Bible commentaries are books that many Christians like to use for the purpose of understanding Scripture better. Yet wise readers want to know if commentaries are trustworthy, and so they want to know about who wrote them.
Bible scholars and Christian pastors commonly write Bible commentaries. Authors, also called commentators, typically work at seminaries and churches (or are retired from them). Though it is less common, missionaries, historians, and even laypeople from non-ministry backgrounds write them, too.
Readers are smart to learn about the author of a commentary volume before they use it. In most cases, when a reader learns more about an author it will become clear to them — given the writer’s knowledge and experience — why that person was a good choice to write a commentary.
Are you considering using a commentary to understand the Bible better? See Types of Bible Commentaries: Which is Right for Your Purposes? to learn more.
Most commentary authors are Bible scholars
Most commentary authors are Bible scholars, many of whom work at institutions of higher education like Bible colleges, universities, and seminaries. Many of them teach courses and conduct research, yet a small number focus on research alone.
Areas of expertise: Scholars commonly have certain areas of expertise and they commonly teach and write in their subject area. For example,
- A scholar on Luke may teach courses on the Gospel of Luke, the Life of Christ, Introduction to the New Testament, and Ecclesiology, which is the study of the Christian church. He or she may also write books related to Luke’s life and ministry, including commentaries on the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts, since Luke is the author of those books.
- A scholar on the period of the Exile, which occurred later in Old Testament history, may teach courses on the History of Israel, Introduction to the Old Testament, and the Life and Literature of the Old Testament Prophets. He or she may also write books associated with the Exile, including commentaries on books like Daniel and Ezekiel.
Modern commentators: Example of modern scholars who have written commentaries on their area of expertise include,
- Darrell Bock is a Bible scholar on Luke who teaches at Dallas Theological Seminary. He teaches courses related to the writings of Luke and has written well-reviewed commentaries on Luke and Acts in the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament series.
- Craig Blomberg is a Bible scholar on the New Testament Gospels, focusing on their interpretation and historical reliability. Blomberg teaches related courses at Denver Seminary. He has also written a well-reviewed commentary on Matthew in the New American Commentary series.
- Craig Keener is a Bible scholar on the historical background of New Testament books. He has written several well-reviewed commentaries, including the IVP Bible Background Commentary, which is considered one of the best whole-volume Bible commentaries.
- Victor Hamilton is a scholar on the Pentateuch — that is the first five books of the Bible, commonly referred to as the writings of Moses. He taught at Asbury Theological Seminary for many years before retiring in 2007. Hamilton wrote well-reviewed commentary on Genesis in the New International Commentary on the Old Testament series.
- Clint Arnold is a Bible scholar on the writings on Paul, demonology, and spiritual warfare. He is the Dean at Talbot School of Theology. Arnold has written a well-reviewed commentary on Ephesians in the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament series.
Modern commentators sometimes write books on biblical studies topics that are outside their primary area of research. Being an expert in one area of the Bible results in a lot of knowledge of all areas of Scripture, so writing outside one’s primary area of research isn’t unusual.
Are you ready to browse the different commentary series that are available? See Best Commentary Series: The Top 50 to learn more.
Some commentary authors are pastors
Unlike the work of biblical scholars, the commentaries that pastors write aren’t based on historical and theological research, but on the experience of being in Christian ministry.
Such commentaries are often focused on helping the reader reflect on their relationship with God and, to this end, application of the text is always given. Commentaries that scholars write don’t always offer such content because they are focused on interpretation and theology.
Commentaries that pastors write are much less focused on recent biblical scholarship and instead offer readers insight by means of devotional reflections and personal application.
The commentaries pastors write don’t come from academic research, but is based on research done for preaching and teaching in the local church.
Since pastors commonly do research for their sermons, which often involves explaining the text and applying it to people’s lives, a few turn that research into a Bible commentary.
Examples of pastors who write commentaries include:
- Dale Ralph Davis: Davis was the pastor of Woodland Presbyterian Church in Hatiesburg, Mississippi. He has written commentaries in the Focus on the Bible commentary series on Joshua, 1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings and Luke.
- Richard Phillips: Phillips pastors Second Presbyterian Church in Greenvillle, South Carolina. He has written commentaries on John, Hebrews, Revelation, and more in the Reformed Expository Commentary series.
- John MacArthur: MacArthur pastors Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California and has written commentaries on every book in the New Testament, which are found in the John MacArthur Commentary series.
- J. Vernon McGee: McGee pastored Church of the Open Door in Pasadena, California and had a widely-popular radio ministry that people still listen to today. McGee’s commentaries based on his radio teachings are easy-to-understand, affordable resources that people still like to use to study Scripture.
Commentaries that laypeople write
“Laypeople” refer to Christians who aren’t in full-time ministry. They attend church, but they don’t work in one. They study biblical studies resources, but they don’t teach in high education. Laypeople are professionals in non-ministry fields.
Example of a layperson commentator: Henry Morris (1918-2006) co-wrote The Genesis Record (link goes to Amazon) with John C Whitcomb in 1961. Morris was a young-earth creationist and his commentary on Genesis reflects that perspective. Morris was an engineer in the area of hydraulics. He worked and taught in the field all his working life. Yet he also commentaries on Genesis, Job, and Revelation. He wrote many other biblical studies books as well.
Online commentaries: Anyone can offer their view on what the Bible means on the internet. Anyone can also self-publish Bible commentaries on websites that sell books like Amazon.
Readers are strongly encouraged to learn more about commentators who only publish online and only self-publish before they let an author guide their interpretation of Scripture.
Bible commentaries are helpful, but how essential are they? See Are Bible Commentaries Necessary? to learn more.