COMMENTARIES. Every great work that is included in world lit. has given birth to an extensive list of commentaries, but no book has produced anything like the vast amount of commentaries on the Holy Scriptures. While such a work is not a mere collection of sermons, an extensive series of homilies, such as those of Chrysostom, may approximate a commentary. The actual nature of a commentary depends on a number of factors, such as the attitude of the writer toward the Scriptures, his knowledge of the original languages, the purpose of his writing the commentary, and the subjects of his major interest. Commentaries vary radically in purpose and in kind. Some, like that of Skinner on Genesis in the International Critical Commentary series, are devoted almost entirely to the discussion of grammatical and critical matters in the original text; others, like that of Marcus Dods on Genesis in the Expositor’s Bible are practical and inspirational.

No attempt has been made to estimate the number of commentaries that have been written on the Bible. In Calmet’s Dictionary of the Holy Bible (1722) at least 1400 titles are listed, some of them extending to many volumes. In addition, there are hundreds of titles on related subjects, which occupy thirty-two columns of text. A cent. and a half later, in an article on “Commentary,” McLintock and Strong’s Encyclopedia (1867-1881) contains a “chronological conspectus of professed commentaries on the whole canonical Scriptures” listing 165 commentaries covering the entire Bible. In the article on the NT 114 more are listed. There are also separate lists of commentaries on all the books of the Bible; e.g., 105 commentaries on the Book of Daniel. About that time Spurgeon (1876) published his famous Commenting and Commentaries in which he listed 1437 titles. Nearly a cent. later Professor Guthrie in his New Testament Introduction listed more than 800 titles, most of which were published since the lists of McLintock and Strong and of Spurgeon.

Ancient commentaries were numerous also. C. H. Turner, in a lengthy article on “Greek Patristic Commentaries on the Pauline Epistles” (Hastings DB, vol. V, pp. 484-531), lists 115 titles down to the 8th cent., and there were others on the gospels, Acts, and general epistles.

The Church Fathers.

The earliest Christian commentary is that on the Gospel of St. John by the heretic Heracleon, a follower of Valentinus, founder of an influential Gnostic sect in the early part of the 2nd cent. The content of this book is known only by some quotations from it in Origen’s commentary on John. Early in the 3rd cent. an important commentary on Daniel was written by Hippolytus (c. a.d. 204), which is recognized as the earliest extant exegetical treatise of the Christian Church. It has survived only in fragments, in Latin, Syriac, Coptic, Arabic, Armenian, etc. Hippolytus wrote about forty different works, including commentaries on Genesis, Psalms, the Song of Solomon, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Revelation, and others. Goodspeed refers to him as “the foremost figure of Greek Christianity in the West.”

In the same period (185-274) lived the greatest Biblical scholar of the Early Church, Origen. Origen believed that the Bible was written under the direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and held to the unity of the Scriptures, taking every part of the Bible as a word from God. He emphasized the threefold method of interpreting the Scriptures: “The individual ought to portray the ideas of Holy Scripture in a three-fold manner upon his own soul...for as man consists of a body and soul and spirit, so in the same way does Scripture, which has been arranged to be given by God for the salvation of man.” Origen wrote more extensively on the Bible than any other writer in the early centuries of the Christian Church. Of the works which he composed, the greater part have been lost, as Quasten indicates: “Origen also composed thirteen books on Genesis, forty-six on forty-one Psalms, thirty on Isaias, five that Eusebius knew of (Hist. Eccl. VI, xxiv, 2), fifteen on Luke, five on Galatians, three on Ephesians, besides others on Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians, Hebrews, Titus and Philemon. Of all these only small fragments have survived in catenae, Biblical manuscripts and quotations by later ecclesiastical authors. Out of 291 commentaries 275 have been lost in Greek and very little is preserved in Latin. Fragments of a Greek commentary on the Books of Kings were found at Tours in 1941. A commentary on Job attributed to Origen and extant in a Latin translation in three books is not authentic” (J. Quasten: Patrology, Vol. II, p. 51).

At times Origen dictated to seven amanuenses who relieved each other in successive periods. Jerome said of his writings, “Which of us can read all that he has written?” In spite of Origen’s belief in the full inspiration of Scripture, in some instances he dogmatically rejected the historic literalness of a certain passage; e.g., he insisted that the Gospel report of the cleansing of the Temple could not be believed. His allegorical treatment of Scripture had an enormous influence over subsequent commentators, and without any guide lines, as a recent scholar has said, “This method has become so flexible that by many virtually any conclusion could be drawn from any passage in the Bible.”

Dionysius of Alexandria (d. 264) wrote a commentary on the Book of Revelation, not now extant, in which he confessed that he could not interpret the book literally, and stated that it most prob. should be interpreted allegorically. Of the many commentaries written by Victorinus (d. 304), the only one that has survived is his work on the Apocalypse, which became very popular in the Early Church. Eschatological subjects greatly appealed to the early commentators.

The great church historian, Eusebius (a.d. 260-340), late in his life wrote a huge commentary on the Book of Isaiah, based on the LXX and deriving much material from Origen, a work that extends to some 450 columns in Migne (Vol. XXIV, 77-526). Jerome tr. this work almost verbatim without any acknowledgment of the source. Of Eusebius’ commentary on the Psalms only excerpts remain, though Lightfoot says that this volume “stands in the first rank of patristic commentaries.” There are also remaining fragments of his works on Luke, Proverbs, Song of Solomon, Daniel, etc.

Since the majority of the Church Fathers used the method of allegorical interpretation, the warning of the latest authority on Eusebius may be pertinent: “If the Scriptures are so treated, the words of the sacred writers are in themselves not necessarily important or even true, and may be disregarded after the Holy Ghost, leading the reader into all truth, has revealed to him the true meaning of what he has read, which may not have been present in the mind of the author when he wrote. Scripture thus treated is a fairy story with a moral, and such exegesis is the death of history” (D. S. Wallace-Hadrill: Eusebius of Caesarea, p. 73).

In the middle of the 4th cent. an excellent commentary on the Psalms, surviving only in fragments, was written by Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria (a.d. 296-374). The passion of Athanasius was to indicate the deity of Jesus Christ, and consequently he found types and prophecies of Christ and the Church everywhere in the Psalms.

In the last half of the 4th cent. appeared the exegetical works of Didymus the Blind (a.d. 313-398), “the last great teacher of the Alexandrian Catechetical School.” Nothing but fragments of his commentaries on Matthew, John, Job, Proverbs, some Pauline epistles, and the Catholic epistles, and extensive portions of his commentary on Isaiah 40:66 remain. The earliest Gospel commentary in the Western church in Lat. was the work on Matthew by Hilary of Poictiers, which was frequently quoted both by Jerome and Augustine. Hilary’s Commentary on the Psalms shows that he was a follower of Origen.

Basil the Great (a.d. 330-379) wrote commentaries on almost all the Scriptures. His most celebrated work was his commentary on the Hexameron, which was extensively used by Ambrose of Milan and by Augustine. Ambrose’ work (339-397) borrowed heavily from Basil, and has only recently been tr. His work on the Psalms covers about 500 columns in Migne, and there are extant also extensive portions of his work on Luke. Also within the 4th cent. was Diodorus, Bishop of Tarsus (d. 390), champion of the Nicene faith and the head of the theological school in Antioch. Most of his numerous works have perished, leaving only parts of his writings on Hebrews, the catholic epistles, and the Apocalypse. At this same time the influential commentary on Revelation by Tyconius (d. 400) was written, in which he claimed that the first resurrection (Rev 20:4, 5) was the experience of regeneration.

During the first thirty years of the 5th cent. Biblical interpretation reached its greatest heights for that age. The great orator Chrysostom (a.d. 347-407) wrote the oldest complete commentary on the first gospel that has survived the patristic age. Fifty-eight of his homilies on the Psalms and fifty-five sermons on the Book of Acts have survived. Of the later Quasten says: “...The only complete commentary on Acts that has survived from the first centuries.” About half of his extant homilies are devoted to the epistles of Paul, and his thirty-two homolies on the Epistle to the Romans have been called “the most outstanding patristic commentary on this Epistle and the finest of all his works.” While Chrysostom knew no Heb. and often was inaccurate in his historical references, as Professor Riddle has said, “Where the exegesis deals with the human heart, its motives, its weakness, or with the grace and love of Jesus Christ, there Chrysostom rises and remains the Master in Israel.”

