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Critical/Exegetical Commentaries

A guide for locating and using critical commentary sets available in Baylor University Libraries.

Identifying Scholarly Commentaries

Douglas Stuart's "4 Basic Yardsticks of Commentary Evaluation" provides a useful basis of comparison between general and technical commentaries.

The following tables set out his criteria in detail, providing examples matching each commentary category.

The final criterion (Yardstick of Theology) is omitted from these tables, not because ideological/theological slants are unimportant.

But as tools for independent analysis of the text, the quality of textual analysis takes precedence over the doctrinal commitments of the interpreter.

Even Stuart concedes that a liberal commentator can produce a valuable commentary (30).

Stuart's "Four Yardsticks"

Douglas Stuart's

"4 Basic Yardsticks of Commentary Evaluation":

Size Detail Level Theology
One-to-all Summary Popular Evangelical
One-to-several Semi-detailed Serious Conservative-moderate
One-to-one Detailed Technical Liberal

Source: Douglas K. Stuart. A guide to selecting and using Bible commentaries. (Dallas: Word, 1990): 23-30.

Size yardstick

Size Description Examples
"a collection of short commentaries ...on various books and combined in a single large volume."
One volume commentaries: New Jerome Biblical Commentary. (Englewood Cliffs, NJ : Prentice-Hall, 1990).
One-to-several "A commentary on several books of the Bible."

Collected commentaries on small Bible books: minor prophets, pastoral epistles, catholic epistles.

Examples: Grace Emmersons's  Minor Prophets II: Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi. (New York : Doubleday, c1998.) and  Risto Saarinen's The Pastoral Epistles with Philemon & Jude (Grand Rapids, Mich. : Brazos Press, c2008).

One-to-one "A commentary that itself is a single book, written on a single Bible book (or portion of a Bible book, or group of short books)." Volumes from commentary series: Word Biblical Commentary, Hermeneia Commentary series.

Source: Douglas K. Stuart. A guide to selecting and using Bible commentaries. (Dallas: Word, 1990): 23-26.

Detail Yardstick

Detail Description Examples
  • "...a summation of the passage and any specific observations that the commentator might feel are important...but not much else."
Barclay's New Testament commentaries
  • "...comments about small blocks of text, 
  • ...frequently a sentence or two about individual verses."
Reading the New Testament series
  • "...almost always say something about each verse....
  • Some verses may be covered in great detail,
  • ...the introductions and indexes...are usually fairly detailed as well."
Harper's New Testament Commentaries
  • "...every verse is treated to some degree separately
  • ...especially significant verses may be analyzed for several pages....
  • say everything relevant about all the verses of a biblical book,
  • may contain extensive introductory sections and indexes, 
  • ... written with the intent to provide full, thorough coverage of any issues that might pertain to the biblical book..." under review.
Hermeneia and Word Biblical Commentary

Source: Douglas K. Stuart. A guide to selecting and using Bible commentaries. (Dallas: Word, 1990): 26-27.


Level Yardstick

Level Explanation Example
Popular "...assume virtually no knowledge of the biblical material, and try to explain ... what the text says in the simplest of terms." Bible Study Commentary
Serious More detailed coverage than popular, but avoiding technical matters like "...wording of the original languages, the complications of textual matters, and extensive reference to scholarly literature." Tyndale Old and New Testament Commentaries
Technical "...address in detail the issues of textual accuracy, forms, structure, and cultural setting, and also tend to interact substantially with the opinions of other scholars." WBC, ICC, Hermeneia

Source: Douglas K. Stuart. A guide to selecting and using Bible commentaries. (Dallas: Word, 1990):27-29.


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