The following is excerpted from the Advanced Bible Studies Course “How to Study the Bible,” available in print, and DVD formats from Way of Life Literature:
On several occasions, I have heard preachers condemn commentaries. One year when I was a young Christian, in fact, I determined to read and study the Bible alone and to forgo consulting any commentaries or other extra-biblical sources. I did this religiously and prayerfully for a few weeks, and I can testify that the Lord made it plain to me that I need help from men and that He was not going to give me everything by direct enlightenment. It is not that the Bible is weak or insufficient; it is that I am only one weak man and can't possibly know and understand everything without help. When I rejected the use of commentaries, I was left with my own meager resources. And though I have recognized gifts in understanding and teaching the Bible, I am at best only a very puny man with very limited ideas. Any man who is honest before God will affirm that most of his knowledge and understanding was learned from other men. God has ordained this. That is why we start life as a child and are dependent upon parents and tutors, and even as we grow older, we remain very dependent upon the help of others.
This is why I believe in good commentaries. If I were shut up on a remote island with only the Bible, I am sure the Lord would give me everything I needed directly through His Word, but that is not His normal way of operation. He has given ministry-gifted men to the churches and He uses them to edify the saints (Ephesians 4:11-14; 2 Tim. 2:2). I praise the Lord that some of the excellent teaching of past and present generations has been captured in print so I can possess it and consult it whenever I please. Such material is priceless.
Even those who condemn commentaries want their people to come faithfully to church to listen to their preaching and teaching. If it is right to listen to one preacher, why is it wrong to listen to other sound preachers? Some preachers seem to be afraid of books, yet a good Christian book is simply good preaching. While it is true that there are many heretical books available in the average Christian bookstore (we have warned about that in our video presentation "Dangers in Christian Bookstores"), it is not true that books themselves are wrong. God wrote a book! In Psalm 45:1, He said, "My tongue is the pen of a ready writer." Indeed, God has a powerful pen, and what a Book He wrote! The Apostles constantly communicated with the churches and individual believers through writing, and if they had possessed printing presses, we can be certain that they would have used them. Men of God through the centuries have valued the written and printed page. Charles Spurgeon, who is called the Prince of Preachers, advised the preachers in his Bible College to "sell your shirt and buy books." Recently the History Channel made a survey of a wide range of knowledgeable people in various fields on what is the most important invention of history. The thing that came in first was the printing press.
Charles Spurgeon did not have a lot of patience with preachers who despise commentaries. He addressed the following statement to his Bible School students:
“Of course, you are not such wiseacres as to think or say that you can expound Scripture without assistance from the works of divines and learned men who have laboured before you in the field of exposition. If you are of that opinion, pray remain so, for you are not worth the trouble of conversion, and like a little coterie who think with you, would resent the attempt as an insult to your infallibility. It seems odd, that certain men who talk so much of what the Holy Spirit reveals to themselves, should think so little of what he has revealed to others. My chat this afternoon is not for these great originals, but for you who are content to learn of holy men, taught of God, and mighty in the Scriptures. It has been the fashion of late years to speak against the use of commentaries. If there were any fear that the expositions of Matthew Henry, Gill, Scott, and others, would be exalted into Christian Targums, we would join the chorus of objectors, but the existence or approach of such a danger we do not suspect. The temptations of our times lie rather in empty pretensions to novelty of sentiment, than in a slavish following of accepted guides. A respectable acquaintance with the opinions of the giants of the past, might have saved many an erratic thinker from wild interpretations and outrageous inferences. Usually, we have found the despisers of commentaries to be men who have no sort of acquaintance with them; in their case, it is the opposite of familiarity which has bred contempt” (Spurgeon, Two Lectures Addressed to the Students of the Pastor’s College, Metropolitan Tabernacle, http://www.book-academy.co.uk/lectures/index.html).
SOME TIPS FOR USING COMMENTARIES EFFECTIVELY
(1) The commentaries must be written by men who are sound in the faith. The use of commentaries written by men who are unsound in the faith will cause more harm than good. A large percentage of the commentaries published today fall into this category.