If Chrysostom was the great commentator for the Gr. church, Jerome was the supreme commentator for the Lat. church and ultimately for the Church universal. He has rightly been called Doctor Maximus sacris Scripturis explanandis. His first commentary on Obadiah has not been preserved. His important commentary on Daniel, with many references to works now lost, has recently been tr. into Eng. (1958) by Gleason L. Archer.

Of the gospels, Jerome interpreted only Matthew; of Paul’s epistles he commented only on Galatians, Ephesians, Titus, and Philemon. His last work was on the Book of Ezekiel (see the complete list of Jerome’s works in History and Literature of Christianity from Tertullian to Boethius by Labriolle, p. 537). The great bibliographic work by Jerome on the lives of Biblical commentators, in which he enumerates the writings of 134 authors, has never been tr. into Eng.

Approximately at the same time, but less famous as a commentator, was Theodore of Mopsuestia (a.d. 350-428). Theodore was careful to make a minute study of the context, and paid a great deal of attention to grammar and punctuation and to the aim of the writer he was considering. He shunned the allegorical method. He believed that all of the Psalms were written by David, which forced him into some peculiar interpretations. His commentary on the minor epistles of Paul have been preserved complete in Lat., as well as his works on the minor prophets and on John’s gospel, of which the latter appeared in tr. only in 1940. (For a recent discussion of his works, see the Cambridge History of the Bible, Vol. I, pp. 491, 492, 497-510.)

Augustine, the greatest of all the Church Fathers (a.d. 354-430), exercised a greater influence through his theological works, esp. The City of God, than through his commentaries. His first book, written at the age of forty, was a commentary on the early chs. of Genesis. Probably his greatest work of this type, apart from his commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, was on the Psalms. He wrote 121 homilies on the Gospel of John and an unfinished commentary on Romans. His attitude to the Scriptures was revealed in a letter to his son: “Such is the depth of the Christian Scriptures that even if I were attempting to study them and nothing else from early boyhood to decrepit old age, with the utmost leisure, the most unwearied zeal, and talents greater than I have, I would still daily be making progress in discovering their treasures.”

Gregory Nazianzus (a.d. 370-390), Bishop of Sasima and Constantinople wrote on the Creation narrative of Genesis, two books on the Superscriptions of the Psalms, homilies on Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon, and other minor pieces, none of which evince much originality.

Fragments of Polychrenius (d. 430) dealing with Job and Ezekiel have come down to us, but there are no traces of his commentaries on Daniel or on the books of the NT. The great Archbishop, Cyril of Alexandria (d. 444), wrote an extensive commentary on Isaiah and a large commentary on the minor prophets (later edited by Pusey), and a commentary on John. There are also remains of some of his commentaries on the Psalms and on the epistles of Paul.

Theodoret (a.d. 393-458) wrote on the Song of Solomon, Isaiah, Jeremiah, on the twelve minor prophets, on the fourteen epistles of Paul, and some works on Kings and Chronicles. Lightfoot said that his commentaries on St. Paul have been assigned the palm over all patristic expositions of Scripture.

The oldest Gr. commentary on Revelation was written by Oecumenius in the 6th cent.

“Ambrosiaster,” the author of a number of commentaries on the epistles of Paul, has not yet been identified.

The last of the traditional doctors of the church was Pope Gregory the Great (a.d. 540-604), whose commentary on Job exercised a great influence through the Middle Ages. His homilies on the gospels and his other commentaries have not survived.

The commentaries of the Fathers of the Church down to the beginning of the 7th cent. evince a total belief in the inspiration of the Scriptures. As a corollary, they recognized that their own writings were definitely inferior in authority and penetration to the NT. Again, they insisted that the entire Bible belongs to Christian believers, even though the OT is primarily Jewish and concerns Jewish history and law. The writings of the Fathers were uniformly Christocentric. There was a heavy emphasis on allegory, and a deep interest in eschatological themes. Although there were commentaries now lost which included almost all the books of the Bible, those most frequently considered were Genesis, Psalms, the Song of Solomon, the prophetic books, the gospels of Matthew and John, the epistles of Paul, and Revelation. The existence of these commentaries indicates a great passion in the Early Church for Biblical study which exceeded even that for the defense of the Christian faith in the numerous controversies of that period.

The Middle Ages.

The commentators of the Middle Ages were for the most part not gifted with great originality. Undoubtedly the most important of them between Augustine and the beginning of the 12th cent. was the Venerable Bede (673-735). He devoted his entire life to the study of the Scriptures, and though his works have been carefully studied by numerous scholars, many of them still remain untranslated from the Lat. His commentary on Genesis was taken largely from Basil, Ambrose, and Augustine. He wrote other commentaries on Samuel, Ezra and Nehemiah, Proverbs, the Song of Solomon and Habakkuk, and in the NT on Mark, Luke, the catholic epistles, and the Apocalypse. It is still true that “a critical edition of...the Biblical work of Bede is still a desideratum.”

As a commentator in the first half of the 12th cent. St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) had an extraordinarily intimate knowledge of the Scriptures, and has been designated by some as the last of the Fathers. Farrar has well said, “There was one book of the Bible which left scope for imagination to revel in thoughts which seemed to be innocent because they were supposed to be Scriptural and which gratified those yearnings of the human heart which are too strong and too sacred to be permanently crushed. It was the Song of Solomon.” This was true both for Jewish exegetes and these medieval mystics. Bernard published eighty-six sermons on the Song of Solomon with the threefold interpretation of historical, moral, and mystical.

The monastery at St. Victor was the chief home of medieval mysticism. There Hugo of St. Victor (1097-1141) and Andrew of St. Victor (d. 1175) wrote their mystical interpretations of parts of the Scriptures. The work of Andrew has been rescued from undeserved oblivion by Miss Smalley in her notable Study of the Bible in the Middle Ages. Andrew wrote extensive commentaries on the Octateuch, frequently quoting from Origen, Augustine, and Jerome, and extensively from his predecessor, Hugo. He wrote also on the major prophetical volumes, the Song of Solomon, and Ecclesiastes.

At the end of the 12th cent. appeared the first Biblical commentator in Britain since the Venerable Bede. Stephen Langton, the Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote glosses on the Octateuch in which he referred frequently to Andrew of St. Victor, the result of lectures given in the schools at Paris. He wrote also on most of the prophets and on the Song of Solomon.

The most famous of all Biblical writers in the Middle Ages was Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), though his theological works were far more extensive, and certainly more influential, than his commentaries. It has been estimated that in his Catena of the Gospels he quoted from twenty-two Gr. and twenty Lat. writers. He wrote commentaries on Isaiah, Jeremiah, the Psalms, Job, and esp. the Pauline epistles, a work extending to more than 700 pages. Because he was under the domination of the idea that all Scriptures had four different meanings, he did not advance an understanding of them despite all of his vast learning.

Nicolas of Lyra was called by Farrar “the Jerome of the fourteenth century.” Of this writer Luther said, “I prefer him to almost all interpreters of the Scriptures,” presumably because Nicolas adhered to a literal interpretation. He was fully acquainted with Jewish expositors. His famous work, Postillae Perpetuae in Universam S. Scripturam, which was the first Biblical commentary to be printed, had a wide influence. It is generally acknowledged that after the death of Nicholas of Lyra “There was no important addition to the study of Scripture till the dawn of the Reformation.”

The Reformation.

With the coming of the Reformation, this basically important area of Christian lit. underwent an enormous change. Luther and Calvin made a revolutionary return to the study and interpretation of the Holy Scriptures based on their literal meaning and emphasizing the preeminent theme of Christ in both the OT and NT. Martin Luther (1483-1546) once said, “My conscience is captive to the Word of God.” In his famous Table Talk he said that at least beginning with the year 1532 he read through the Bible twice every year. Luther insisted on the necessity for grammatical knowledge and on a serious consideration of the times and circumstances in which a book was composed, on the need of faith for understanding the Scriptures and on the preeminence of Christ in both the OT and NT. “The literal sense of Scripture alone is the whole essence of faith and of Christian theology.” Strangely enough, the only book of the NT on which Luther wrote a complete commentary was the Epistle to the Galatians, which became the most frequently reprinted of all Luther’s exegetical works. Because there was so little about Christ in the Epistle of James he called it “an epistle of straw,” and for the same reason, in his early years, he thought the Book of Revelation did not deserve a place in the canon. His commentaries on Genesis and the Psalms are classics of the classical age. G. H. Gilbert is no doubt right in saying, “Although Luther as an expositor was more largely occupied with the Old Testament than with the New, it is obvious that the spirit of the New was more deeply grasped by him than was that of the Old.” Luther’s printed works also include his lectures on part of Romans and part of the Epistle to the Hebrews.

