Helpful Historical Commentary Series

I like scholarly commentaries, I really do. Anytime I preach or teach through a particular biblical book, I make a point of reading through two or three such commentaries, knowing that if they are worth their salt they will interact with other scholars and tell me what I need to know. But as I prepare a sermon or lesson I try to read at least as many “homiletical” or “devotional” commentaries and “pre-critical” commentaries as I do modern scholarly works. I have specific reasons for this practice.

I read through homiletical or devotional commentaries because I want to teach or preach Scripture to God’s people. I firmly believe that it helps to read others whose commentaries are based upon their own teaching and preaching, preferably in the context of the local church. I find they often bring out pastoral insights and relevant points of application that are often absent from scholarly commentaries.

I read through pre-critical commentaries because, in addition to normally being homiletical or devotional in nature, such works force me to interact with writers whose context was different and who often did not belong to my particular ecclesiastical tradition. Some of my favorites are John Chrysostom, John Calvin, the Puritans, and occasionally other church fathers or earlier Baptist writers like John Gill. You can find a lot of helpful resources on the internet.

A great blessing to the church in recent years has been the rise of commentary series that focus on pre-critical writings from particular periods of church history. I want to highlight three series, two of which I presently use and one forthcoming series I eagerly await.

First is the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (IVP), edited by Tom Oden. You can read Dr. Oden’s general introduction to the series here. This series covers the Patristic era. My SEBTS colleague Steve McKinion contributed the volume on Isaiah I-39.

Second is The Church’s Bible (Eerdmans), edited by Robert Louis Wilken. This series covers the first millennium of church history. Wilken’s fine introductory essay was republished by First Things in March 2008 and can be read here. Three volumes have been published so far.

Finally, the Reformation Commentary on Scripture (IVP) is a forthcoming series co-edited by Timothy George and Scott Manetsch. This series covers the Reformation era. My SEBTS colleagues McKinion and David Hogg are each contributing a volume to this series.

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  1. Matt Easter   •  

    I agree. I have also found pre-modern commentaries very helpful. I actually used McKinion’s volume a couple of weeks ago. I haven’t used The Church’s Bible, but each of the Ancient Christian Commentary volumes I have used (Isaiah 1-39; Romans; Hebrews; Revelation; and others, I think) have been great. The challenge for me with this series is to try and be faithful to the context of the interpreters surveyed. The temptation is to use the commentary in a proof-texting way without really doing justice to the argument. (This is a temptation for me – I am not ascribing this fault to the editors of the commentary.) As you said, I would definitely encourage everyone to check out these resources.

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