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Mark Strauss: Suggestions on Selecting and Using Commentaries

17 February 2009

image As I prepare to teach my Biblical Interpretation class tonight, I found a series of questions by Dr. Mark Strauss of Bethel Seminary helpful. 

He suggests twelve questions in examining any commentary to see whether it is worth using/purchasing: 

  1. It is well organized & easy to use?
  2. Does it provide a good introduction, including literary genre, historical context, purpose & occasion
  3. Does the author demonstrate competence in the original languages?
  4. Does the author discuss interpretational problems? Some are too brief & skip difficult issues or passages.
  5. Does the author give a fair & balanced treatment of problems or does he/she demonstrate a bias?
  6. Does it comment on each verse or is it only section by section?
  7. Is there a bibliography to pursue further research
  8. Does author show familiarity with recent works regarding the issues dealt with in the book or is it only older works
  9. Does the author document sources? esp. ref to ancient writers in regard to customs.
  10. Does the author include hints for application/contextualization
  11. Does the author take unusual or novel interpretations which appear to go beyond the biblical author’s meaning?
  12. Does the commentary follow the main theme or argument of the book well, relating each section to the flow of the book or are there just many scattered exegetical comments?

But the whole issue is not resolved by the quality of the commentary.  There are four questions to ask yourself

  1. What are you needs?
  2. What are your original language skills?
  3. How much time do you have to study the text in question?
  4. Ask those with experience what commentaries they would recommend. There are also commentary surveys. DA Carson: NT Commentary Survey; Tremper Longman, OT Commentary Survey [pictured above] (both published by Baker)

And last, he give five tips for USING a commentary:

  1. Don’t let using a commentary replace your personal Bible study
  2. Do an inductive study of the passage before referring to the commentary
  3. Consult more than one if they are available to you. (especially with problem passages).
  4. Beware of simply seeking a commentary that simply agrees with you. Be willing to listen to other eyes.
  5. Watch out for the theological biases of the author and your own biases.

All pretty basic, but also pretty useful.  When you do use a commentary (and you need to avoid looking at them until you have done your own Bible study and exegesis of the text), these are some basic helpful guidelines.

Commentaries, Interpretation

3 Comments to “Mark Strauss: Suggestions on Selecting and Using Commentaries”

  1. thank you for this post. i’ve been given a real neat opportunity to do some indefinite interim preaching and have been looking into different commentary sets. its been quite overwhelming so far and a reasonable set of criteria like this is really going to help me out!

  2. that annonymous previous comment is what i get for not checking to see what gmail account i’m presently logged into. 🙂

  3. Blessings on this new endeavor!

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