A a number of years ago I did something I never dreamed possible. I donated all of my commentaries and bible study helps to my alma mater. There were a few really old or rare volumes that I kept for sentimental reasons or in hopes of impressing someone in the future who might see my personal library, but other than that, I boxed them up and dropped them off. I must admit, as I walked away I had mixed feelings. I felt like a parent abandoning their child on someone’s doorstep.
There were two reasons why I gave a big portion of my library away. First, online bible study helps were becoming so abundant that I hardly needed to open “real” books anymore. And second, I discovered that I so seldom needed to turn to commentaries in order to put together a good sermon that they didn’t justify the space they were taking up on my bookshelves. On those rare occasions that I needed to look something up I could do so online. Here are some random thoughts, in no particular order, I have about commentaries and the place they play in sermon preparation.
If you spend more than an hour a week reading commentaries you’re probably spending too much time reading commentaries.
If you already have a Bachelors or Masters in Bible & Theology, or something similar, you’ve probably been exposed to an adequate amount of bible and theology classes and hours of commentary reading will probably not result in you discovering anything new, i.e. “new” from a scholarly, commentary, academic point of view. If you do learn something new (and there’s always something new) the practicality of it will probably not be so great as to justify the time spent.
Assuming that you have some type of formal training in Bible and Theology, the only time you might want to turn to a commentary is if you are dealing with a controversial or difficult passage and you feel a need for some other opinions on the passage.
If you have no formal training in Bible and Theology then go to the local Christian book store and find a few commentaries designed for laymen. These volumes are easier to understand, typically make the application for you, contain all the important stuff, and are less expensive than the larger more scholarly commentaries.
When you need input from commentaries then take advantage of the free tools online. You’ll save time and money. Here are my five favorite “Online Bible Study Tools” resource websites. You might have one that I’ve left out but I’ve found that these five have just about everything you might need to prepare a good sermon.
Discover which website is good for what. For example, one site might be good for commentaries and another good for concordance. One might be strong if you’re looking for a parallel bible while another one excels in Greek and Hebrew. One might have a better selection of word study helps or Bible dictionaries than another. Once you’ve discovered the strengths of each website create a link to each one, change their names to reflect what you’ll use them for, i.e. commentaries, bible dictionaries, Greek, etc., and put them all in a folder on your desktop. And there you have it, your own custom library.