How to Use a Bible Commentary

Bible Commentary

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Date Topic MP3 PPT Student Notes Teacher Notes
6 10/14 Bible Commentary MP3 PPT Student Notes Teacher Notes

What is a Bible Commentary?

A Bible commentary seeks to explain, interpret and in some cases apply Scripture. Simply put, commentaries comment on the text of the Bible. These comments may range from noting the meaning of a word all the way to noting the flow of thought through a whole book of the Bible. A Commentary gives a summary of many of the tools we have already looked at. Commentaries reflect the author’s personality and their area of expertise often brings a focus to their work. So, for instance, some commentaries written by pastors are more application focused while others written by scholars of the original languages will focus on the meaning of words and difficult grammatical issues.

Why use a Bible Commentary?

  1. To answer introductory questions about the Bible. Questions such as, who wrote it, to whom did they write, when did they write, why did they write, etc.)
  2. To discover the flow of thought where the passage you are studying fits into the whole book
  3. To find out the meaning of a passage of Scripture

What kinds of Bible Commentaries are there?

There are a wide variety of commentaries, from the very technical exegetical Bible commentaries to the easy reading application oriented devotional commentaries.

Single Volume Whole Bible

These briefly covers all the books of the Bible without detail or lengthy comments on any particular verse. These commentaries are helpful for getting a general understanding of passages and often include application.

Multi Volume Sets

These can be composed by one author or they can have a general editor with multiple authors for each book or section of the Bible. These are more in depth than single volume commentaries and take a unified approach in formatting and focus (i.e. exegetically focused or application focused).


These exhaustively go through all the details of the Bible, including comments on the original language. Typically, these commentaries will note if there are more than one possible interpretation of a passage. Additionally, they will list all the possible ways of understanding the passage along with the strength and weakness of the perspective. These commentaries are best used by scholars, pastors and people who know the biblical languages.


These explain the background and meaning and describe how the meaning of the text may be applied in real life. These commentaries are often read like sermons.


These commentaries focus on applying the Scripture to life rather than critically examining controversial issues or diving deep into historical contexts.

How to use a Bible Commentary:

To discover the background information

 Look up the book of the Bible you are studying in the Bible commentary. Read through the introduction answer the following questions:

·         Who wrote the book?

·         To whom was the book written?

·         Why did they write it? When did they write it?

Record your answers to these question in your study notebook.


To discover the flow of thought

 Find the outline provided in your commentary and locate where your passage is in the flow of the book. Find answers to the following questions:

·         What is the section before about according the author?

·         What does the author title your section of scripture which contains your passage?

·         What is the section after about according to the author?

·         In your own words, describe how your verse fits into this section and the whole book.

(For an example of this see the post on handbooks/surveys)


To discover the meaning of a passage of Scripture

·         After you studied a passage, read the commentary on your passage.

·         Write down all the observations, interpretations or applications the author makes which help you better understand your passage.

·         Compare your previous study notes with your notes from the commentary.


  1. Select a Bible Commentary for the passage we have been studying in the book of John.
  2. Before reading the commentary on John 3:16, use the Discover the background information method (the introductory information is typically at the beginning of the commentary). Record your notes in your study notebook.
  3. Next use the Discover the flow of thought method to see where John 3:16 fits into the rest of what John wrote. If you have completed the chapter on Bible Handbooks and Surveys, compare this outline with the one in the Bible handbook/survey. How is the outline in the commentary similar and/or different than the one in your commentary?
  4. Now use the Discover the meaning of a passage for John 3:16. Read the commentary on John 3:16. Write down all the observations, interpretations or applications the author makes which help you better understand your passage.
  5. Compare your previous study notes you’ve taken in your study of the passage with the commentary notes you’ve just taken.

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