Just how many commentaries are there on the market today?
Taken from Best Commentaries, this list consists of 234 different commentary series (with the exception of a few, i.e., NSBT). Disregarding the fact that some biblical books come packed together in certain commentaries, 234 different series multiplied by the 66 books of the Bible comes out to a whopping 15,444 commentaries. Unless you’re Richie Rich and you have discovered the fountain of youth, you’re not giong to be reading 15,444 commentaries within the span of your life. And why would you want to? Some are very dated, others just aren’t good. So how are you supposed to be able to choose which commentary is the right one?
John F. Evans provides us with his 10th edition of A Guide to Biblical Commentaries and Reference Works. His first edition came out in 1989, and 27 years later scholars, teachers, pastors, laymen alike are served by this new 10th edition.
What’s in this edition?
Evans starts by giving the reader “Two Warnings for Orientation” and about how commentaries are not to be used as a crutch. No matter how many commentaries you do read, nor how many you want to read, they do not replace your own personal Bible study efforts. All commentators have their own background of ideas and beliefs (conservative, liberal, and all in between). None of them will be 100% right, even if you combined them all. You ought to know how to study the Bible for yourself. You may end up in a situation where you can’t bring any commentaries with you.
Then he gives a few pages for:
- Book Format
- Standards for Evaluating Commentaries
- Background Reading
- Other Bible Reference Works
- Old Commentaries & Foreign Language Works
- Notes on Computer Technology
He spends 25 pages explaining the different commentary series, and a few new ones have cropped up since the 9th edition (e.g., ABCS, BMT, ZECNT, ZECOT, etc).
Next, Evans, book-by-book, lists his top five or six commentaries and gives a brief explanation of each one. After his highlights, he gives a successive list on other commentaries helping to sift between the good, the bad, and the ugly, with the good usually being in bold. It’s amazing the vast amounts of detail he gives overall. Where someone finds this kind of time for a quality reference book like this is (still) beyond me.
Evans doesn’t simply give information. He often informs the reader if a commentary is more help to the student, the pastor, or the scholar (or any mix of them). He notes if a commentary is so large and dense that the average pastor may find little value for weekly his preparation, but a student or scholar will find the book of great value. This is necessary because no commentary is the same, and it is a letdown when a pastor buys a commentary only to find out that it has been written with only the pure scholar in mind. Evans has a symbol key to show how critical a commentary is.
Aside from the biblical books, Evans provides information on books covering 10 different topics:
- Pentateuchal Studies
- Reading Narrative & the Former Prophets
- Poetry & Wisdom Literature
- Prophets & Prophetic Literature
- Apocalyptic Literature
- The Twelve Minor Prophets
- Jesus & Gospels Research
- Sermon on the Mount
- The Parables of Jesus
- Pauline Studies
At the end of the book he gives his top picks for pastors on a budget (Bargains for a Bare-Bones Library). Next he gives his Ideal Basic Library for the Pastor. If a pastor could only buy two commentaries, on each book of the Bible, which ones would be the best to choose from?
Then he lists OT, NT, and whole Bible reference tools. Lastly he presents his if-money-were-no-object Ultimate Reference Library.
The Spoiled Milk
This is a superb up-to-date reference book. My only complaint is when Evans talks more about the commentator than about the commentary itself. For example, on Barnabas Lindars’ Judges 1-5 commentary, Evans says,
This Catholic scholar long taught at Manchester and was an accomplished OT and NT exegete. Sadly, he died before he could complete this work, and the publisher released it outside the ICC series. (a 19th century interpreter, Bachmann, also only got to ch. 5.) Here you’ll find approximately 300pp. of exceedingly careful and comprehensive textual analysis which will be valued by serious researchers for decades to come. (115)
But considering that Evans fills 371 pages worth of material on commentaries and topical/canonical guides, we really can’t expect a full review of each commentary. And often when Evans does speak about the commentator, the reader should be able to see the commentator’s perspective and know if they would find the commentary useful or not.
If you are a pastor or a student who is of the kind which uses commentaries, this book will save you time and money. Although since you’ll know which commentaries are the ‘good’ ones, you may end up spending more money buying them all (or spending a lot of time on Amazon praying for deals). Regardless, this would be a worthy addition to your library. The 10th editions is 80 pages longer than the 9th edition.
There are also two single Testament commentaries out now. One is authored by Tremper Longman (Old Testament Commentary Survey), the other by D. A. Carson (New Testament Commentary Survey). Both are great scholars, but I have found that Evans gives more detail in this whole Bible guide and is of a much higher quality and standard. If I’m not careful, a book like this may just make my blog obsolete!
- Author: John F. Evans
- Paperback: 480 pages
- Publisher: Zondervan; 10th edition (May 3, 2016)
An additional website that is very helpful in finding good commentaries: Best Commentaries
Disclosure: I received this book free from Zondervan. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.