Building a Pastor’s Library, Part 2

This is part 2 of a 4 part series. Part 1 is here. This was composed in response to a request from a young man hoping some day to be a pastor.

In building my library, one of the things I’ve wanted to do is to have at least one good commentary on each book of the bible handy and available. There are times when an issue comes up on a text in, say, 2 Thessalonians. It’s good to have something handy to help me address that.

Initially one can depend upon a good one-volume commentary. There is only one I recommend: New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition. I recommend that over a popular favorite: Matthew Henry. I would not buy Henry – his comments are available for free in a lot of places. He has good devotional insight, but reading him can be tedious and not altogether helpful.

The easiest way to cover ‘every book of the Bible’ is to lay hold of a good commentary set. However, I have avoided that in general because of the inconsistencies from volume to volume in most sets.

I almost suggested that at least you should buy Calvin’s Commentaries. But mid-sentence I decided to commit heresy and suggest that as much as I think you could benefit from Calvin, don’t go for him immediately. His insights are amazingly relevant. However, I find that I rarely use him in my weekly sermon preparation.

The goal then is to have at least one good commentary for each book (or book grouping – like 1 and 2 Corinthians, or whatever). To pick the best ones, there are lists available. Professors are often happy to provide a list. I’d be able to steer you to some good commentaries. There are two frequently updated survey books out there by good conservative scholars which I have found very helpful: Donald Carson’s New Testament Commentary Survey and Tremper Longman’s Old Testament Commentary Survey.

When I was a young pastor, I was blessed with a generous gift of $900 (in 1988 dollars!) which I was able to use to build my skeleton of commentaries. If any of you would like bless a young pastor, give him such a gift (in 2010 dollars, of course!).

When I am going to be preaching or teaching on a book, I buy additional commentaries to flesh out my resources on that book. In this way, the library grows. Generally I find two to five good commentaries on a book which I use consistently when doing sermon preparation.