One-volume commentaries


“What is a ‘commentary’ and why should I have one? Isn’t the Bible its own commentary?” There are some believers who think the only way to understand the Bible and to interpret it correctly is to read and study it for oneself, with no help from anyone else. After all, they say, even though we may not know everything, the Holy Spirit will lead us into all truth. Whilst there is no substitute for consistent reading of the Bible for ourselves, and whilst it is true that we ought to think about what we read and interpret it as best we can, constantly praying for the Spirit's help, it seems a little arrogant to think we can properly interpret it for ourselves, given our limited knowledge of the original languages in which the Bible was written. It is also extremely time-wasting to ignore the wealth of teaching, help and instruction which others have made available to us. Do we all really need to re-invent the wheel? A commentary is a book in which others 'comment'on the Bible. There are large, many-volumed sets of commentaries that are both exhaustive and exhausting. If you have no commentary, however, the best place to start is by buying a one-volume commentary. This is a book that attempts to cover all the books of the Bible, making brief comments about each passage, and giving a general over-all idea of what the Bible teaches. One of the better and more popular one-volume commentaries is

The New Bible Commentary.

For forty years this has been a standard commentary for bible students. It is now available in its 21st Century Edition, is edited by Wenham, Motyer, Carson and France, (D Guthrie and others) and was published by IVP in 1994. This commentary has contributions written by a vast array of evangelical writers from all denominations. It is, therefore, authoritative and wide-ranging. Like all volumes that have a variety of contributors, however, it has its strong points and its weaknesses. An excellent, though much older, one-volume commentary is the abridged version of

Matthew Henry,

published by who was a Puritan writer and wrote a devotional commentary that was so popular in its day that Spurgeon recommended people read the commentary through once a year, as well as the Bible! It is a little dated and it is more of a devotional commentary than an expositional one. A third option is the

Wycliffe Bible Commentary,

edited by Pfeiffer and Harrison, and published by Moody in 1962. This commentary is more expositional than Matthew Henry, is evangelical, and easy for the average student to read. An essential book for any young believer's library today is the one-volume commentary written, in the main, by William MacDonald. It is entitled

The Believer's Bible Commentary

and was published by Nelson in 1995. The author writes, in his preface, 'The purpose of [this volume] is to give the average Christian reader a basic knowledge of what the Holy Bible is all about. [It] is also intended to stimulate such a love and taste for the Bible that the believer will want to delve more deeply into their inexhaustible treasures'. There are times when the book gives very sparse comments on a passage, and one could wish for more depth. There are other times when what is said is just sufficient and right. In addition to comments on Bible passages, MacDonald occasionally gives us an in-depth comment on a doctrine or point about which there is much debate.Comment on each book of the Bible starts with a general introduction, and there are maps, charts and illustrations all the way through. His commentary is one of the few that gives a balanced interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11 and does not dismiss Paul's comments as out of line (Paul's opinion, not God's) or out of date (merely cultural teaching for Paul's day and not for ours). If you want a single-volume commentary to which you will turn again and again, the Believer's Bible Commentary is the one for you. The New Bible Commentary **** Matthew Henry *** Wycliffe Bible Commentary **** Believer's Bible Commentary *****