Luther rejected the authoritativeness of the Lat. text and worked from the Heb. and the Gr. VSS. In spite of the enormous amount of lit. that has appeared concerning this great Reformer, and in spite of the many trs. of Luther’s exegetical works, there are still a number that have not been tr. out of the original Ger. At present Concordia-Muhlenberg Publishing House is publishing a new tr. of Luther’s works in fifty-five volumes.

The greatest commentator of the Reformation and in some ways the greatest commentator of modern times was John Calvin (1509-1564). Calvin published his first commentary on the Epistle to the Romans when he was barely thirty years of age in 1540. Isaiah appeared in 1551; Acts, the following year; Genesis, in 1554. Eng. trs. of Calvin began to appear as early as 1578. Calvin’s works in the Corpus Reformatorium embrace Vols. 23-55. In the epochal fifty-three-volume set of Calvin published by the Calvin Translation Society (1843-1855), forty-three of the fifty-three volumes were taken up with his commentaries. Calvin did not write commentaries on 2 Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, Ruth, Esther, Nehemiah, Ezra, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Solomon, and the Book of Revelation. His weakest area of interpretation was eschatology. In his two volumes on Daniel, his long exposition of Daniel’s self-discipline in ch. 1 is no doubt the finest interpretation of this one passage that has ever been written. His discussion of the difficult chronological prophecies of Daniel 8 and 9 involves some strange interpretations which no one today, whatever his eschatological views, would think of accepting. A new tr. of Calvin’s works in forty-five volumes is now in process of publication by Eerdmans.

The seventeenth century.

Only one commentary from the first half of the 17th cent. deserves mention, that of Joseph Hall (1574-1656). In 1612 he issued his widely used Contemplations on the Old Testament, followed in 1633 by his Contemplations on the New Testament.

Later in the same cent. appeared the famous Critical Commentary by Patrick Lowth in six volumes. The prophetic works were treated by Lowth, and most of the NT by Whitby, and the Book of Revelation by Lowman. In this cent. there was a concentration of what might be called Synoptical Commentaries, beginning with The Critici Sacri, a work in nine volumes published in 1660 written in Lat. It had been preceded in 1657 by the lesser known work of Walton, Biblia Sacra Polyglotta, in six volumes. In the same generation appeared the most famous of all this type of commentary, The Synopsis Criticorum Bibliorum, in five folio volumes (1669-1676) in Lat. by Matthew Poole (1624-1679). It contained the opinions of about 150 scholars. Poole later published Annotations upon the Holy Bible (1683). The work by Poole himself extended only to Isaiah 58. These volumes of Poole were extensively used and recommended by John Wesley, Cotton Mather, Doddrigge, Bishop Tomline, and others. It is said that 3800 sets of the Synopsis were sold. The Banner of Truth Trust has recently published a new edition of Poole’s Commentary in three volumes.

In 1642 Hugo Grotius, the Dutch theologian, published his Annotations. He put great emphasis on philological matters with close adherence to the ecclesiastical tradition, but with a varying repudiation of the inspiration of Holy Scripture.

The eighteenth century.

The most widely used of all Eng. commentaries appeared first at the beginning of the 18th cent. when Matthew Henry published his Exposition of the Old and New Testaments (1708-1710). Matthew Henry prob. did not write beyond the Book of Acts; the rest of the work was done by men of similar convictions. This commentary has continued to be published for more than two hundred years, and recently a one-volume ed. (1968) of nearly 2,000 pages was issued in which all the repetitions of the commentator have been removed and everything essential in his own words has been retained.

Also at the beginning of the 18th cent. appeared the Family Expositor by Philip Doddridge (1702-1751) in five volumes. The first ed. in six volumes was published in London (1760-1762), and many ed. following included a one-volume, super royal (1825). In 1778 Thomas Scott (1747-1821) published his Holy Bible with Explanatory Notes which went through many edd., the fifth appearing in 1822. It was the first large commentary to be reprinted in the United States from 1808-1819. A famous Calvinistic Baptist preacher, John Gill (1697-1771) published his Exposition of the Old and New Testaments, nine volumes, folio, London, in 1763.

Two outstanding commentaries of that era were published on the continent of Europe: A. A. Calmet’s Commentaire literal sur tous les livres de l’Ancien et du Nouveau Testament, in twenty-three quarto volumes from 1707-1716, and the Gnomon Novi Testamenti of J. A. Bengel in 1742. The Eng. tr. appeared in 1857.

The early nineteenth century.

Although limited to only one portion of Scripture a valuable work, now almost forgotten, was produced by Edward Greswell: An Exposition of the Parables and of the Other Parts of the Gospels, in six volumes at London (1834-1835). It contains the profoundest study of Matthew 13 that has prob. ever appeared in Eng.

Toward the middle of the cent. began to appear the still valuable commentaries by Henry Alford (1810-1871). His Greek Testament with Critical and Exegetical Commentary (1853-1861) was issued in five volumes. Within ten years it passed through six edd., and recently a corrected ed., bringing the material up to date, was published by Moody Press under the editorship of Dr. Everett Harrison.

In the last half of the cent. the commentaries multiplied. John Eadie’s (d. 1876) works on Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Thessalonians are still valuable. An entire series of massive commentaries were published by Macmillan: Bishop Lightfoot (1828-1889) on Galatians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon; Bishop Westcott (1825-1901) on John, Ephesians, Hebrews, and the Johannine Epistles. C. J. Ellicott (1819-1905) produced The New Testament Commentary for English Readers in eight volumes, and later the corresponding Old Testament Commentary. Albert Barnes (1798-1870) contributed his Notes in twelve volumes, published in America, which have had a circulation of more than a million copies. It was written progressively from 1832 to 1851, and in 1868 was revised by the author. It has been tr. into a number of languages, and has been twice reprinted in the present generation.

The most widely used and frequently published commentary of this period was the Commentary Critical, Experimental, and Practical on the Old and New Testaments by Robert Jamieson (1802-1880), A. R. Fausset (1821-1910), and David Brown (1803-1897). Fausset and Brown were prolific authors of books that are still valuable. This work was published in 1864-1870 in six volumes, and contains approximately three million words. It has been republished in numerous editions, the last by Eerdmans in 1945. The work by Fausset was esp. valuable.

Several series of commentaries appeared late in the cent. The Speaker’s Commentary, edited by F. C. Cook, was published in ten volumes betwen 1871 and 1881. Parts of it were contributed by some of the leading Biblical scholars of the day, such as R. Payne Smith on Jeremiah, W. Alexander on the Epistles of John, Lee on Revelation, and Westcott on John. It was the outcome of the consultation with several bishops to produce a commentary that would defend the Scriptures against the attacks of prevailing skepticism.

In 1877, under the editorship of Bishop Perowne and A. F. Kirkpatrick, was begun the production of the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges. The Cambridge Greek Testament under the editorship of Bishop Perowne, was begun in 1888, and publication continued into the next cent. Both contained work by experts, and have been widely used. The Cambridge Greek Testament has been partly rewritten in recent years.

The forty-eight volume Expositor’s Bible was begun in 1887. Many of the outstanding divines of the period contributed to it: Dods on Genesis, Chadwick on Exodus, Kellogg on Leviticus, Maclaren on Psalms, George Adam Smith on Isaiah and the Minor Prophets, Dods on John, and Plummer on the pastoral epistles.

The International Critical Commentary, begun in 1895, has never been completed. Most of these volumes are highly technical, but a few of them have proved to be milestones of Biblical interpretation; e.g., Allen on Matthew, Plummer on Luke, R. H. Charles on Revelation, and esp. Sanday and Headlam on Romans. Another work that never received due recognition was the Popular Commentary on the New Testament edited by Philip Schaff in four volumes (1879-1883).

