Building a biblical commentary library: commentary recommendations

One of the tools a pastor needs when preparing sermons is a biblical commentary. When I have enough money in my piggy bank, I would like to build a complete library of each book of the bible. My library of incomplete biblical commentaries is very loose and eclectic at this point. One option I’ve been contemplating on is whether to get one complete set of commentary from one publisher, or to build a collection of the best commentators from a variety of publishers. The drawback of the first option is that I would not get the best commentator on a specific book. If I did this, I would have to wait for years and years before investing in another complete set. These do not come cheap. Not many pastors even have a complete set of biblical commentaries in their own library. The advantage of doing this is that it will be the cheaper way to go. One can find complete sets on sale but rarely does one ever find single books on sale, especially the one you’re looking for. I’ve been debating whether to invest in the complete set of Word Biblical Commentary in the future since it has now been completed.

The second option of building a collection of the best commentators from a variety of publishers. This gives you the best of the best. However, the biggest drawback of doing it this way is price. It gets very expensive to purchase individual authors for each book of the bible. One might end up paying twice the amount of money than if one were to buy a complete set of the same publisher. Another disadvantage of doing this is that your library will end up looking very eclectic. I’ve been doing some research on commentary recommendations and this is what I’ve found. Perhaps, you may find this research below useful. If you know of any good recommendation lists out there, let me know.

Several seminaries have their own lists of New and Old Testament recommendations:

Also great resource webpage for biblical references is found at I also found individuals with their personal recommendations. Tyler F. Williams , a professor at Taylor University College, has compiled a great list of recommended Old Testament commentaries. Ralph Klein, a Lutheran professor of Old Testament, who has his list of recommended commentaries for the O.T. And a conservative list New Testament commentaries can be found at Biblical Foundations. Desiring God also recommends certain commentaries. A Baptist pastor has his own list here.

[ added July 2008]: Other bloggers have posts on commentaries here. Blogger, Tim Challies, gives his list of recommended N.T. commentaries here. See also by the late Robert Nguyen Cramer. A seminarian, Andy Goodliff, has a post on commentaries here. And I’ll throw in an anonymous Amazon listmania here too.

And blogger Jeremy Pierce at Parableman has done a very good work putting together a comprehensive list of commetaries. He speaks on various series of commentaries here, and lists his favorites of each level from: advanced, intermediate, to basic, plus forthcoming commentaries (a more comprehensive list). ]

[ added Sept. 2010]: a recent, and a very good one, I found is at, a site developed by blogger John Dyer, who also blogs at Don’t Eat the Fruit.

11 thoughts on “Building a biblical commentary library: commentary recommendations

  1. Greetings in the precious name of our Lord Jesus, I am Pastor SAM from Pakistan. I just read your Website, and came to know that you are approaching the whole world.And to share the word of God in their own language, it is necessary to translate Bible teaching and put it on website.
    On behalf of my church translation team , I am going to write you. To bear the whole expenses of our church and 2 schools for deserving Christian children, our church translation team has been serving in the field of translation for last six years. We are translating only biblical materials, studies and articles from English into Urdu(110 Milion understand), Punjabi(90 Million understand), Seraikie(13 Million understan) and Sindhi (10 Million). Our team is doing this service at very low rates 0.0350 cent against per English word.
    We offer our services to spread the message of God in our local languages.Hope you will consider my request
    In Jesus


  2. Aside from classics, such as Barnes, Henry, Wesley etc. I mostly use Beacon`s Bible Commentary for an evangelical take, and The Interpreter`s Bible (the set from the 1950`s, not the New Interpreter`s Bible)for more of a mainline take.


  3. Rich, you’re talking with wisdom from 25 years of experience. Thanks for your advice. I’ll take it.


  4. Buying an entire set is not usually the best way to build a library. The commentaries in a set tend to be uneven in quality, scholarship, etc. An eclectic approach allows you to select the best commentaries for the specific book you are studying – unless you have tons of money, in which case, you can send some. LOL

    And if you get more than one commentary per book, it is wise to get different perspectives (conservative / liberal, liturgical / non-liturgical, etc.). Over the past 25 years I have built my library as I teach a book of the Bible, now averaging 3-5 commentaries for each book I have taught (and at least one commentary for every book of the Bible.)

    Blessings on your search!



  5. Nathan, I’ll have to make that correction that WBC is still incomplete. I, too, have the Expositor’s Bible Commentary on CD. Overall, the Anchor Bible series is pretty good with very good scholarship but it’s probably geared towards those who know the original languages though.


  6. Iyov, thanks for the link to a really good list of recommendation by Tyler Williams. I took a look at his list and I really like his explanation of why he likes particular commentaries. His list is so long that it’s almost like a bibliography. I really appreciate it.


  7. I’m currently using the Expositor’s Bible Commentary for reference, though at 12 volumes it’s probably not what you’re after. However my dad recently acquired the WBC on CD-ROM and has shipped me all of his paper volumes. I anticipate receiving them and it is a blessing since I couldn’t afford to buy them at this point in time. I’ve compared lots of sets at the local universities and seminary. The WBC is pretty good, I also like the Anchor series as well as Hermeneia, though I dislike the format of the latter. I know Fee has a list of recommendations in his How to Read the Bible, though my situation precludes going the route of piece by piece.

    If you have a local seminary where you can walk in and have a look for yourself I’d highly recommend it. My next commentary purchase will probably be the JPS Torah series which looks good but I haven’t had a chance to read yet. On a final note, I don’t think the WBC is quite done yet, per this link.


  8. Kevin: You left out the most useful commentary site of all: Tyler Williams annotated list of commentaries to the Hebrew Bible.

    I very much appreciate Tyler’s list for several reasons:

    (a) He distinguishes between commentaries aimed at a lay audience, those aimed at pastors or teachers, and those aimed at academics.

    (b) He freely mixes “conservative” and “liberal” and commentaries from different traditions (e.g., Jewish, conservative Christian, etc.) He explains the features of each.

    (c) He indicates his favorites without bias.

    (d) He discusses not only commentaries in series, but also individual commentaries.

    I very much appreciate commentaries, because reading them is like having a teacher guiding me through the text. I discover many things through commentaries that I would not have noticed on my own; particularly when they refer to the original language or reception history.


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