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Comments on Commentaries

By Mark Van Dyke

Commentaries are perhaps the single most popular category of Bible reference book. Pastors, teachers, laypeople, students, missionaries, and Bible translators all find commentaries to be a crucial tool for studying the Bible. Logos Bible Software offers dozens of commentaries, ranging from one-volume works to multi-volume sets, scholarly to popular approaches, with a variety of denominational voices represented. The purpose of this article is to briefly discuss the uses for commentaries, various types of commentaries available, and benefits of using commentaries in Logos Bible Software.

What is a Commentary & What Is It Good For?

Commentaries contain comments and observations on the biblical text, organized in the same order as the biblical text. Most people turn to commentaries for an explanation of a passage or passages they are studying. “The commentator seeks to explain a text so that a modern reader of an ancient text can understand it.”Edgar Krentz

Commentaries are one of the best ways to check your own interpretation of Scripture against that of others and benefit from knowledge that was bought at the price of years of study and toil. They can help you avoid errors and misunderstandings about the Bible, and improve your understanding of biblical passages and themes. Most commentaries include an introduction to each book of the Bible that discusses authorship, dates, the circumstances in which the book was written, intended audience, and the relationship of that book to the rest of the Bible. The introduction also presents an outline of the book or at least breaks it down into major sections and themes. The introduction is typically followed by running commentary that moves verse-by-verse or section-by-section through the book, discussing the Bible text. The discussion can range from highly technical commentary on the Greek or Hebrew to breezy exposition and application…or anything in between.

What Kinds of Commentaries Are There?

It’s difficult to organize commentaries into distinct categories because there’s a lot of overlap in what each series or author sets out to accomplish, and whatever labels are chosen will certainly be disputable. But commentaries tend to take an approach to the Scriptures that is either more critical or more popular in orientation. A critical commentary series such as International Critical Commentary Series or New International Greek Testament Commentary includes a great deal of technical discussion about the Greek/Hebrew/Aramaic text, interacts with scholarly literature, and may use higher critical methods* to investigate Scripture. The authors of critical commentaries often produce their own translations. These commentaries assume the reader is conversant with biblical languages and text critical methods*, and can find his way around an apparatus. At the other end of the spectrum are popular (”devotional”) commentaries such as the Life Application Bible Commentary that serves a different purpose. These commentaries are written as interpretive and devotional aids for laypeople who read the Bible in English. They avoid technical or textual discussions and instead focus on the interpretation and application of Scripture to everyday life.In between are commentaries that take a pastoral approach, addressing the specific needs and concerns of the preacher or teacher (Pulpit Commentary Series), and those that embrace an exegetical (text-centered) approach but remain accessible to readers without formal language training (e.g., New American Commentary Series, Baker’s New Testament Commentary Series).

Why Do I Need More than One Commentary?

Having access to commentaries from a few different theological viewpoints can be a good way to familiarize yourself with a range of interpretations of a given passage. Owning both new and old commentaries means that you will gain insight not only from contemporary sources but also from those who lived in other times and may have had blind spots and prejudices different from our own. In his book Multipurpose Tools for Bible Study, F. W. Danker recommends spending time with past commentators, because:

 “…Scripture does not always reveal its secrets in the same measure to each generation, much less to every expositor. Interpretive sensitivity is required; people like Chrysostom, Luther, Calvin, Bengel, Westcott, Lightfoot, and others had it. To deprive oneself of an encounter with such princely blood is to impoverish oneself.”

Using Commentaries in Logos Bible Software 

Commentaries can be expensive, so you should be sure to reap the maximum benefit from every dollar you spend on commentaries. Logos Bible Software helps you do this by ensuring that you actually use all the commentaries you own, that you use more of each commentary’s contents, and that you use them more efficiently.

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