetical/word commentaries.
Question: What thoughts and questions do you have about commentaries? Leave a comment in the section below.