(2) The commentary must be based on the right Scripture text. Most of the commentaries today are based upon unsound Bible texts and translations, such as the New International Version in English. The major Christian publishers are even republishing the old commentaries in modern Bible version editions. God did not inspire many different texts, and to say that the preserved Word of God today is found scattered somehow throughout all of the translations makes no sense if you believe that the Bible is the infallibly inspired Word of God. Referring to the Bible version issue, a wise pastor once said, "Things that are different are not the same." To say that two conflicting Bible versions are both the preserved Word of God is confusion. The Christian must have one Bible authority, not ten conflicting ones. This is why we advocate staying with the old Received Greek text which shook the world to its foundation in the 1500s and broke the age-old shackles of Rome and which shined the gospel to the ends of the earth as it was translated into all of the world's major languages in the 1500s, 1600s, 1700s, and 1800s. In English, the most powerful and accurate translation of the Received Text is the King James Bible. It has proven itself for 400 years to be dependable and uniquely blessed of God. You will not go astray if you stay with this old Standard, but that cannot be said about the modern versions which use corrupted Greek manuscripts and which employ unsound methods of translation, such as dynamic equivalency. Even some of the old commentaries, which contain some excellent thoughts, use the wrong Greek manuscripts. This is true of the notes in the Scofield Reference Bible, the Jamieson-Fausset-Brown's commentary, and William Newell's commentaries on Romans, Hebrews, and Revelation. Be careful about this. Though it is possible to use these commentaries to good advantage, the student must understand the textual issue and not be misled by their comments on this subject.
(3) The believer should not lean on commentaries. It is too easy to get into the habit of running to a commentary the moment we find something that we do not understand. This is not a good habit. Before going to a commentary, first try to make your own interpretation before the Lord. That way you will have a basis for analyzing what the commentator is saying. (The Way of Life Advanced Bible Studies Course “How to Study the Bible” explains how to do this. It is available from Way of Life Literature in book and video editions.)
(4) Commentaries must be judged carefully by the Scriptures (Acts 17:11; 1 Cor. 14:29; 1 Thess. 5:21). No commentator is infallible. The wise Bible student will carefully test everything the commentator says by comparing it to the Scripture itself. Beware of the presumption of commentators who try to add to the Word of God. For example, Jamieson, Fausset, Brown comments on Gen. 4:3 “And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the LORD,” as follows: “Hebrew, ‘at the end of days,’ probably on the Sabbath.” In fact, there is nothing in the Hebrew to signify that it was the sabbath and the KJV translation is perfectly fine. In his commentary on Noah’s flood, Matthew Henry claims that Noah sent out the raven and dove on the sabbath. He says, “This intimates that it was done on the sabbath day, which, it should seem, Noah religiously observed in the ark.” In fact, Henry was letting his imagination run wild, for there is not even a hint of such a thing in Scripture. These are examples of presumption on the part of the commentator.
(5) Bible commentaries have strengths and weaknesses. No man can effectively teach every part of the Bible. This is why single volume commentaries are often superior to whole Bible commentaries. Also, some commentaries will be sound in many parts but will have one or more areas of unsoundness. For example, many of the old commentators, such as Matthew Henry and even Charles Spurgeon, were unsound in their view of prophecy, though they are exceedingly helpful on other matters. For this reason, we recommend using Harry Ironside and J. Vernon McGee and other dispensational commentators for the prophets and Revelation. The Protestant-leaning commentators are also unsound in their view of the church, confusing Israel with the church, speaking wrongly of a “church of the Old Testament,” and other such errors. Another example are men such as John Gill and Arthur W. Pink, who were, in our estimation, unsound in their Calvinistic theology, of sovereign election and associated points, yet at the same time their commentaries contain many excellent thoughts apart from that.
For example, Adam Clarke, a Methodist, inserts infant baptism into his commentary on Matthew 28:19, even though there is no mention of such a thing in the Scripture: “But, certainly, no argument can be drawn from this concession against the baptism of children. When the Gentiles and Jews had received the faith and blessings of the Gospel, it is natural enough to suppose they should wish to get their children incorporated with the visible Church of Christ; especially if, as many pious and learned men have believed, baptism succeeded to circumcision, which I think has never yet been disproved” (Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible).
It is therefore important to know the theological position of the commentator, because this will be reflected in his notes.
