Until fairly recently, I never really thought much about Bible commentaries. In fact, during college I worked at a Christian bookstore, and even then I only vaguely knew what a commentary was. It never even occurred to me to pull one off the shelf and leaf through it.
But that changed in late 2018. One of the drivers was a conversation with one of my former youth groupies, who has beat the odds and maintained a growing and vibrant faith during her college years. She mentioned that she had been using Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary during her Bible study and devotion times. I had heard of Matthew Henry, but had not read him. After that discussion, I could sense the Holy Spirit saying, “Hey, your former student is going deeper into study than you have been. Maybe you should step up”.
And so began my research into the world of commentaries. That exploration opened up its own little universe, because there are lots of commentaries out there (and even more opinions about which ones are the best) . It became apparent pretty quickly that many commentaries (and commentary sets) are really geared more towards seminary students. Some people spend thousands of dollars assembling their commentary collections. My goal was to find generally well-regarded resources that were also approachable for a lay person.
After much research, I ended up going with a couple of items. The first is a 2-volume abridged version of the Expositor’s Bible Commentary. The full version of Expositor’s is a 12-volume set (7 volumes for the Old Testament, and 5 volumes for the New Testament). But this abridged 2-volume version (one volume for the Old Testament, one for the New Testament) comes pretty highly rated for personal study. The content is a collaboration of 56 different contributors with diverse expertise in biblical scholarship. Of the two resources I purchased, this set is the more “scholarly”, but it also maintains a deep reverence for the truth of scripture.
Secondly, I ended up getting the previously mentioned Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary, which is a single-volume abridged version of Henry’s original 6-volume commentary from the 1700s. Although Henry’s old English vernacular sometimes requires a bit more concentration while reading, there’s a devotional element to his commentary that makes it all the more charming and compelling.
I’ll summarize them by saying that the Expositor’s volumes excel at engaging the head, and Matthew Henry excels at engaging the heart, making them quite complementary. Since I started using these resources, I’ve gotten so much more out of my study of scripture than I ever had before. It’s a little like being taught by an encouraging professor and pastor as I read and study God’s word.
I should point out that Henry’s commentaries are in the public domain, and can be downloaded in electronic format from the Christian Classics Ethereal Library. I’ve done that, but I honestly prefer the tactile experience of opening up a book as I’m studying.
Both the abridged Expositor’s volumes and the Matthew Henry Concise Commentary are also available electronically from biblegateway.com, via their Bible Gateway Plus membership. For $3.99/month, you can get access to these volumes, as well as other commentaries, Bible dictionaries, and other assorted study helps.
Whether it’s these resources or some other choice, I’d encourage every lay person to add a commentary or two to your library, as an additional resource on top of your study Bible. They can take your understanding – and appreciation – of the Bible to a whole new level.
The 2-volume Abridged Expositor’s Commentary:
From Christian Book: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Abridged Edition: 2 Volumes
From Amazon: Abridged Expositor’s Commentary
Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary:
From Christian Book: Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible
From Amazon: Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary