Building a Library: One Volume Commentaries

Introduction, Commentaries

The best commentary on the Bible is the Bible itself, but there are many commentaries that can be helpful. In Lectures to His Students,” Charles H. Spurgeon tells them, I hope that none of you are such wiseacres as think you can expound the Word of God without referring to those who have expounded God’s Word before you. If you are, I pray remain so. You are not worth converting.” Everyone is worth converting. His next statement is specially encouraging to us to seek the help of the Holy Spirit to profit from what God s Spirit has revealed to others in good commentaries. “It is strange to me that some brethren can think so highly of what the Spirit of God has revealed to them and, at the same time, think so lightly of what the Holy Spirit has revealed to others.”

One Volume Commentaries

The advantage of one-volume commentaries is that we can quickly find out what is said about a passage of scripture. The disadvantage is that the comments are so brief that you will usually want additional help. The following brief comments are my own unless the source is given.

“The Believer’s Bible Commentary” by William MacDonald is 2389 pages with 71 pages of supplements and has been edited by Art Farstad, published by Thomas Nelson Publishers Of all the one volume commentaries, I would recommend it as the most useful to any assembly believer.

“Commentary on the Whole Bible” by Matthew Henry is 1986 pages and published by Zondervan. This is the best one volume commentary from a devotional standpoint. It is an abridgment of his 5 volumes. Since there is so much profitable literature on the Bible today, it is best, spiritually and financially, to only get the abridged one volume. Matthew Henry only finished to the end of Acts.

The following four one-volume commentaries are among Wilbur M. Smith’s recommendations for the first 100 books for a Bible student’s library. (The revised version of Wilbur M. Smith’s Profitable Bible Study of 227 pages was published by W. A. Wilde Company in 1951.) He had 33,000 volumes of his own and he made a statement especially significant coming from him, “Today, there are so many good books on the Bible that no one man in a lifetime could read them all, so read the best.” He is especially helpful in letting us know the best books.

“The New Testament for English Readers” by Henry Alford is 1942 pages, published by Moody Press. Wilbur M. Smith says Alford’s earlier work, The Greek Testament in four volumes, contains fuller notes than The New Testament for English Readers, but all that is valuable in the earlier work is to be found in the later one. There are rich thoughts and deep insights. The late William Warke read this book from cover to cover.

“Synthetic Bible Studies” by James M. Gray is 340 pages, published by Fleming H. Revell Company. The contents are indicated by the subtitle, “Containing an Outline Study of Every Book of the Bible with Suggestions for Sermons, Addresses, and Bible Expositions.”

“Living Messages of the Books of the Bible” by G. Campbell Morgan is 1067 pages, published by Fleming H. Revell. Wilbur M. Smith says that he shows how the central theme of each book is developed and applied and then he applies the teaching of that book in a very practical, powerful, and penetrating way.

“The Companion Bible” by E. W. Bullinger is published by Oxford. Wilbur Smith only recommends it for the 198 appendices as the only thing worth consulting. “In those appendices of the last 227 pages, valuable material will be found which is not easily available in any other volume that I know of. It is the fruit of a lifetime of exhaustive study of the Holy Scriptures” (Wilbur M. Smith).

Other one volume commentaries that are useful:

“Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible” by Arno C. Gaebelein is 1237 pages, published by Loizeaux Brothers. There is devotional warmth and insights to the Word of God. It was originally published in 9 volumes.

“Explore the Book” by J. Sidlow Baxter is 1754 pages of suggestive insights, published by Zondervan. It was originally published in six volumes.

“The Students Commentary on the Holy Scriptures” by George Williams is 1058 pages, published by Kregel Publications. It is comprehensive, spiritual, and stimulating but he is wrong about baptism, likely because of leaning to ultradispensationalism. This commentary was later revised by Charles R. Wood in 1970.

The following books vary in value because there are multiple authors in each one:

“The New Bible Commentary: Revised” edited by Donald Guthrie is 1310 pages, published by Eerdman s Publishing Company.

“A Commentary Critical, Experimental, and Practical on the Old and New Testaments” by Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown is 1591 pages, published by Zondervan. It was originally 6 volumes. It is not overly technical. Spurgeon wrote “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 is also available in 3 volumes. Dr. Robert G. Lee says, “It is the best commentary on the whole Bible I have ever known.”

“The Wycliffe Bible Conunentary” edited by Charles F. Pfeiffer and Everett F. Harrison is 1525 pages, published by Moody Press.

“The New Layman’s Bible Commentary” edited by G. C. D. Howley, F. F. Bruce, and H. L. Ellison is 1712 pages published by Zondervan. Its value is limited by its modified evangelical approach.

To be continued…