SOME HELPFUL WHOLE BIBLE COMMENTARIES
THE ANNOTATED BIBLE by Arno Clemens Gaebelein (1861-1945), a fundamentalist Methodist, is a helpful commentary series that was published in nine volumes in 1913 by Van Kempen Press of Wheaton, Illinois. It is dispensational, and we have found many of the comments to be thoughtful and helpful. The Annotated Bible is available electronically in the Treasury of Rare Dispensational Commentaries which is part of the 2009 edition of the Fundamental Baptist CD Library, available from Way of Life Literature.
BIBLE KNOWLEDGE COMMENTARY. This practical and helpful commentary on the Old and New Testaments was written by professors at Dallas Theological Seminary. It was edited by John Walvoord (1910-2002) and Roy Zuck.
COMMENTARY ON THE HOLY BIBLE by Matthew Poole (1624-1679). Poole was a Puritan. “He graduated from Emmanuel College in Cambridge in 1645, and succeeded the great Anthony Tuckney at St. Michael-le-Querne church. This was the only pastorate Poole would hold. A strict Presbyterian, he resigned his living rather than conform to the Act of Uniformity.” His commentary, which was originally called a “Synopsis,” required 10 years of earnest labor. He awoke at 3 or 4 a.m. and studied and wrote until the afternoon. His work was first written in Latin, and its translation into English was finished after his death. The three-volume set of commentaries by Poole is not as extensive as that of Matthew Henry, but the tone and approach is similar. It is a helpful, concise commentary on the entire Bible. Poole’s commentary was originally published in 1685, not long after the completion of the King James Bible. He ransacked the commentary material of his day, incorporating the best of it into his work. A lot of thought is packed into the concise language of this commentary. Charles Spurgeon wrote, “... having read Matthew Henry as I have, I would rather have none other commentary beside that of Matthew Poole.” Matthew Poole’s commentary on the Bible is available in the Swordsearcher Bible software program, which can be purchased from Way of Life Literature.
EXPLORE THE BOOK by J. (James) Sidlow Baxter (c. 1903-199?). This is a Bible survey course. Baxter was born in Australia and grew up in Lancashire, England. He was a Baptist. “He attended Spurgeon’s College in London and pastored in England and Scotland. He authored twenty-six books and ministered in churches, Bible conferences, and missionary centers throughout the United States, Canada, Great Britain, and around the world.” Baxter shows Christ through the Scriptures. He is dispensational. He defends the infallibility of the Scriptures against modernism (defending Genesis 1-11 as literal, Mosaic authorship of Pentateuch, Jonah swallowed by whale, etc.). His article “Our Bible: The Most Critical Issue” defended the infallibility of the Scriptures: “I have said it many a time, and am surer of it than ever, that the life and death issue of Christianity is the inspiration and authority of the Bible.” He spends considerable time on the typology of the Old Testament. In his notes on Revelation, he hints at the possibility of a mid-tribulation Rapture, but he is not dogmatic on it and passes over it quickly. He treats the first part of the book of Acts as a renewed offer of the kingdom of God to Israel, which we strongly disagree with. He also presents a type of gap theory between Genesis 1:1-2, which we also disagree with. Originally this was a six-volume work. In 1960, Zondervan published a one-volume condensation.
EXPOSITION OF THE OLD AND NEW TESTAMENTS by John Gill (1697-1771). Gill was a renowned British biblical scholar and Baptist pastor. For over 50 years he pastored the Particular Baptist Church of Horselydown, Southwark, London, the church that later moved its location and became known as the Metropolitan Baptist Tabernacle of Charles Haddon Spurgeon fame. His knowledge of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew was equal to that of the greatest scholars of his day, and he diligently searched out and studied ancient materials relating to the Bible. The Baptist Encyclopedia observes that “no man in the eighteenth century was as well versed in the literature and customs of the ancient Jews as John Gill.” Spurgeon ranked Gill fifth among all commentators of the whole Bible and stated, “He is always worth consulting. ... for good, sound, massive, sober sense in commenting, who can excel Gill?” We personally overlook Gill’s complete capitulation to the most extreme TULIP Calvinism and glean from the riches of knowledge he passed on via his commentaries. The full set of Gill’s commentaries is published by The Baptist Standard Bearer, http://www.standardbearer.com. The Gill commentaries are also available in an electronic edition in the Swordsearcher Bible software package, which can be purchased from Way of Life Literature.
