June 12, 2009

Biblical Commentaries

Today we continue with Good Pastoral Suggestions -
an idea recommended by Dr. Marian Plant in her book
Faith Formation for Vital Congregations

One-Volume Commentaries

Harper Collins publishes high quality materials, and their Harper Collins Bible Commentary is no exception. The General Editor is James Luther Mays, a Professor Emeritus from Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, Virginia, and a former president of the Society of Biblical Literature.

This one volume commentary is well-researched, scholarly, and best of all, easy to use. I think that one of it's strong points is the strong quantity of historical material that puts Biblical times into context. It reviews books of the Bible by passage, not verse by verse.

Multi-Volume Commentaries

These are much more difficult to recommend, because even the very best of commentary sets display unevenness, because of different authorship and varying styles of Biblical interpretation.

For example, one of the most extensive commentaries currently available is the Anchor Yale Bible (Commentary). Many volumes have been produced since the 1960's. The two-volume set of Raymond Brown's Gospel of John and two-volume set of Ephesians by Karl Barth's son, Markus Barth, have stood the test of time and are rarely matched for theological excellence. Other commentaries, sadly, are very poor, and frankly, practically worthless.

Another example: the Hermeneia Commentary set from Fortress Press is an excellent commentary, but difficult to use by anyone who is not versed in biblical languages.

By doing research, you can find out which Genesis, Ezekiel, or Gospel of John commentaries are considered the best of their field, but generally speaking, I advise against getting a multi-volume commentary set without being aware of all the strengths and limitations of that particular set.