A Bible Scholar Explains Bible Commentaries

What’s a Bible commentary? How is it useful to the average person? Bethel Seminary Professor of New Testament Jeannine Brown has some easy-to-understand answers.

By Michelle Smith Westlund '83, S'21, senior content specialist

April 11, 2022 | 1 p.m.

Bible Commentary

Jeannine Brown, Ph.D., recently completed a commentary on Philippians, part of the Tyndale commentary series.

Jeannine Brown, professor of New Testament and director of online programs, has taught at Bethel Seminary for more than 25 years. She has a gift for translating biblical truth into accessible language, as evidenced by her work as a member of the Committee on Bible Translation, which oversees the translation of the Bible’s New International Version (NIV). Brown is the author or editor of 10 books and numerous journal articles, and her latest work is a commentary on Philippians, part of the Tyndale commentary series. In this Q & A, she provides a quick overview of Bible commentaries for anyone who wants to know what they are and how to use them.

What exactly is a Bible commentary?

A commentary provides a verse-by-verse analysis of a particular book of the Bible, with the intention of explaining the meaning of that book (its author’s purposes) in its original setting. The introduction to the commentary routinely addresses key questions like author, audience, genre, date, and purposes.

What are some practical ways the average reader might use a Bible commentary?

Say you’re reading your Bible and have a question about what something means. A commentary will help you by allowing you to look at a commentator’s insights on that particular book, chapter, and verse. In a commentary it’s fairly easy to find and access potential answers to your questions. Another way to use a commentary is to pair your reading of any specific book of the Bible with a commentary focused on that book.

What’s your advice/encouragement to people who might find a Bible commentary intimidating?

It can be helpful to know that there are a number of kinds or levels of Bible commentaries. Some are quite technical (and are actually called “technical commentaries”!) and could be somewhat intimidating to jump into. But there are “popular commentaries” that are written to non-specialists and are accessible to a wider audience. Some examples of accessible commentary series are the Tyndale series, the Story of God series, and Understanding the Bible series. You can also look at one-volume commentaries on the Bible, where the entire Bible receives discussion.

Any other helpful tidbits for new commentary users?

It might be helpful to readers to know that there are Bible commentary series that are written by a single person, often a pastor, who comments on each book of the Bible (e.g., Chuck Swindoll’s commentary series, called “Living Insights”). I find it helpful to consult commentary series that represent many authors, each of whom is a specialist in the particular biblical books they address. For example, in the Story of God series, Dr. Dennis Edwards wrote the 1 Peter commentary, as he is a New Testament scholar who has done deep study and application of 1 Peter.

You mentioned that your first exposure to a Bible commentary was the Tyndale commentary on Philippians when you were in college. What was that experience like, and how did it impact you?

I received a copy of that Philippians commentary by Ralph Martin in my first year of college in a training conference for student leaders who were going to lead Bible studies on Philippians. I found it so helpful for better understanding the historical setting of Paul’s letter to the Philippians and its content. It was eye-opening and I was hooked on commentaries! So being asked to write another edition of Philippians for this series was an honor and was quite exciting.

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