EXPOSITION OF THE OLD AND NEW TESTAMENTS by Matthew Henry (1662-1714). This set of early 18th-century commentaries (first published in part in 1708-10) remains one of the most helpful in print, in my estimation. In some areas we disagree with Matthew Henry’s doctrinal position (e.g., his allegorical interpretation of prophecy and his Protestant universal church), but rarely do we regret having consulted him. Henry, a nonconformist Presbyterian pastor, was a master of biblical languages and a diligent Bible student who ransacked the old commentary material of his day to pass the meat along to us. He had a lovely gift for organizing and expressing his thoughts. He died before completing the full commentary, having finished his work only through the book of Acts. The New Testament commentary from Romans to Revelation was completed by 14 other preachers of that day, all dissenters from the Church of England. There is now a New International Version edition of the Matthew Henry Commentary, and it is possible that the publishers will allow the KJV edition to go out of print at some point. We agree with Baptist pastor Charles Spurgeon’s assessment of Matthew Henry: “You will find him to be glittering with metaphors, rich in analogies, overflowing with illustrations, superabundant in reflections. Every minister ought to read Matthew Henry entirely and carefully through once at least. You will acquire a vast store of sermons if you read with your note-book close at hand; and as for thoughts, they will swarm around you like twittering swallows around an old gable towards the close of autumn.” Spurgeon notes that George Whitefield read Matthew Henry through four times during his life. All of this reminds us that men of God used to study the Bible much more than they do now.
Hendrickson Publishers has come out with an excellent one-volume edition of the Matthew Henry Commentary. It contains the entire text of the original multi-volume set, including chapter summaries and outlines. It omits the KJV text to conserve space, and it incorporates some helpful revisions: Roman numerals are changed to Arabic; Greek and Hebrew words are transliterated. The type style is smaller than that used in the multi-volume editions, but it is clear and legible. Hendrickson Publishers, P.O. Box 3473, Peabody, MA 01961, 508-532-6546.
Most of the Bible software packages, including Swordsearcher, include the unabridged Matthew Henry Commentary. There is also a software edition of an abridged edition of Matthew Henry, which is called the Matthew Henry Concise. It is TOO concise for my taste, though it can be helpful.
EXPOSITORY OUTLINES ON THE OLD AND NEW TESTAMENT by Warren Wiersbe (1929- ). Though Dr. Wiersbe is sadly committed to the New Evangelical philosophy, he is a gifted Bible commentator. His chapter-by-chapter Expository Outlines was completed decades ago during the 10 years (1961-1971) he pastored Calvary Baptist Church of Covington, Kentucky, before he became so thoroughly committed to the New Evangelical path he walks today (as pastor of Moody Church, associate editor of Christianity Today, working with Youth for Christ, board member of the National Religious Broadcasters, preaching at Willow Creek Community Church and at Billy Graham’s “Cove” center in North Carolina, etc.). The edition of Wiersbe’s notes published by Thomas Nelson is two volumes and is titled Bible Commentary New Testament and Bible Commentary Old Testament. The Cook Communications edition is also two volumes and is titled Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines on the Old and New Testaments. I have found the O.T. outlines to be particularly good. Wiersbe’s Outlines are available for Logos Bible Software and the PC Study Bible. Wiersbe takes the position that the kingdom was offered again to Israel in the early part of the book of Acts, but we do not agree with this.
GUIDE TO THE BIBLE by Harold L. Willmington (c. 1940- ). This volume contains the heart of the Bible school course developed in the early 1970s by Willmington for Jerry Falwell’s correspondence school. The last we knew, Willmington was still at Liberty University. We do not recommend this school, and it is sad to see men who should know better aligned with that type of compromise (hosting a Promise Keepers conference, promoting Billy Graham and his ecumenical evangelism, promoting the most radical charismatic ministries such as The Rock Church in Virginia Beach, promoting Christian rock, etc.). In his Guide to the Bible, which was first published in 1981, Willmington warned about “Christ-dishonoring methods used by some” and among these he listed “rock-and-roll sessions” (p. 50). Yet today he countenances this type of carnal methodology at Liberty and at churches associated with Liberty. Be that as it may, Willmington’s Guide to the Bible is a helpful volume. It is divided into two major sections: A chapter-by-chapter commentary on or survey of the entire Bible, and a section on Bible doctrine. The doctrinal studies are thorough and practical (though I have not gone through them carefully enough to note my disagreements). Willmington’s study on Genesis is particularly excellent. Willmington has published separate volumes entitled New Testament Survey and Old Testament Survey, but in our estimation, these are not as helpful as his original Guide to the Bible.