The widely used Pulpit Commentary in 49 volumes, edited by H. D. M. Spence and J. S. Exell (1880-1896) was largely homiletical in purpose. It contained numerous excellent individual works by noted scholars; some of the introductions are superb.

The Expositor’s Greek Testament (1897-1907) was launched at the end of the cent. under the editorship of Robertson Nicoll. It was designed to succeed Alford’s work. A series of short but rich commentaries was issued under the direction of Marcus Dods and Alexander Whyte entitled Handbooks for Bible Classes. The volumes on Hebrews, by Davidson, Acts by Lindsay, and John by Keith are esp. valuable.

Apart from these excellent and widely differing series of commentaries there were innumerable commentaries on separate books of the Bible issued in the last cent. A few of these deserve special mention: on Genesis, R. S. Candlish (1852) and J. G. Murphy (1864); on Leviticus, A. A. Bonar, fifth edition (1866); on Judges, the rare but valuable work by A. R. Fausset; on Job, Samuel Cox (1886); on Ecclesiastes, C. H. Wright (1883); on Isaiah, T. R. Birks (1873); on Ezekiel, A. B. Davidson (1892); and on the minor prophets, a three-volume work by G. C. Findlay (1896).

In the field of the NT we have Ryle’s Notes on the Gospels, Broadus’ Commentary on Matthew, H. B. Swete on Mark in the Macmillan series (1898), and Godet on Luke, John, Romans, and 1 Corinthians. Westcott’s two-volume work on the Gr. text of John was published posthumously. Charles Hodge (1889) published an important commentary on Romans; Delitzsch wrote on Hebrews (1889), and Mayor’s very thorough commentary in Gr., also in the Macmillan series, appeared in 1893. Especially valuable on the Epistles of John were the lectures by R. S. Candlish (1866).

In the last half of the 19th cent. appeared three series of Ger. commentaries that exercised a strong influence in Europe, Great Britain, and America. The first was edited by John Peter Lange (1802-1884). Publication began in 1864, and continued in twenty-two volumes, bearing the title, Theologischehomiletisches Biblewerk. Lange himself wrote Genesis to Numbers, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, Matthew, Mark, John, Romans, and Revelation. It was tr. by a number of scholars, and was edited by Philip Schaff. The notes of some of the American editors are as valuable as the original text; e.g., the notes on John by Schaff and on Revelation by E. R. Craven.

The second was the product of two of the greatest Semitic scholars of their generation, the Commentary on the Old Testament by J. K. F. Keil (1807-1888) and Franz Delitzsch (1813-1890). It has never been completely superseded, and is still being published in an Eng. tr. of fourteen volumes.

In 1829 began the publication of the monumental work by H. W. Meyer (1800-1873), The Kritisch-exegetischer Kommentar uber das Neue Testament, containing sixteen volumes, and completed in 1852. It appeared in an Eng. tr. in twenty volumes in 1873, and has been frequently revised. Its treatment of the Biblical text was exhaustive.

The twentieth century.

In the 20th cent. the proliferation of commentaries on the Bible presents an almost bewildering array of material. The Westminster Press published an excellent series of handbooks by Charles R. Erdman that covered the devotional study of the text. On a larger scale was the eleven-volume work by the late R. C. H. Lenski, written from the Lutheran point of view. The Moffat New Testament Commentary in seventeen volumes was published from 1926 to 1950. The Westminster Commentary Series included some distinguished scholars, represented by Driver’s liberal commentary on Genesis (1926) and Rackham’s superb work on Acts (1906), which was one of the best in its field. The series was never completed for the entire Bible.

The largest cooperative venture in this type of lit. was the Interpreter’s Bible in twelve quarto volumes under the general editorship of G. A. Buttrick, with the assistance of 126 consulting editors and 36 contributing editors, though some served in both capacities. On each book of the Bible is an extensive commentary, accompanied by an expository interpretation of the text. The early volumes were quite liberal in theology and criticism, but some volumes of the NT were in places comparatively conservative.

The editions of Bible commentaries during the last thirty years have been so numerous that prob. the best way to list them is in alphabetical order. The most extensive work of this decade is the Anchor Bible published by Doubleday & Co., under the general editorship of the late W. F. Albright and David N. Freedman. Albright states in its Introduction that “It’s method is to arrive at the meaning of Biblical literature through exact translation and extended exposition and to reconstruct the ancient setting of the Biblical story as well as the circumstances of its transcription and the characteristics of its transcribers.”

In 1962 the Lutterworth Press began their publication of Bible Guides to extend through twenty-two volumes under the general editorship of Wm. Barclay and F. F. Bruce. The series of thirteen volumes known as Black’s New Testament Commentary is identical with the Harper’s New Testament published in America beginning in 1957. Oxford Press began the publication of The Clarendon Bible in 1929. Moody Press issued a small series under the title of Everyman’s Bible Commentary. The John Knox Press is publishing the Layman’s Bible Commentary, with contributors such as Fritsch of Princeton and Filson of McCormick. The Westminster Press is publishing a learned series with the title, The Old Testament Library. The Seventh Day Adventist Bible Commentary first appeared in 1953, with thirty-four contributors, a work that emphasizes archeological studies, and that carries the comments of Ellen G. White at the end of each chapter.

Some briefer commentaries, like the Torch Commentary of Macmillan, edited by J. Marsh and A. Richardson (1960), the Shield Bible Study of Baker Book House, and the 19-volume series of Tyndale Bible Commentaries (1960-) of Eerdmans, edited by R. V. G. Tasker and D. J. Wiseman have also appeared.

One-volume commentaries.

A large number of useful one-volume commentaries have been made available during this cent. One of the most widely used works of this kind was the Commentary on the Holy Bible by J. R. Dummelow (1909). A. S. Peake, with a number of contributors, issued his Commentary on the Bible in 1920 with the aid of such men as Moffatt, Oesterley, and the Moultons. The SPCK published in 1928 a volume that was highly approved in Anglican circles, A New Commentary on Holy Scripture, edited by Bishop Gore. The Abingdon Bible Commentary was published in 1929. Harper produced in 1932 a Twentieth Century Bible Commentary, revised in 1955. The SPCK in 1952 issued A Concise Bible Commentary of one thousand pages, written entirely by one author, W. K. L. Clarke. The best conservative Bible commentary of the century, The New Bible Commentary, with 140 contributors under the editorship of J. D. Douglas, was sponsored by Inter-Varsity in 1962.

The most important Catholic commentary of this type is the large volume, A Catholic Commentary on the Holy Scriptures (1969). Moody Press issued in 1962 the Wycliffe Bible Commentary under the editorship of C. F. Pfeiffer and Everett F. Harrison. In 1971 Abingdon Press produced the Interpreter’s One-Volume Commentary on the Bible with the assistance of some seventy contributors including two eminent archeological authorities, G. Ernest Wright and J. B. Pritchard.

A number of commentaries were written during the 20th cent. on separate books of the Bible. The list here can be only selective, and the titles are merely listed: on Genesis, Leupold (1942) and the three-volume work in the Devotional Commentary by W. H. Griffith-Thomas; on Deuteronomy, the volume by George Adam Smith in the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges; on the Psalms, the work of J. J. S. Perowne (1910), the Roman Catholic work in two volumes by E. J. Kissani (1953-1954), and that of H. C. Leupold (1959); on Daniel, in addition to Montgomery in the ICC there are important volumes by R. H. Charles (1929), E. J. Young (1947), and H. C. Leupold (1949); on the twelve minor prophets, George Adam Smith (1927), and esp. the work of Theo. Laetsch, The Minor Prophets (1956). The work on Zechariah by David Baron (1908) is a classic. In the field of the NT, on Matthew, by Plummer (1909), by G. Campbell Morgan (1929); on Mark by H. B. Swete (1902) and by Vincent Taylor (1955); on Luke, G. Campbell Morgan’s work is among his best, and Geldenhuys’ volume in the NIC is excellent. Commentaries on the Gospel of John are both numerous and important. Among the best are the ICC in two volumes by J. C. Bernard (1928), C. K. Barrett (1955), C. H. Dodd (1953), Wm. Hendriksen (1953), and the most recent issue of the NIC by Leon Morris (1970), a massive volume of 936 pp. which is both comprehensive and conservative.

