Whether you are teaching a Bible study, writing a paper for a religion or biblical studies class, or studying Scripture on your own, one or more Bible commentaries are essential tools and Bible study aids for doing the task. Choosing the right Bible commentary is essential to doing this task, and there are a few things to keep in mind in picking the work that will best suit your needs.
Determine the Kind of Commentary You are Able to Use
There are scholarly commentaries that require the reader to have a good knowledge of the original Hebrew or Greek, basic, lay-level commentaries that require no specialized knowledge on the part of the reader, informative but concise bible commentaries, and everything in between. Based on your knowledge of the original languages, Christian theology, biblical backgrounds, and other such things, determine what kind of commentaries you are able to use.
Understand Your Audience
The Bible commentary that is suitable for a research paper will need to be academically respectable even if it is not overly scholarly. A commentary that you use to lead an inductive Bible study or for aiding in personal devotions can be more lay level. Writing a good sermon will probably require a mix of different commentary types and styles. From your list of the kinds of commentaries you can appropriately use, decide on the types that will give you what you need for your specific purpose.
Start to Evaluate Individual Commentaries
Now that you know what kinds of commentaries you can use and which ones will give you what you need for your audience, it is time to look at individual volumes and select the precise works for you. Online booksellers will have user ratings available for each book that they sell. Going to a bookstore or library yourself can put each Bible commentary in your hand and you can browse it to see if it will suit your purposes. Studies that survey and evaluate biblical commentaries by D.A. Carson, Tremper Longman, and Derek W.H. Thomas are very helpful in this regard.
• Commentaries will reflect the theological presuppositions of its author, so be on the look out for places where the work is influenced more by assumptions than by a study of the text.
• Commentaries can be used or misused. It is usually best to study the passage of Scripture thoroughly yourself before you open the commentary
• The best commentaries are going to be those that understand Scripture to be the very Word of God.
• Be careful to use commentaries that are tied to the version of the Bible you prefer. For example, if you use the NIV translation, go with an NIV Bible commentary of some type.