HALLEY’S BIBLE HANDBOOK by Henry Hampton Halley (1874-1965). He was a pastor and Bible lecturer who was ordained in 1898. Halley memorized entire books of the Bible and frequently quoted these in churches. He desired to see every Christian read the Bible daily, systematically, and fruitfully, and that is why he produced his Bible handbook. The first edition was a 16-page booklet, but it continued to grow until today it is 864 pages. It has gone through 24 editions. More than five million copies have been sold in many languages, including Spanish, French, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Thai, Russian, Greek, Tagalog, Cebuano, Indonesian, and Romanian. It contains a wide variety of helps in addition to the survey on the Old and New Testaments. These include maps and charts; archaeological notes; tables of weights, measures, and money; outline of Bible history; and comments on reading and memorizing the Bible. Halley approaches Bible prophecy from a non-committal position, presenting the literal interpretation as well as other interpretations, but he leans toward the non-literal.
HANDFULS ON PURPOSE by James Smith and Robert Lee (1886-1978). This five-volume set contains more than 2,000 expository outlines covering the whole Bible. James Smith was a Presbyterian minister in the village of Coalsnaugton Scotland. Robert Lee was Secretary-Superintendent of Manchester City Mission, Manchester, England (not the Southern Baptist preacher Robert G. Lee). I have not found many outline sets to be helpful, but these are practical and useful.
AN INTERPRETATION OF THE ENGLISH BIBLE by Benajah Harvey Carroll (1843-1914). This 13-volume set of commentaries on the entire Bible by the famous Baptist preacher B.H. Carroll was edited and published by J.B. Carnfill between the years 1913-16. Carnfield, who was associated with Carroll for many years and who taught Bible for more than 30 years at the seminary level, testified that Carroll was “one of the greatest Bible scholars and exegetes living in the world today.” Carnfield wrote that in the General Introduction to the commentary on Genesis in 1913, the year before Carroll died. The Wycliffe Biographical Dictionary says Carroll “was a powerful preacher, keen debater, ready writer, widely-read historian.” Carroll pastored the First Baptist Church of Waco, Texas, from 1871 to 1899. In 1894 he became the principal of the Bible department at Baylor University and was professor of English Bible there from 1901 to 1910. He was influential in creating the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1910 and was president of Southwestern until his death in 1914. He published 33 books, including a volume on Baptist Doctrine and many influential pamphlets on such topics as “Communion from a Bible Standpoint” and “The Modern Social Dance.” Calvary Publications in Fort Worth, Texas (P.O. Box 181212, Ft. Worth, TX 76118, 817-281-4720) still carries 200 of Carroll's sermons in booklet format. An Interpretation of the English Bible is long out of print and is rare. It is not a verse-by-verse commentary, but it has many helpful thoughts for preachers and teachers. Sadly, Carroll approach Bible prophecy from the allegorical perspective. This set is available in an electronic edition entitled “The B.H. Carroll Collection” from Ages Software, Rio, Wisconsin, www.ageslibrary.com.
IRONSIDE COMMENTARIES by Henry A. Ironside (1878-1951). These commentaries are devotional, practical, and Christ-centered. Ironside worked with the Salvation Army in his early Christian years, and he earnestly sought the “entire sanctification” experience promoted by the Army and the Methodists of that day. It was the turn of the century and a “holiness” fervor was sweeping across North America. The problem was that it was a false view of holiness that promised various degrees of sinless perfection. From this fervor the Pentecostal movement arose in the early part of the 20th century. Ironside became so discouraged by his failure to achieve an experience of sinlessness that he ended up in a hospital with an emotional and physical breakdown. There God began to teach him the truth of biblical justification and sanctification through some literature that he found, and he was led out of the confusion and doctrinal error of the holiness movement. He joined the Plymouth Brethren and conducted a long and fruitful ministry as a pastor and Bible teacher. His experiences were recorded in the book Holiness: The False and the True, which is posted at the Way of Life web site under the Charismatic section of the End Times Apostasy Online Database. I have found Ironside to be especially helpful in the Old Testament prophets. Like J. Vernon McGee, Ironside held a literal pre-millennial, pre-tribulational approach to Bible prophecy in contrast to most of the well-known commentators. There are individual volumes on Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel; and the Minor Prophets are covered in one volume. The Ironside Commentaries are available electronically in the Treasury of Rare Dispensational Commentaries which is part of the 2009 edition of the Fundamental Baptist CD Library, available from Way of Life Literature.
