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Bible Commentaries: Introduction

An introduction to biblical commentaries, including how to find them and how to use them.

What is a Bible Commentary?

"A Bible commentary is a written, systematic series of explanations and interpretations of Scripture. Commentaries often analyze or expound on individual books of the Bible, chapter by chapter and verse by verse. Some commentary works provide analysis of the whole of Scripture" (Fairchild, 2019, para. 1,2).

Commentaries are "typically organized according to the text’s sequential flow" and although they often focus on a single book of the Bible, they may also comment on a specific section of that book, or on several books (Faithlife, n.d., para. 3).

Types of Commentaries

There are various categories of commentaries. Examples include expositional, exegetical, critical, application, cultural and devotional. Our library holds a cross section of commentaries that fall into these. There are also FULL Bible commentaries and those that only cover one (or a limited number) of books. A full Bible commentary will have shorter entries and will not prove as detailed or as verse specific; whereas a commentary focusing on one book, will provide more information. Full Bible commentaries are shelved in 220.7(7), and can be multi-volume sets. Single book commentaries are shelved with other resources discussing the same book of the Bible. For example, all of our books discussing Genesis (whether or not they are introductions, criticisms, interpretations, or commentaries) are shelved together. In this case it is the 221 section. Some commentaries have the biblical text included, and some do not.

How do I know it is a commentary?

A commentary is classified by the Dewey number for the biblical book it discusses, with 07 or 077 at the end. For example, a commentary on the book of Esther has the number 222.9077. Here, 222.9 represents Esther, and 077 indicates that the resource is a commentary with the biblical text included. If there was only one 7 at the end of the number (i.e., 222.907) this would indicate that the biblical text is not included, and that you need to read with your Bible alongside. That said, some of our commentaries have not yet had their labels updated with 07 or 077 notations, so another way to determine if a resource is a commentary is to look at the title (Does it include the word commentary?) or look inside to see if the resource takes the reader through the biblical book from start to finish. 

The difference between the Bible and a Commentary

A commentary is a study aid and is not inspired in the sense that we refer to inspiration of Scripture. They are valuable tools, but are not intended to replace God's word. As Jarrett (2020) explains, commentaries "reflect a human understanding of Scripture" (para. 16), albeit an understanding informed by education, expertise, and study. As well, the Bible was authored by many people over an extended period of time (Jarrett, 2020); whereas a Bible commentary is commonly authored by one person and written over a markedly shorter time span. Although some study Bibles have commentaries included (generally in the form of notes below the scriptural text), these will not provide as much information as a separate single volume commentary.

How to search for a commentary

When searching the library catalogue for commentaries, search the name of the biblical book and the term Commentaries -- i.e., Jeremiah commentaries. Once you find the item's location on the shelf, look around that item to find others. When searching the library's eBook collection search the Bible book name and the term Commentary -- i.e., Genesis AND commentary.  Searching by the biblical book's name alone may also prove adequate.


Fairchild, M. (2019). What is a commentary? Definition, types, and uses of a Bible commentary.,of%20the%20whole%20of%20Scripture.

Faithlife. (n.d.). What is a Bible commentary -- And why you need one.

Jarrett, E. (2020). What is a Bible commentary and is it the same as scripture?

How to use a commentary

Although this "How to" clip was created for students at Northwestern College, information included is relevant to Prairie College's context.

Citing commentaries