The best of modern works on Acts is the volume in the NIC by F. F. Bruce. On Romans, the work by Barth, frequently rewritten, was the introduction to his theology (1933); the three-volume work of W. H. Griffith-Thomas in the Devotional Commentary Series (1946) is one of his finest products, and the book on Romans by Nygren, (1952) represents the Swedish school of theology; on James, the work of H. Maynard Smith (1914) is almost unknown, but worthy of reading; and on the Johannine epistles Robert Law (1909) and G. C. Findlay (1955) are useful. Commentaries on Revelation are endless. Probably the two most extensive in this cent. are those of H. B. Swete in the Macmillan series (1911), and of I. T. Beckwith (1919). The most thorough of recent works is that of John Walvoord (1969).


Three of the most important bibliographies of commentaries have already been mentioned, esp. the great list in Calmet’s Dictionary of 1732, the long article in McLintock and Strong of 1867 (vol. II, pp. 427-474), and the list in the Dictionary of Theology by Hurst (1895; pp. 71-117). The most thorough treatment of this subject down to the beginning of the 20th cent. is F. W. Farrar’s History of Interpretation (1886). The two massive volumes of James Darling’s Cyclopedia Bibliographica (1854-1859) contained in Vol. I an alphabetical list of authors and in Vol. II a topical list of subjects. W. E. Sonnenschein’s Best Books, second edition, 1891, Part I, pp. 80-114, contains a valuable catalog of commentaries. The most extensive article on commentaries in the 20th cent. is by J. Orr (1915) in ISBE, Vol. II, pp. 680-684.

For the early period of the Church see The History and Literature of Christianity from Tertullian to Boethius (1925). On the medieval period, Dr. B. Smalley’s Study of the Bible in the Middle Ages (1941) is unequalled. Others containing some material on this subject are: G. H. Gilbert, Interpretation of the Bible (1908); E. C. Blackman, Biblical Interpretation (1957); and J. D. Wood, The Interpretation of the Bible (1958). There are also valuable discussions of commentaries in various chapters of the scholarly Cambridge History of the Bible (3 vols., 1963-1970). For a list of Jewish commentaries one might consult Jewish Biblical Commentaries by W. Resenau (1906).

A good conservative list of commentaries may be found in A Guide to Christian Reading published by the Inter-Varsity Fellowship of London (second edition, 1961). Several seminaries in America have issued bibliographies of Biblical and theological lit., one of the best of which is A Bibliography of Bible Study by Princeton (1960). The latest survey of commentaries is in the Bulletin of the Theological Students’ Fellowship (London, Spring and Fall, 1970).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)





1. Early Commentaries

(1) Origen, etc.

(2) Chrysostom, etc.

2. Scholastic Period

Nicolas de Lyra

3. Reformation and Post-Reformation Periods

(1) Luther and Calvin

(2) Beza, Grotius, etc.

(3) Later Writers

4. 18th Century

(1) Calmer, M. Henry, etc.

(2) Patrick, Lowth, Scott

(3) Gill, Doddridge

(4) Bengel

5. The Modern Period--Its Characteristics

(1) Germany

(a) The Liberal School

(b) Believing Tendency

(i) Conservative

(ii) Critical

(iii) Mediating

(iv) Confessional

(v) Godet (Swiss)

(2) Britain and America

(a) Alford, Eadie

(b) Ellicott and Lightfoot

(c) Westcott

(d) Critical Influences--Broad Church

Stanley and Jowett

(e) General Commentaries (Series)

6. Recent Period

(1) Germany

(2) Britain and America


I. The Word--General Scope.

Etymologically, a commentary (from Latin commentor) denotes jottings, annotations, memoranda, on a given subject, or perhaps on a series of events; hence, its use in the plural as a designation for a narrative or history, as the Commentaries of Caesar. In its application to Scripture, the word designates a work devoted to the explanation, elucidation, illustration, sometimes the homiletic expansion and edifying utilization, of the text of some book or portion of Scripture. The primary function of a good commentary is to furnish an exact interpretation of the meaning of the passage under consideration; it belongs to it also to show the connection of ideas, the steps of argument, the scope and design of the whole, in the writing in question. This can only be successfully accomplished by the help of a knowledge of the original language of the writing, and of the historical setting of the particular passage; by careful study of the context, and of the author’s general usages of thought and speech; and by comparison of parallel or related texts. Aid may also be obtained from external sources, as a knowledge of the history, archaeology, topography, chronology, manners and customs, of the lands, peoples and times referred to; or, as in Deissmann’s recent discoveries, from the light thrown on peculiarities of language by papyri or other ancient remains (see his Light from the Ancient East).

II. Differences in Character of Commentaries.

It is obvious that commentaries will vary greatly in character and value according as they are more scholarly, technical, and critical, entering, e.g. into philological discussions, and tabulating and remarking upon the various views held as to the meaning; or again, more popular, aiming only at bringing out the general sense, and conveying it to the mind of the reader in attractive and edifying form. When the practical motive predominates, and the treatment is greatly enlarged by illustration, application, and the enforcement of lessons, the work loses the character of commentary proper, and partakes more of the character of homily or discourse.

III. Range of Commentaries.

No book in the world has been made the subject of so much commenting and exposition as the Bible. Theological libraries are full of commentaries of all descriptions and all grades of worth. Some are commentaries on the original Hebrew or Greek texts; some on the English or other versions Modern commentaries are usually accompanied with some measure of introduction to the books commented upon; the more learned works have commonly also some indication of the data for the determination of the textual readings (see TEXTUAL CRITICISM). Few writers are equal to the task of commenting with profit on the Bible as a whole, and, with the growth of knowledge, this task is now seldom attempted. Frequently, however, one writer contributes many valuable works, and sometimes, by cooperation of like-minded scholars, commentaries on the whole Bible are produced. It is manifestly a very slight survey that can be taken in a brief article of the work of commenting, and of the literature to which it has given rise; the attempt can only be made to follow the lines most helpful to those seeking aid from this class of books. On the use and abuse of commentaries by the preacher, C. H. Spurgeon’s racy remarks in his Commenting and Commentaries may be consulted.

1. Early Commentaries:

Rabbinical interpretations and paraphrases of the Old Testament may here be left out of account (see next article; also TARGUM; TALMUD; F. W. Farrar’s History of Interpretation, Lect II). Commentaries on the New Testament could not begin till the New Testament books themselves were written, and had acquired some degree of authority as sacred writings (see Bible). The earliest commentaries we hear of are from the heretical circles of the Gnostics. Heracleon, a Valentinian (circa 175 AD), wrote a commentary on the Gospel of John (fragments in Origen), and on parts at least of the Gospel of Luke. Tatian, a disciple of Justin Martyr, about the same time, compiled his Diatessaron, or Harmony of the Four Gospels, on which, at a later time, commentaries were written. Ephraem Syrus (4th century) wrote such a commentary, of which an Armenian translation has now been recovered. The Church Father Hippolytus (beginning of 3rd century), wrote several commentaries on the Old Testament (Exodus, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Daniel, Zechariah, etc.), and on Matthew, Luke and Revelation.

(1) Origen, etc.

The strongest impulse, however, to the work of commenting and exposition of Holy Scripture undoubtedly proceeded from the school of Alexandria-- especially from Origen (203-254 AD). Clement, Origen’s predecessor, had written a treatise called Hupotuposeis, or "Outlines," a survey of the contents of Holy Scripture. Origen himself wrote commentaries on all the books of the Old Testament, Ruth, Es and Ec alone excepted, and on most of the books of the New Testament (Mark, 1 and 2 Corinthians, 1 and 2 Peter, 1, 2, and 3 John, James, Jude, Revelation excepted). He furnished besides, scholia, or notes on difficult passages, and delivered Homilies, or discourses, the records of which fill three folio volumes. "By his Tetrapla and Hexapla," says Farrar, "he became the founder of all textual criticism; by his Homilies he fixed the type of a popular exposition; his scholia were the earliest specimens of marginal explanations; his commentaries furnished the church with her first continuous exegesis" (op. cit., 188). Unfortunately, the Alexandrian school adopted a principle of allegorical interpretation which led it frequently into the most extravagant fancies. Assuming a threefold sense in Scripture--a literal, a moral, and a spiritual--it gave reins to caprice in foisting imaginary meanings on the simplest historical statements (Farrar, op. cit., 189 ff). Some of Origen’s commentaries, however, are much freer from allegory than others, and all possess high value (compare Lightfoot, Galatians, 217). The later teachers of the Alexandrian school continued the exegetical works of Origen. Pamphilus of Caesarea, the friend of Eusebius, is said to have written Old Testament commentaries.