JAMIESON-FAUSSET-BROWN COMPLETE COMMENTARY by Robert Jamieson (1802-1880), Andrew Robert Fausset (1821-1910), and David Brown. First published in 1871, this three-volume set is frequently critical to the Received Text and the King James Bible, but it contains some helpful thoughts. Spurgeon said: “We consult it continually, and with growing interest. It contains so great a variety of information that if a man had no other exposition he would find himself at no great loss if he possessed this and used it diligently.” It must be noted that the Jamieson-Fausset-Brown’s commentary is prejudiced against a strict fundamentalist position on doctrine. For example, in Romans 14, this commentary warns against “setting up narrow standards of Christian fellowship” and claims that we should overlook “lesser differences.” In fact, Romans 14 is only referring to matters on which the Bible is silent and is not talking about doctrine that is based on Scripture. The Jamieson-Fausset-Brown commentary also teaches that the believer can lose his salvation in 1 Corinthians 3:17. Jamieson, Fausset, Brown is included in the Swordsearcher Bible software package, available from Way of Life Literature.
KELLY (WILLIAM) COMMENTARIES (1821-1906) were published on most books of the Bible in the late 1800s and republished in the first half of the 20th century. Kelly was born in Ireland and graduated from Trinity College, Dublin. He was converted at age 20 and joined the Plymouth Brethren and became one of their most able preachers. He wrote boldly against a wide variety of errors, including Popery. One of his last statements was this: “There are three things real -- the Cross, the enmity of the world, and the love of God.” The commentaries are dispensational and fundamentalist, and we have found many of the comments to be thoughtful and helpful. The Kelly commentaries are available electronically in the Treasury of Rare Dispensational Commentaries which is part of the 2009 edition of the Fundamental Baptist CD Library, available from Way of Life Literature.
NOTES ON THE OLD AND NEW TESTAMENT by Albert Barnes (1798-1870), Frederic C. Cook (1810-1889), and James Murphy. There are 14 volumes in this invaluable set of commentaries. Barnes was a Presbyterian preacher and Bible expositor. He was brought to trial in 1835 for his rejection of the unscriptural doctrine of limited atonement. He advocated total abstinence of alcoholic beverages, was a soul winner, and promoted Sunday Schools. The Old and New Testament commentaries by Barnes are included in the Swordsearcher Bible software package, available from Way of Life Literature.
THE NUMERICAL BIBLE by Frederick William Grant (1834-1902) was first published the late 1800s. It is dispensational and fundamentalist, and we have found many of the comments to be thoughtful and helpful. Grant was a Brethren preacher who was born in England but ministered in Canada and the United States beginning at age 21. Like the Brethren in general and John Darby in particular, Grant accepted the critical Greek text and corrected the King James Bible. Not long before his death he pointed to the Bible and exclaimed to a friend: “Oh, the Book, the Book, the BOOK!” The Numerical Bible is available electronically in the Treasury of Rare Dispensational Commentaries which is part of the 2009 edition of the Fundamental Baptist CD Library, available from Way of Life Literature.
SPURGEON’S EXPOSITORY ENCYCLOPEDIA by C.H. Spurgeon. This is the only collection of Spurgeon’s sermons classified by topic and alphabetically arranged. The 750 sermons are comprehensively indexed. There are also a number of other sets of Spurgeon’s sermons with indexes. Spurgeon has been called “the prince of preachers.” The main problem we have seen is his allegorical interpretation of prophecy, but he is always worth reading.
