Top 5 Not-Too-Scholarly Bible Commentaries

In this series of “Top 5’s” our vice-president and COO Adam Janke will share what he thinks are some of the best Catholic books, podcasts, movies, and tv shows of today and yesterday with commentary on how they can be used to evangelize (if it isn’t already obvious). Disclaimer: our top 5 lists are subjective, fallible, and probably wrong. You’re welcome to tell us why they’re wrong in the comments. However, we do know what we like around here.

Today we offer a Top 5 list for not-too-scholarly Bible commentaries. 

It’s fairly straightforward why Catholic evangelists might want to have commentaries available to them as they study the Bible. In this list I am going to avoid any “study Bibles” since we will have another Top 5 list for those. So we won’t consider volumes such as “The Word on Fire Catholic Bible” or “The Didache Bible.”

5. The Jerome Bible Commentary

For a one-volume commentary, the Jerome Bible Commentary was one of the single most popular and widely used commentaries in the Catholic Church for decades. And while it does approach scripture from a historical-critical method (which none of the rest of the commentaries in this list do) the historical-critical perspective itself is not completely without merit. The problem is approaching the Bible with hermeneutic of rupture, which I will talk about a little more later. Jerome does a much better job than the 1950’s A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture. While not perfect (no commentary is), it’s an excellent commentary for serious students of the Bible that gives us at least one commentary in this list with emphasis on literary analysis.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

4. Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible

The Brazos Theological Commentary is one of the more fascinating of the modern commentaries on the Bible. Each volume is written from the perspective of a different theologian, but all of them have the task of writing from a theological perspective. Why is that fascinating? Because modern biblical scholarship moved away from a theological reading of the Bible for decades. Instead, they studied the Bible from a “historical-critical perspective.” This perspective looks at the Bible not through the lens of faith, but through the lens of literary skepticism. This perspective questions the authorship, dating, translation, audience, and so forth. While not a bad exercise in itself, theologians who approached the Bible from this perspective for decades denied the traditional authorship of books of the Bible, the authenticity of miracles and historical claims in the Bible, even the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. You can imagine why that’s bad for evangelization. 

The Brazos Theological Commentary includes various authors of Catholic and Protestant backgrounds. Prominent Catholics include Bishop Robert Barron who wrote the commentary for 2 Samuel, and Matthew Levering who wrote the commentary for Ezra and Nehemiah. Even though this isn’t a “scholarly” commentary, it isn’t lightweight either. Both casual and serious students of the Bible will find it approachable without needing to know any of the biblical languages. We can also learn much from Protestant scholars and teachers as long as we know how to read the Bible from a Catholic perspective.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

3. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture

Offered by Intervarsity Press, this commentary brings together the insights of the Early Church Fathers on the Bible. As Cardinal Newman once said “To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant.” I began collecting this series when they offered a subscription service so I didn’t spend too much money on books to the ire of my bride (who will routinely roll her eyes when another box of books shows up at the doorstep.) The commentary at times shows some selection bias where the writing of a particular ancient Father is chosen or admitted based on the editor’s theological preferences. Nonetheless, it’s an excellent addition to any serious Bible’s student’s library and the only one that has sought to compile the writings of the Fathers into an entire commentary.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

2. The Navarre Bible Commentary

This commentary was all the rage in my college days at Franciscan University of Steubenville. Where normal college students might wait in line for the new Playstation 3 console to come out, we would wait at the college bookstore for the release of the next volume of the Navarre Bible or a new encyclical from Pope St. John Paul II (Yes, we’re Catholic geeks and proud of it, what do you want?). The Navarre Bible, published by Scepter Press, is described as,

An extensive Catholic commentary compiled by the faculty of the University of Navarre — to help gain a better understanding of scripture. The commentaries draw on a huge variety of sources: Church documents, the writings of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, and the work of prominent spiritual writers. Scholarly yet readable, the Navarre Bible commentaries offer a comprehensive intellectual, historical, and spiritual survey of the riches of Scripture.

Whether you purchase the abbreviated version or the complete commentary it is at the same time approachable, spiritually enriching, and intellectually enlightening.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

1. The Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture

Similar to the Brazos commentary, the volumes of The Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture are written by various authors; but here, they are all Catholic and write from a Catholic theological perspective, without entirely neglecting literary analysis. This is one of the finest Catholic commentaries available today and accessible to both students of the Bible and scholars alike. It is edited by Peter Williamson and Mary Healy, two of the heavyweights in faithful Catholic biblical scholarship today. It’s a go-to commentary for my work and a pleasure to read each volume. Like the Navarre Bible, you can be assured that what you are reading is faithful to the teachings of the Catholic Church.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Note: I can already hear the criticism and gnashing of teeth now for not including Haydock on my list. Haydock is an excellent commentary and has a place of pride (even if not the pride of place) on my bookshelf.

The deeper we are in the study of the Scriptures the more the Holy Spirit may use us to share the truth of the Gospels, and these commentaries are a great help in that endeavor. May they serve as instruments of the Holy Spirit to enlighten us for the salvation of souls. May they also be a source for our own growth in holiness. May God bless you in your study of the Holy Scriptures! 

Author: Adam Janke

Adam is the Chief Operating Officer of St. Paul Street Evangelization. After converting to Catholicism from biblical fundamentalism in 2005, Adam obtained a BA in Theology and Catechetics and an MA in Theology and Christian Ministry from Franciscan University of Steubenville. He resides in Michigan with his wife and seven children.

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