(2) Chrysostom, etc.

At the opposite pole from the allegorizing Alexandrian school of interpretation was the Antiochinn, marked by a sober, literal and grammatical style of exegesis. Its reputed founder was Lucian (martyred 311 AD); but its real heads were Diodorus of Tarsus( 379-94 AD) and Theodore of Mopsuestia (393- 428 AD); and its most distinguished representative was John Chrysostom (347-407 AD). Chrysostom wrote continuous commentaries on Isaiah (only Isa 1-8:10 remaining) and on Galatians; but his chief contributions were his Homilies, covering almost the whole of the Old Testament and New Testament. Of these over 600 remain, chiefly on the New Testament. They are unequal in character, those on Ac being reputed the feeblest; others, as those on Matthew, Romans and Corinthians, are splendid examples of expository teaching. Schaff speaks of Chrysostom as "the prince of commentators among the Fathers" ( History, Ante-Nicene Per., 816). Thomas Aquinas is reported to have said that he would rather possess Chrysostom’s homilies on Matthew than be master of all Paris. In the West, Ambrose of Milan (340-97 AD) wrote expositions of Old Testament histories and of Luke (allegorical and typical), and Jerome (346-420 AD) wrote numerous commentaries on Old Testament and New Testament books, largely, however, compilations from others.

2. Scholastic Period:

The medieval and scholastic period offers little for our purpose. There was diligence in copying manuscripts, and producing catenae of the opinions of the Fathers; in the case of the schoolmen, in building up elaborate systems of theology; but the Scriptures were thrown into the background.

Nicolas de Lyra.

The 14th century, however, produced one commentator of real eminence--Nicolas de Lyra (1270-1340). Nicolas was a Franciscan monk, well versed in Hebrew and rabbinical learning. While recognizing the usual distinctions of the various senses of Scripture, he practically builds on the literal, and exhibits great sobriety and skill in his interpretations. His work, which bears the name Postillae Perpetuae in Universa Biblia, was much esteemed by Luther, who acknowledged his indebtedness to it. Hence, the jest of his opponents, Si Lyra non lyrasset, Lutherus non saltasset (a notice of Lyra may be seen in Farrar, op. cit., 274-78).

3. Reformation and Post-Reformation Periods:

The Reformation brought men’s minds back to the Scriptures and opened a new era in Biblical exposition and commentary. It became the custom to expound the Scriptures on Sundays and week-days in all the pulpits of the Protestant churches. "Luther’s custom was to expound consecutively in a course of sermons the Old and New Testaments" (Kostlin). The Reformation began at Zurich with a series of discourses by Zwingli on the Gospel of Matthew. The same was true of Calvin, Beza, Knox and all associated with them. The production of commentaries or expository homilies was the necessary result.

(1) Luther and Calvin.

As outstanding examples may be mentioned Luther’s Commentary on Galatians, and the noble commentaries of Calvin. Not all by any means, but very many of the commentaries of Calvin were the fruit of pulpit prelections (e.g. the expositions of Job, the Minor Prophets, Jeremiah, Daniel). Others, as the commentaries on Romans and the Psalms (reputed his best), were prepared with great care. Calvin’s supreme excellence as a commentator is disputed by no one. From every school and shade of opinion in Christendom could be produced a chorus of testimony to the remarkable gifts of mind and heart displayed in his expositions of Scripture--to his breadth, moderation, fairness and modernness of spirit, in exhibiting the sense of inward genius of Holy Writ. The testimony of Arminius is as striking as any: "I exhort my pupils to peruse Calvin’s commentaries .... for I affirm that he excels beyond comparison in the interpretation of Scripture, and that his commentaries ought to be more highly valued than all that is handed down to us by the library of the Fathers."

(2) Beza, Grotius, etc.

Lutheranism had its distinguished exegetes (Brenz, died 1572), who wrote able commentaries on the Old Testament, and in both the Calvinistic and Arminian branches of the Reformed church the production of commentaries held a chief place. Beza, Calvin’s successor, is acknowledged to have possessed many of the best exegetical qualities which characterized his master. Grotius, in Holland (died 1645), occupies the foremost place among the expositors in this century on the Arminian side. His exegetical works, if not marked by much spirituality, show sagacity and learning, and are enriched by parallels from classical literature. The school of Cocceius (died 1669) developed the doctrine of the covenants, and reveled in typology. Cocceius wrote commentaries on nearly all the books of Scripture. His pupil Vitringa (died 1716) gained renown by his expositions of Isa and the Apocalypse.

(3) Later writers.

Partly fostered by the habit of basing commentary on pulpit exposition, the tendency early set in to undue prolixity in the unfolding of the meaning of Scripture. "In the Lutheran church," says Van Oosterzee, "they began to preach on whole books of the Bible; sometimes in a very prolix manner, as, e.g. in the case of the 220 sermons by one Striegnitz, a preacher at Meissen, on the history of Jonah, of which four are devoted to the consideration of the words `Unto Jonah’ " (Practical Theol., 120). The habit spread. The commentaries of Peter Martyr (Swiss Reformer, died 1562) on Judges and Romans occupy a folio each; N. Byfield (Puritan, died 1622) on Colossians fills a folio; Caryl (Independent, died 1673) on Job extends to 2 folios; Durham (died 1658) on Isa 53 consists of 72 sermons; Venema (Holland, died 1787) on Jeremiah fills 2 quartos, and on the Psalms no less than 6 quartos. These are only samples of a large class. H. Hammond’s A Paraphrase and Annotations on the New Testament, from an Arminian Standpoint belong to this period (1675). Another work which long took high rank is M. Poole’s elaborate Synopsis Criticorum Biblicorum (5 volumes, folio, 1669-76)--a summary of the opinions of 150 Biblical critics; with which must be taken his English Annotations on the Holy Bible, only completed up to Isa 58 at the time of his death (1679). The work was continued by his friends.

4. 18th Century:

(1) Calmet, M. Henry, etc.

The 18th century is marked by greater sobriety in exegesis. It is prolific in commentaries, but only a few attain to high distinction. Calmet (died 1757), a learned Benedictine, on the Roman Catholic side, produced his Commentaire litteral sur tous les livres de l’Ancien et du Nouveau Testament, in 23 quarto volumes--a work of immense erudition, though now necessarily superseded in its information. On the Protestant side, Matthew Henry’s celebrated Exposition of the Old and New Testament (1708-10) easily holds the first place among devotional commentaries for its blending of good sense, quaintness, original and felicitous remark, and genuine insight into the meaning of the sacred writers. It is, of course, not a critical work in the modern acceptation, and often is unduly diffuse. M. Henry’s work extends only to the end of Acts; the remaining books were done by various writers after his death (1714). Le Clerc (died 1736) may be named as precursor of the critical views now obtaining on the composition and authorship of the Pentateuch His commentaries began with Ge in 1693 and were not Completed till 1731. Other commentators of note of Arminian views were Daniel Whitby (died 1726; converted to Arianism), and, later, Adam Clarke, Wesleyan (1762-1832), whose work extends into the next century. Clarke’s Commentary on the Holy Scriptures (1810-26), still held by many in high esteem, is marred to some extent by eccentricities of opinion.

(2) Patrick, Lowth, Scott.

In the Anglican church the names of chief distinction in this century are Bishop Patrick, Bishop Lowth, and later, Thomas Scott. Bishop Patrick, usually classed with the Cambridge Platonists (died 1707), contributed paraphrases and commentaries on the Old Testament from Genesis to Canticles, while Bishop Lowth (died 1787) acquired lasting fame by his Prelections on Hebrew Poetry, and A New Translation, with Notes on Isaiah. He was among the first to treat the poetical and prophetic writings really as literature. The commentaries of Patrick and Lowth were subsequently combined with those of Whitby and other divines (Arnold, etc.) to form a complete Critical Commentary (1809), which went through many editions. The well-known commentary of Thomas Scott (1747-1821), representing a moderate Calvinism, is a solid and "judicious" piece of work, inspired by an earnest, believing spirit, though not presenting any marked originality or brilliance. Brilliance is not the characteristic of many commentators of this age.

