This post was originally published at Rolfing Unshelved, a blog of the university library for which I work as a reference assistant.
We’ve all been there. Staring at a wall of Rolfing’s amazing collection of commentaries (or scrolling through an endless list of commentaries on TrinCat) and feeling bombarded, overwhelmed, and not sure where to start. Choosing commentaries can be tough — but it doesn’t have to be. Here are some tips on choosing the right commentary.
Note the type
There are many types of commentaries out there, e.g., expositional, devotional, technical, etc. So, first, know what kind of commentary for which you are looking; and, second, find that kind of commentary. Don’t expect Derek Kidner’s Proverbs commentary to be super technical. And don’t expect Michael Fox’s to be filled with pastoral insights and implications. Know what you are trying to find; and restrict your selection accordingly.
Note the series
Knowing the series of which a commentary is a part can tell you a lot about what the commentary will be like. Is the series editor an evangelical (such as D.A. Carson for the Pillar New Testament Commentary series)? Well, you can probably expect the commentaries to have an evangelical bent. Would the series fall within the critical scholarship camp (e.g., Hermeneia)? Then expect that commentary to engage with issues of criticism. Have you found other commentaries from this series helpful? Do you like the format of this series? Well, that may mean this particular commentary will prove helpful. Is this commentary series geared toward the languages (e.g., Word Biblical Commentary)? Then make sure to check out this one when doing your exegesis paper! Nonetheless, be careful not to stereotype by series or limit yourself to your “pet” series! Use your knowledge of the series; but ultimately judge commentaries on an individual basis.
Note the author
People often say, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” And that’s true (we have some awesome books here at Rolfing that have pretty ugly covers!). Nonetheless, I often find it helpful to judge a book by its author (before you read it of course!). For example, let’s say I’ve read Doug Moo before, specifically his Romans commentary; and I found him quite helpful. Well, when I go to find a commentary on Galatians, I’ll be sure to check his out. If presented with an array of commentaries, knowing some of the authors provides you with a good place to start.
Note the date
Now, we don’t want to discard a commentary just because it’s old. But, contemporary commentaries often make a practice of engaging with previously proposed interpretations. Therefore, in light of this, the newer the better! But, in another sense, we don’t just want to choose new commentaries because they are new. Church history has provided us with some excellent commentaries! And sometimes contemporary interpretations are just fads. So, it’s good to get some historical perspective.
I hope this assists you as you begin to sift through our commentaries. And remember, if you ever need additional help, just give us a visit at the reference desk!