This article is part of our How to Study the Bible Series. Read the other articles in the series here:
- "Fight the Battle to Read Your Bible" by Kristie Anywabwile
- "When Bible Study Feels Impossible" by Brittany Allen
- "How Often Should I Study the Bible?" by Ashley Chesnut
- "How to Get in God’s Word Every Day" by Ann Swindell
- "Why Journaling the Word is Worth It" by Lauren Washer
- "How to Get Back on Track with Bible Study" by Lara d’Entremont
- "Eight Ways to Be in the Word in Every Season" by Titania Paige
- "How to Learn About God in Your Bible Study" by Lauren Washer
- "How to Learn About the Gospel in Your Bible Study" by Fernie Cosgrove
Should I Use a Commentary for Bible Study?
I was in elementary school when I asked for my first Bible. I had read my children’s Bible cover to cover and was ready for the real deal. I didn’t want to use the church pew Bibles or the ones stacked in the corner of my Sunday school classroom anymore. As we went into the Christian bookstore, my mom explained to the owner what we were looking for. He pulled out a white imitation leather Bible with gold on the edges of the pages.
“This one should be perfect for you,” he said. “It’s a version that’s easy to read—it’s great for children about her age who are good readers.”
I looked at the Bible, then at the man. “But… is it a real Bible?”
My mom was humiliated, but the man laughed heartily and said, “Do you think my Bibles aren’t real Bibles?” He went on to explain that this Bible was like any other; it was just an easier translation.
I wasn’t trying to humiliate my mother or suggest that the store owner was some kind of shady, fake Bible seller. Rather, I didn’t want to read the words of someone else anymore—I wanted to hear God speak to me clearly through his Word.
Many of us come with a similar fear when thinking about using commentaries or study Bibles. We wonder if we’re compromising on God’s Word or if we’re neglecting the hard work of studying Scripture for ourselves. We hear people say things like, “No creed but the Bible!” and accuse each other of following the teachings of man rather than God. We don’t want to do that. However, commentaries can be a great asset to our time with God when we use them well and choose the right ones.
Why Bible Commentaries Are Important to Bible Study
While the Bible is clear on the essentials of the faith, not all of Scripture is equally as clear. If you’re like me, you interpret information incorrectly sometimes—not just Scripture. Perhaps you read a novel and came to a different conclusion than your friend did about the ending. Maybe you and your husband both read the instructions to the new bookshelf and disagree about where that twentieth screw is supposed to go. The same can be true of Scripture. We’re fallible people who make mistakes and misunderstand one another. We often need multiple perspectives and explanations to help us wrap our minds around an idea or topic.
Part of the difficulty with the Bible is that even though it’s living and active (Heb. 4:12) (meaning it transcends all of history and culture and can apply to anybody anywhere), it was also written in ancient languages we don’t know as well anymore. In addition, it was written to specific people who are long dead, and it was addressed to and about specific places that were different than they are now.
Because of these barriers that can confuse the text for us, we need the help of people who have spent years studying the historical and literary contexts to help us. A good commentary or study Bible comes alongside us to help us unravel these mysteries so we can better understand and apply God’s Word.
How to Choose a Good Bible Commentary
Not all study Bibles or commentaries are created equally. Some claim to be studies yet only teach their own simplistic, surface-level interpretations of the text. We need to be discerning. This doesn’t mean we search for a perfect commentary, because no such commentary exists. Like us, even seminary professors make mistakes and believe wrong theology. It’s about what kind of mistakes they are making—are they related to the gospel or the doctrine of God (the essentials of the faith), or are they over secondary or tertiary issues such as end times or worship styles? Are they simply choosing one of the many good and viable interpretations of a text, or are they trying to propose something new and unheard of before?
Here are a few questions we can ask when considering a commentary:
- What theological tradition are they working from? Is this an evangelical, historic Christian tradition?
- What do they believe about the gospel, doctrine of God, and doctrine of Scripture?
- What qualifications do they have? Where did they go to school, and what does that school believe?
- What are the beliefs of the publisher?
- Who endorsed it?
Shedding light on these questions can help us discern the reliability of a commentary before we purchase it.
Bible Commentary Recommendations
Here are a few solid commentaries to get you started:
- Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible (you can read it for free here or buy it)
- John Calvin’s complete commentary on the Bible (you can read it for free here or buy a Kindle version)
- ESV Study Bible
- Spurgeon CSB Study Bible
- New Studies in Biblical Theology series
- ESV Expository Commentary series by Crossway
- God’s Word For You series by The Good Book Company
- Ligonier’s recommended commentaries for every single book of the Bible
Don’t forget to ask your local pastor. He probably knows of good commentaries that he refers to regularly, so reach out to him for recommendations as well.
A commentary can make a great companion to your time with God. Don’t be afraid to keep one alongside you as you study his Word. It doesn’t mean you’re lazy or incapable, but rather wise for not trusting your own understanding to get Scripture right every single time.
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Meet the Author
Lara d’Entremont is a wife and mom to three from Nova Scotia, Canada. Lara is a writer and learner at heart—always trying to find time to scribble down some words or read a book. Her desire in writing is to help women develop solid theology they can put into practice—in the mundane, the rugged terrain, and joyful moments. You can find more of her writing at laradentremont.com.