(3) Gill, Doddridge.

Two other English writers deserving notice are Dr. John Gill (died 1771; Calvinistic Baptist), who wrote Expositions on the Old Testament and the New Testament and a separate Exposition of the So of Solomon--learned, but ponderous and controversial; and Dr. Philip Doddridge (died 1751), whose Family Expositor, embracing the entire New Testament, with a harmony of the Gospels, and paraphrases of the meaning, is marked by excellent judgment, and obtainea wide acceptance.

(4) Bengel.

Meanwhile a new period had been preluded in Germany by the appearance in 1742 of the Gnomon Novi Testamenti of J. A. Bengel (died 1751), a work following upon his critical edition of the New Testament issued in 1734. Though belonging to the 18th century, Bengel’s critical and expository labors really herald and anticipate the best work in these departments of the 19th century His scholarship was exact, his judgment sound, his critical skill remarkable in a field in which he was a pioneer; his notes on the text, though brief, were pregnant with significance, and were informed by a spirit of warm and living piety.

The modern period, to which Bengel in spirit, if not in date, belongs, is marked by great changes in the style and character of commentaries. The critical temper was now strong; great advances had been made in the textual criticism of both Old Testament and New Testament (see TEXTUAL CRITICISM); the work of the higher criticism had begun in the Old Testament; in Germany, the spirit of humanism, inherited from Lessing, Herder and Goethe, had found its way into literature; knowledge of the sciences, of oriental civilizations, of other peoples and religions, was constantly on the increase; scholarship was more precise and thorough; a higher ideal of what commentary meant had taken possession of the mind.

5. The Modern Period--Its Characteristics:

Learning, too, had enlarged its borders, and books on all subjects poured from the press in such numbers that it was difficult to cope with them. This applies to commentaries as to other departments of theological study. Commentaries in the 19th century, and in our own, are legion. Only the most prominent landmarks can be noted.

(1) Germany

(a) The liberal school.

In Germany, as was to be anticipated, the rise of the critical spirit and the profound influence exercised by it are reflected in most of the commentaries produced in the first half of the century. On the liberal side, the rationalistic temper is shown in the rejection of miracle, the denial of prediction in prophecy, and the lowering of the idea of inspiration generally. The scholarship, however, is frequently of a very high order. This temper is seen in De Wette (died 1849), whose commentaries on the New Testament, written when his views had become more positive, show grace and feeling; in Gesenius (died 1842), who produced an epoch-making commentary on Isaiah; in Knobel (died 1863), pronouncedly rationalistic, but with keen critical sense, as evinced in his commentaries on the Pentateuch and Joshua, Ecclesiastes, and Isaiah; in Hupfeld (died 1866) in his Commentary on the Psalms (4 volumes); in Hitzig (died 1875), acute but arbitrary, who wrote on the Psalms and most of the Prophets; above all, in Ewald (died 1875), a master in the interpretation of the poetical and prophetical books, but who commented also on the first three Gospels, on the writings of John, and on Paul’s epistles. Ewald’s influence is felt in the History of the Jewish Church by Dean Stanley, in England. The Exegetical Handbook (Kurzgefasstes exegetisches Handbuch) embraced compendious annotations by Knobel, Hitzig, Bertbeau (school of Ewald), etc., but also Olshausen (died 1839; wrote likewise on the New Testament), on all the books of the Old Testament.

(b) Believing tendency.

On the believing side, from a variety of standpoints, evangelical, critical, mediating, confessional, a multitude of commentaries on the Old Testament and New Testament were produced.

(i) Conservative:

The extremely conservative position in criticism was defended by Hengstenberg (died, 1869; on Psalms, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel, John, Revelation), by Keil (died 1888) in the well-known Keil and Delitzsch series (Genesis to Esther, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Minor Prophets; also New Testament commentaries), and by Havernick (died 1845; Daniel, Ezekiel). Delitzsch (died 1890) wrote valued commentaries on Genesis, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Canticles, Ecclesiastes, Isaiah; also on Hebrews.

(ii) Critical:

After the rise of the Wellhausen school, he considerably modified his views in the newer critical direction. His New Commentary on Genesis (1887) shows this change, but, with his other works, is still written in a strongly believing spirit. On the other hand, the critical position (older, not newer) is frankly represented by A. Dillmann (died 1894) in his commentaries on the books of the Pentateuch and Joshua (English translation of Genesis, 1897; many also of the above works are translated).

(iii) Mediating:

The mediating school, largely penetrated by the influence of Schleiermacher, had many distinguished representatives. Among the most conspicuous may be named Lucke (died 1855), who wrote on John; Bleek, the Old Testament and New Testament critical scholar (died 1859), who has a work on the first three Gospels, and lectures on Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon, Hebrews and Revelation (his Commentary on Hebrews is the best known), and Tholuck (died 1877), whose expositions and commentaries on Psalms, John, Romans and Hebrews with his Commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, are fine pieces of exegetical work.

A special place must be given to two names of high distinction in the present connection. One is J. P. Lange (died 1884), the projector and editor of the great Bibelwerk (theological and homiletical) in 22 volumes, to which he himself contributed the commentaries on Genesis to Numbers, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, Matthew, Mark, John, Romans, Revelation, with introductions and homiletic hints. The other is H. A. W. Meyer (died 1873), whose Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament from Matthew to Philippians (the remaining books being done by other scholars, Lunemann, Huther, etc.) is an essential part of every New Testament scholar’s equipment.

(iv) Confessional:

With the more positive and confessional theologians may be ranked E. R. Stier (died 1862). whose Words of the Lord Jesus (English translation in 8 volumes; Biblical, mystical, tendency to prolixity), with commentaries on 70 selected Psalms, Proverbs, 2nd Isaiah, Ephesians, Hebrews, James and Jude, found much acceptance. A. von Harless (died 1879) wrote a Commentary on Ephesians, praised by Tholuck as one of the finest extant. Philippi (died 1882), of Jewish extraction, best known by his Commentary on Romans, was strictly Lutheran. One of the ablest of the Lutheran Confessionalists was Luthardt (died 1892), whose works include a Commentary on John’s Gospel. Ebrard (died 1887), as stoutly confessional on the Reformed side, has an esteemed Commentary on Hebrews.

(v) Godet (Swiss):

An eminent continental theologian who cannot be overlooked is the Swiss F. L. Godet (died 1900), whose admirable Commentary on John’s Gospel, and commentaries on Romans and Corinthians are highly appreciated.

(2) Britain and America.

Meanwhile the English speaking countries were pursuing their own paths in the production of commentaries, either in continuing their old traditions, or in striking out on new lines, under the foreign influences which, from the beginning of the century, had begun to play upon them. In England Bishop Blomfield (died 1857) published Lectures on John and Acts. In the United States there appeared from the pen of Dr. J. A. Alexander, of Princeton (died 1860), a noteworthy Commentary on Isaiah, fully abreast of the modern learning, but staunchly censervative; also a Commentary on Psalms. From the same seminary proceeded the massive commentaries of Dr. Charles Hodge (Calvinistic) on Romans, Ephesians and Corinthians. Adapted for popular use and greatly in demand for Sunday-school purposes were the Notes, Critical, Explanatory and Practical of Albert Barnes (died 1871; New School Presbyterian). These Notes, the fruit of the use of the early morning hours in a busy pastoral life, covered the whole of the New Testament, with several books of the Old Testament (Job, Psalms, Isaiah, Daniel). Sensible and informative, rather than original or profound, they proved helpful to many. Over 1,000,000 copies are stated to have been sold. Of similar aim, though less widely known, were the Notes of Professor M. W. Jacobus (died 1876; on the New Testament, Genesis and Exodus).

(i) Alford, Eadie:

A new era was opened in critical commentary in England by the publication of the Greek Testament (1849-61) of Dean Alford (died 1871), followed by his New Testament for English Readers (1868). Here was presented a thoroughly critical treatment of the texts, with a full display of the critical apparatus, and notes philological and exegetical, accompanied by learned and lucid introductions, on all the books of the New Testament. About the same time appeared the solid, if more theological and homiletical, commentaries of the Scottish scholar, J. Eadie (died 1876), on Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians.

