How to Begin a Commentary Collection
Though I’m certainly no scholar, I do enjoy putting a lot of time and effort into studying God’s Word (and especially so as I have increased opportunities to teach and preach to others). As I’ve found real joy and benefit in such study, I’ve quickly realized the benefits and importance of commentaries—good commentaries. I’ve also learned just how inadequate my commentary collection really is. To that end I’ve been working towards a solid collection that will serve me well for a good long time. Because of the relatively high cost of commentaries and because of the danger inherent in a truly bad commentary, I have proceeded quite carefully, attempting to thoroughly research the options. I wouldn’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on commentaries only to find that they are nearly useless. Plus, I enjoy a good research project.
Here are a few principles I have discovered about commentaries.
Focus on individual volumes rather than sets. While some sets are excellent, and while they look awfully nice on a bookshelf, all sets tend to be at least somewhat uneven; some titles within the set will necessarily be of much lesser quality than others. Therefore…
…the best strategy for a modest library (and a modest budget) is to purchase the best one or two commentaries on each book of the Bible. The difficulty, of course, is discovering which are the best. Fortunately…
…there are resources available to help find the best commentaries. When purchasing commentaries it is wise to depend on the expertise of others, at least when you are purchasing your first volumes. Even though no two people will agree entirely on which commentaries are best, it is possible to do research and come to some level of agreement. At the end of this article is a partial list of the resources I used to compile my selections. Do remember…
…there are many kinds of commentaries and they are geared to different audiences. Be sure that you choose commentaries appropriate to your level of education and expertise. Do not buy a Greek-heavy commentary if you do not know the language!
Though the best bang for the buck is in individual commentaries, there are some sets worth owning (or in my case, worth coveting!). The New International Commentary on the New Testament appears to be the best complete New Testament set and 22 of the volumes are available bundled together for just over $500. Its Old Testament equivalent, the New International Commentary on the Old Testament offers 22 volumes for around $650. Both sets come with most but not all of the volumes so a few of the most recent titles will need to be purchased separately.
Here, then, based on extensive research (I own only a small handful of these, so I am relying almost entirely on secondary sources), is my assessment of the best two commentaries on each book of the New Testament (my Old Testament list is still a work in progress). Generally speaking I would recommend purchasing the first one listed before the second. Looking at this list, I can see that I have a lot of work to do to build even this basic collection (so, you know, keep clicking on those banners on my site before buying anything at Amazon!). I hope you find the list useful.
Here are a few of the resources I used to compile the list:
- Desiring God
- Oak Hill College
- Andreas Kostenberger
- Keith Mathison
- Ligonier Ministries
- D.A. Carson in New Testament Commentary Survey
- Colin Adams
If you have anything to add, either by way of tips on collecting commentaries or on suggestions for individual commentaries, feel free to post a comment.