Choosing a Commentary
Bible commentary books provide the scholarly analysis and insights of students of the Scriptures. Often there are maps, and charts, along with helpful background information. While they are not, in themselves, divinely inspired, the best can give us a great deal of help in understanding God's Word. We will look at some commentaries in three categories: Bible dictionaries, verse by verse commentaries, and study Bibles.
The New Strong's Exhaustive Concordance is an updated version of Dr. Strong's century-old work. Since the Bible is actually the most basic (and best) commentary on itself, this concordance enables you to check what God's Word has to say on various subjects. Look up the various times a word such as "prayer," or "faith" is used in the Bible. Check the definition of the original Greek and Hebrew words used. If you have no other study book in you home, get a Strong's. Highly recommended.
The New Unger's Bible Dictionary is an updated version of Dr. Merrill Unger's 1961 work. One of the best one-volume Bible dictionaries. Whether you want to learn about the mustard seed, or the Philistines, or something else, Unger will help you. An excellent book to have in your library.
The Victor Handbook of Bible Knowledge is not precisely a "dictionary," but it fits this category better than the others. Gilbert Beers has produced a beautiful volume covering 300 major Bible stories. For each, there is an array of pictures, historical background, and more. An excellent book for children, to help them see how things were in Bible times.
Vine's Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words is well worth having. Vine did not complete the Old Testament section, but the New Testament (Greek) section is excellent. The author not only provides definitions of all the key words in the New Testament, he shows the theological intent of each in its context.
Atlas of the Bible Lands, by Harry Thomas Frank. The study Bibles described below each contain a number of maps. However, it is worthwhile to have a more complete set in your home library. This inexpensive book fills the bill.
Verse by Verse Commentaries
The Believer's Bible Commentary on the New King James Version is the creation of Bible teacher William MacDonald. His main focus is the New Testament. The Old Testament notes are comparatively sparse. But the whole volume contains insightful comments that are easy to understand, and reliable.
The KJV Parallel Bible Commentary provides the complete text of the King James Version, side by side with a fine, verse-by-verse commentary. Conservative, and practical.
The Bible Knowledge Commentary (2 Volumes) is based on the text of the New International Version. Written by a number of scholars on the faculty of Dallas Theological Seminary, this commentary is detailed, and reliable. An excellent addition to any library.
The Bible Exposition Commentary covers only the New Testament. Written by Dr. Warren Wiersbe, the former director of Back to the Bible, it provides understandable and devotionally practical comments on each book of the New Testament.
Thru the Bible is a commentary based on the radio ministry of J. Vernon McGee. It is available in five volumes, or as a CD-ROM. The latter contains other books by Dr. McGee, and other valuable study aids.
A good study Bible gives you the benefit of a one-volume, portable Bible dictionary, atlas, and commentary. Though a bit more expensive than a text-only Bible, the benefits of having easy access to so much helpful information are obvious. As long as we keep in mind that it is the Bible that is divinely inspired, not the notes, any of those described below can be of tremendous benefit.
The Scofield Bible. One of the earliest and best of the study Bibles was created in 1909 by Cyrus I. Scofield. It has gone through a number of revisions, with the latest being called The Scofield Study Bible III. Extensive notes and a unique system of cross references aid the reader in understanding the teachings of the Scriptures. It is available in a number of Bible versions. Highly recommended.
The Ryrie Study Bible is the work of Charles Caldwell Ryrie. First published in 1986, it was revised and updated in 1995. With many helpful notes and charts, Dr. Ryrie's work is available in several Bible versions.
The MacArthur Study Bible was produced in 1997. It is the work of pastor and Bible teacher John MacArthur. A condensation of MacArthur's many longer commentaries, this volume puts a lot of information at the reader's fingertips. Where Scofield concentrates more on explaining Christian doctrine, MacArthur focuses on explaining the actual text in his extensive notes. (Ryrie's work is somewhere between, containing both doctrinal and textual notes.)