Saturday, July 23, 2011

Comments on Commentaries, Part 1

I am in the process of rebuilding or building up my collection of Biblical commentaries. I find commentaries very useful in increasing my personal understanding of books of the Bible, and for crafting more thoughtful sermons.

Take my musings for what they are worth. I am not a scholar. I have no Ph.D and very likely never will (I'll do well to earn a D.Min one of these days). I am also not a prominent preacher by any means. I am no Craig Barnes or Michael Lindvall (although I can say I know those two gentlemen). At this stage of my ministry I am a country preacher, serving a very small but well educated congregation in the Florida panhandle. I am grateful to God for this call. But that's another story.

When considering which commentaries to purchase, I ask myself certain questions and weigh many factors. Maybe these will be helpful for you if you are a pastor starting out in ministry, or even if you have some ministry under your belt and wonder where you are going from here.

One question inevitably concerns price ... the bottom line for many of us. I have a decent by not unlimited yearly book allowance. I have to budget my purchases. Obviously, I try to obtain the best commentaries for the lowest price. Sometimes commentaries will be featured for a very attractive price on a site like Christian Book Distributors (by the way, this is a marvelous site for any Christian book need. While the selection is predominately evangelical, there are healthy selections of more mainline or liberal works and some Catholic books too).

How does one define "best" commentaries? I think it depends on overall reputation of a series and an author, as well as what you are looking for theologically. I tend to want theologically conservative works, ideally with a Reformed bent. But I also look for works that are academically strong. Within those parameters, I have found volumes of the New International Commentary on the Old Testament (NICOT) and the New International Commentary on the New Testament (NICNT) to be outstanding. They are scholarly without being confusing (to me), and evangelical while interacting with other perspectives. They give excellent background information and solid interpretations. You will see that the entire series is pricey, though. If you want to own a complete series, NICOT/NICNT is tough to afford. Plus, not every book of the Bible is yet included.

Some individual commentaries in that series are considered the best around. I have found Hamilton on Genesis and Moo on Romans to be outstanding. But neither comes cheaply ... Moo is about $40 and Hamilton is considerably more, as his Genesis commentary comes in two volumes. The cost for both volumes is about $63. Still, I think they are worth the cost.

Another favorite set of mine is the Expositor's Bible Commentary. This is much more affordable than the NICOT/NICNT. You can purchase all twelve volumes of the next most recent edition for $199 from Christian Book Distributors. In addition, a newly revised set of volumes are being published. The format of these revised commentaries is more attractive than previously (asthetics are not the most important consideration but are surely something to think about) and include many new contributors (here is a sample of the revised commentary volumes.) I think it is worthwhile, if you are theologically traditional, to accumulate the Expositor's set ... decent academically if not first rank, theologically conservative, and affordable.

I have been interested in obtaining a couple of sets that list for very low prices ... they may not be the absolute best available but they offer the biggest bang for the buck. A friend of mine is offering to send me an extra set of the Keil-Delitzsch Old Testament Commentaries, which represent the best of conservative scholarship of the 19th century. Dated, to be sure, but they have an enduring value and interact with (well, refute) the rationalist-modernist theories of the same era, which are themselves quite dated nowadays. If you do want to buy the set they sell for about $70 on ... unbeatable for 10 hardcover volumes.

I also plan to acquire, but not until next year when my book allowance is renewed, the complete New Testament Commentary set of Hendrickson and Kistemaker, which is billed as the only complete NT Commentary set written solely from a Reformed perspective. At $130 or so for 12 hardcover volumes, it's another great bargain and a good tool for the evangelical preacher.

I was recently given a great old commentary set, the six volume set by Matthew Henry, written in the 18th century, which reads very devotionally and provides good quotes for any sermon.

So, these are the commentaries I currently own or plan to obtain in the near future. In a later post I'll briefly discuss other commentaries I have used or considered but will not go with. If you have anything you'd like to share about your own commentary use please do so.