THRU THE BIBLE by J. Vernon McGee (1904-1988). This five-volume set contains the messages preached by the late J. Vernon McGee on his Thru the Bible radio broadcasts. Though I was saddened by McGee’s New Evangelical compromise in many areas, he always gladdened my heart with his warm, Christ-centered commentary on the Word of God. I particularly recommend his commentaries on the Old Testament prophets, because he maintained a literal pre-millennial, pre-tribulational approach in contrast to most of the well-known Bible commentators. It is not easy to find sound commentaries on the prophetic portions of Scripture. McGee’s commentaries are available in a standalone electronic edition called J. Vernon McGee Study Library CD-ROM. They are also available as an e-book module for Logos Bible Software.
UNDERSTANDING THE BIBLE BY David Sorenson (2004). Dr. Sorenson labored on this project for over ten years. He is a third-generation fundamental Baptist preacher who in preparation for this work has read the Bible through over 200 times. He is a pastor, church planter, soul winner, church builder, and a widely-read author whose writing style is eminently readable. The 11-volume hardbound commentary set is 8,368 pages long. It is a new and refreshing commentary on the Word of God with one purpose: to help a reader understand the Word of God. It endeavors to give the sense of any given passage of Scripture and help a reader to understand the reading (Neh. 8:8). Understanding the Bible was not written for scholars or academia but for pastors and Christian workers out on the firing line. Nevertheless, scholarship and accurate exposition of the Scriptures are intrinsic. Sunday School teachers, church staff, Christian school teachers, home schoolers, and any student of the Word of God will also find Understanding the Bible to be most helpful. Dr. Sorenson’s commentaries are especially helpful because they are conservative, practical, and dispensational. There is also an electronic edition of this available. Northstar Ministries 1820 West Morgan Street Duluth, MN 55811, 218-726-0209, firstname.lastname@example.org.
THE UNFOLDING DRAMA OF REDEMPTION by W. Graham Scroggie (1877-1958). Scroggie was educated at Spurgeon’s Pastors’ College in London and at the University of Edinburgh (D.D.). To his credit he was forced to leave two pastorates because of his opposition to theological modernism. He had a wide-ranging itinerant ministry throughout the English-speaking world and spent his final years as lecturer in English Bible at the Pastors’ College. His survey of the Bible was first published in three volumes. It has since been made available in a large one-volume edition. Scroggie traces the theme of redemption through the Bible, showing how each book and segment of the Bible fits into the whole. It is concise but rich in thought. As with many of the other commentators listed here, Scroggie was off base on Bible prophecy. His approach to Revelation, for example, is half-way between the literal and the allegorical approach. In my opinion, he ends up with little of profit from either system. He says, “If one makes a creed of literalism he may miss the enriching power of larger views.” To the contrary, if one does not interpret Bible prophecy literally he has no firm basis by which to interpret it. William Tyndale was the translator of the first English Bible from the Greek and Hebrew in the early 1500s and was put to death by Rome for his noble work. He said: “Thou shalt understand, therefore, that the Scripture hath but one sense, which is the literal sense. And that literal sense is the root and ground of all, and the anchor that never faileth whereunto if thou cleave, thou canst never err or go out of the way. And if thou leave the literal sense, thou canst not but go out of the way. Neverthelater, the Scripture useth proverbs, similitudes, riddles, or allegories, as all other speeches do; but that which the proverbs, similitude, riddle, or allegory signifieth, is over the literal sense, which thou must seek out diligently…” (William Tyndale, cited by Charles Briggs, General Introduction to the Study of Holy Scripture, pp. 456-57).
UNGER’S COMMENTARY ON THE OLD TESTAMENT by Merrill F. Unger (1909-80). Unger was professor of Old Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary for many years and this work is packed with helpful comments. One reviewer said, “The book will be most appreciated by those searching for a true grace-oriented scholar who glorifies the Lord, not himself, in his writings. Words cannot describe how inspirational this work is. Unger's pedigree is outstanding, his scholarship supreme and his style easy-going and understandable.” It was published in two volumes by Moody Press in 1981 but it was out of print by the 1990s. A one-volume edition was printed by AMG Publishers in 2002.