(ii) Ellicott and Lighfoot:

Anglican scholarship produced its ripest fruits in this line in the classical Critical and Grammatical Commentary of Bishop Ellicott (died 1905) on Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, Thessalonians, Pastoral Epistles, and the yet more remarkable series of commentaries of Bishop J. B. Lightfoot (died 1889), massive in learning, and wider in outlook than Ellicott’s, on Galatians, Philemon, Colossians and Philemon. A large part of the value of Lightfoot’s works consists in the special essays or dissertations on important subjects embodied in them (e.g. "St. Paul and the Three", "The Christian Ministry," "The Colossian Heresy," etc.).

(iii) Westcott:

With these names should be associated that of Bishop Westcott, Dr. Lightfoot’s successor in the see of Durham (died 1901), whose commentaries on the Gospel and Epistles of John, and on He, take a place among the foremost. Bishop Moule, who, in turn, succeeded Dr. Westcott; has also written commentaries, simpler in character, on Romans, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians, in the Cambridge Bible Series, and on Romans in the Expositor’s Bible. In Old Testament exposition mention should be made of Bishop Perowne’s valuable work on the Book of Psalms (2nd edition, revised, 1870), with his contributions to the Cambridge Bible (see below).

(iv) Critical Influences--Broad Church

Stanley and Jowett:

The critical and theological liberalism of Germany has made its influence felt in England in the rise of a Broad Church party, the best products of which in commentary were Dean Stanley’s (died 1881) graphic and interesting Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians (1855) and Dr. B. Jowett’s Epistles of Paul to the Thessalonians, Galatians, and Romans, with Critical Notes and Dissertations (1855). The new spirit culminated in the appearance of the famous Essays and Reviews (1860), and in the works of Bishop Colenso on the Pentateuch and Joshua (1862-79). Bishop Colenso had already published a translation of Romans, with commentary (1861).

(v) General Commentaries (Series):

Besides works by individual authors, there appeared during this period several general commentaries, to the production of which many writers contributed. The following may be mentioned. The Speaker’s Commentary (10 volumes, 1871-82), under the general editorship of Canon F. C. Cook (died 1889), was called forth by the agitation over Bishop Colenso. Dr. Cook himself wrote introductions to Exodus, Psalms and Acts, and contributed the entire commentaries on Job, Habakkuk, Mark, Luke, 1 Peter, with parts of commentaries on Exodus, Psalms and Matthew. The work is of unequal value. A serviceable series is the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges (1877 ff), edited by Bishop Perowne, with Smaller Cambridge Bible for Schools, and Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges (still in process). Dr. Perowne (died 1904) himself contributed to the first-named the commentaries on Obadiah, Jonah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi and Galatians. Many valuable contributions appear in this series, e.g. A. F. Kirkpatrick on 1 and 2 Samuel and Psalms, A. B. Davidson on Job and Ezekiel, Driver on Daniel, G. G. Findlay on Thessalonians, etc. Next, under the editorship of Bishop Ellicott, were produced (1877-84) A New Testament Commentary for English Readers (3 volumes), and An Old Testament Commentary for English Readers (5 volumes), which contained some valuable work (Genesis by R. Payne Smith, Exodus by Canon G. Rawlinson, etc.). Akin to this in character was the Popular Commentary on the New Testament (4 volumes, 1879-83), edited by Dr. W. Schaff. This embraced, with other excellent matter, commentaries on Thessalonians by Dr. Marcus Dods, and on 1 and 2 Peter by Dr. S. D. F. Salmond. The Pulpit Commentary (49 volumes, 1880 ff), edited by J. S. Exell and Canon H. D. M. Spence, has expositions by good scholars, and an abundance of homiletical material by a great variety of authors. The series of Handbooks for Bible Classes (T. and T. Clark, Edinburgh) has a number of valuable commentaries, e.g. that of Dr. A. B. Davidson on He.

6. Recent Period:

In the most recent period the conspicuous feature has been the production of commentaries in series or by individual writers embodying the results of an advanced Old Testament criticism--in less degree of a radical New Testament criticism.

(1) Germany.

In Germany, in addition to the Kurzgefasstes exegetisches Handbuch, of older standing (see above), to which Dillmann contributed, may be mentioned Marti’s Kurzer Hand-Commentar zum Altes Testament (1897 ff) and Nowack’s Handkommentar zum Altes Testament; also Strack-and Zockler’s Kurzgefasster Kommentar (Old Testament and New Testament; critical, but moderate). Marti contributes to his Hand-Commentar the volumes on Isaiah, Daniel and the Minor Prophets; Nowack contributes to his Handkommentar the volumes on Judges and Ruth, 1 and 2 Samuel and the Minor Prophets (of special importance in Nowack’s series are the volumes on Genesis by H. Gunkel, and on Deuteronomy and Joshua by C. Steuernagel); Strack writes in his own work the volumes on Genesis to Numbers (Oettli contributes Deuteronomy, Joshua and Judges). Much more conservative in spirit are the commentaries of H. C. von Orelli (Basel) on Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the Minor Prophets. In the New Testament, Meyer’s Commentary has been "revised" by later writers, many of them (J. Weiss, W. Bousset, etc.) of much more advanced tendency than the original author.

(2) Britain and America.

In Britain and America like currents are observable. Professor T. K. Cheyne, who wrote a helpful commentary on the Prophecies of Isa (1880-81), and subsequently commentaries on Micah and Hosea (Cambridge Bible), Jeremiah (Pulpit Commentary), and on The Book of Psalms (1884), has become more and more extreme in his opinions. Of works in series the most important is The International Critical Commentary, edited by Drs. Driver and Plummer in England, and Dr. C. A. Briggs in the United States, of which 16 volumes in the Old Testament and the New Testament have already appeared. It need not be said that the commentaries in this series are always scholarly and able; those on the Old Testament are, however, all built on the Wellhausen foundations (see Criticism of the Bible. III). Dr. Driver himself writes on Deuteronomy; Dr. J. Skinner, on Genesis; Dr. G. F. Moore, on Judges; Dr. H. P. Smith, on 1 and 2 Samuel; Dr. Briggs, on Psalms; Dr. Toy, on Proverbs; Dr. W. R. Harper (died 1906), on Amos and Hosea; while Matthew in the New Testament is covered by W. C. Allen, Luke by Dr. Plummer, Romans by Drs. Sanday and Headlam, etc. A similar series is the Westminister Commentary, recently commenced, to which Dr. Driver contributes the volume on Genesis (1904; 7th edition, 1909). Yet another recent popular series is The Century Bible, to which again leading critical scholars lend their aid (Dr. W. H. Bennett on Genesis; also on "General Epistles"; Dr. A. R. S. Kennedy on 1 and 2 Samuel; Dr. Skinner on 1 and 2 Kings; Dr. A. S. Peake on Job; also on Hebrews; Dr. Driver on a group of the Minor Prophets, etc.). A well-planned one-vol Commentary on the Holy Bible, by various writers, has recently been edited by J. R. Dummelow (Cambridge). It is prefaced by a general Introduction, with a large number of articles on the principal subjects with which a reader of the Bible will desire to be acquainted.

It need only be added that very many of the foreign works mentioned above (not simply those specially noted) are now accessible in English translations.


Works and articles specially devoted to commentaries are not numerous. Dr. S. Davidson has an article "Commentary" in Kitto’s Biblical Encyclopedia, Vol I. See also F. W. Farrar’s Hist of Interpretation (Bampton Lects for 1885). G. H. Spurgeon’s popular talks on Commenting and Commentaries are accompanied by extensive lists of Commentaries on all parts of the Bible (severely exclusive of works deemed dangerous). Lists of commentaries on the Bible as a whole, on the Old Testament and New Testament separately, and on the several books, may be seen in most good works on Introduction, or in prolegomena to commentaries on the different books; e.g. in the general Introduction prefixed to Lange’s Commentary on Genesis; also in the lengthy sections on Jewish, Greek, Latin and Protestant commentators, and again in the "Index of the More Important Expository Works on the Books of the Old Testament." In Bleek’s Introduction to the Old Testament, very full information is given up to the author’s date. Full bibliographies of modern books, including commentaries on the Old Testament, are furnished in Dr. Driver’s Introduction. Similar lists are given in other works regarding the New Testament. For the writers of the commentaries on the special books in the above-noted German and English series, lists may generally be seen attached to each volume of the series.