UNGER’S BIBLE HANDBOOK by Merrill F. Unger (1909-80). Unger was professor of Old Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary for many years and this work is packed with helpful material. One reviewer said: “The New Unger's Bible Handbook is not a random collection of miscellaneous facts. It is carefully organized to form a commentary on God's Word, with an introduction, outline, and discussion of each book and its relationship to the complete biblical revelation. It gives a comprehensive yet concise introduction to the Bible, including its historical and archaeological background. It provides a history of the formation and preservation of the Bible, an outline of the intertestamental period, pertinent statistics, a synopsis of church history, and a survey of other religions.”
THE SWORDSEARCHER BIBLE PROGRAM
The Swordsearcher Bible Program version 5.31 contains most of our recommended study tools in one convenient package. It has Strong’s Concordance; Treasury of Scripture Knowledge; 14 Bible texts; 8 dictionaries and encyclopedias (the complete 1828 Webster’s Dictionary of the English Language, the complete multi-volume International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Smith’s Bible Dictionary, American Tract Society Bible Dictionary, Easton’s Bible Dictionary, Hitchcock Bible Dictionary, Treasury of Scripture Knowledge); 17 commentaries (including Matthew Henry unabridged, Barnes--both Old and New Testament, Jamieson-Fausset-Brown, Abbott, Burkitt, Adam Clarke, Keil and Delitzsch, John Lightfoot’s Commentary on the Gospels, John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible, Gaebelein’s Annotated Bible, Macintosh’s Notes on the Pentateuch, and Larkin’s commentaries on Daniel and Revelation); 3 ancient pre-KJV English versions (Wycliffe, Tyndale, and the Bishops); the original 1611 KJV; 2 Greek New Testaments (the Received Text and the Westcott and Hort); 4 foreign language versions (Spanish, German, French, Dutch); 4 topical Bible guides (Thompson Chain Reference, Nave’s Topical Bible, Torrey’s New Topical Textbook, Condensed Biblical Cyclopedia); other books; and over 360 maps, charts, and illustrations.
The Way of Life Encyclopedia of the Bible & Christianity and Things Hard to Be Understood: A Handbook of Biblical Difficulties are available from Way of Life Literature as a separate module that loads into Swordsearcher.
A WARNING ABOUT MODERN BIBLE DICTIONARIES & ENCYCLOPEDIAS IN GENERAL
There are many helpful things in Bible dictionaries and encyclopedias, but we must sound a warning about the rationalism that has infected most of them (the Way of Life Encyclopedia excepted). Consider the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ISBE), which is widely respected as a Bible study tool. Its statements on the Bible’s inspiration, canonization, and preservation, in particular, are undependable and dangerous. Consider the following example:
“When the actual work of writing began no one who sent forth an epistle or framed a gospel had before him the definite purpose of contributing toward the formation of what we call ‘the Bible.’ ... They had no thought of creating a new sacred literature” (“Canon, New Testament,” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia).
This is false doctrine. The apostles and prophets who authored the New Testament knew that they were writing under prophetic inspiration. They knew that the Lord Jesus Christ had promised that the Holy Spirit would guide them “into all truth” (Jn. 14:26; 16:13). Paul considered his writings authoritative (1 Cor. 14:37; Gal. 1:11-12; Eph. 3:4-5; Col. 1:25-26, 28; 1 Thess. 2:13; 3:6-14) and expected them to be circulated from church to church (Gal. 1:2; Col. 4:16; 1 Thess. 5:27). Paul stated that Scripture was being written by the New Testament prophets under inspiration of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 16:25-26; 1 Cor. 2:6-16; Eph. 3:4-5). Peter said that the word being preached by the apostles was the word of God (1 Pet. 1:25). He put the commandments of the apostles on the same level as that of the Old Testament prophets (2 Pet. 3:2). Peter called the epistles of Paul Scripture and put them on the same level as the Old Testament (2 Pet. 3:15-16). The book of Revelation was written as the prophetic Word of God (Rev. 1:3; 21:5; 22:18-19). Luke claimed perfect understanding of the things of the Gospel, which can only come by divine revelation (Luke 1:3). Paul quoted from the Gospel of Luke and called it Scripture, putting it on the same level as Deuteronomy (compare 1 Tim. 5:18; Deut. 25:4; Lk. 10:7). In warning the believers of false teachers, Jude refers to the “words which were spoken before of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Jude 17). John upheld apostolic teaching as the absolute standard of truth (1 John 4:6).
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