Do not use the following resources in preparation for a technical research paper unless you have an unlimited amount of time to spend reading resources of various quality.
The resources on this list are widely available online for free because they are out of copyright so do not cost much to digitize. They were written before the English-speaking world knew that Biblical Greek was common 1st century Greek (i.e., Koine Greek; see Deissmann, 1901); before the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered and published in their entirety (1947-1991); and before the horrors of the Holocaust led to a more nuanced analysis of Judaism from New Testament scholarship as a whole (1945). In the USA, these works were also written before the 19th Amendment guaranteed women the right to vote (1920) and before the Civil Rights Act ended legal segregation based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin (1964). Works written before these events will reflect their social location and blind spots thereto. Though helpful in some ways such as their familiarity with classical Greek and Roman literature, they predate the current state of the knowledge and are therefore inadequate for nearly all technical research purposes.
For example, the first five volumes of Matthew Henry’s Commentary were published in 1710, and the complete edition with all six volumes was published in 1811. The third and final edition of Easton’s Bible Dictionary was published in 1897. Any recent publication dates associated with these works reflect the year they were posted online or reprinted by contemporary publishers; their content, however, remains frozen from 1700s and 1800s.
Regarding the Matthew Henry Commentary series, Warren Wiersbe states bluntly, “Matthew’s purpose in writing the Commentary was practical, not academic. [After Matthew passed away,] several of his pastor friends gathered up his notes and sermons and completed the Commentary from Romans to Revelation. When you read their expositions, you can see how far short they fall of the high standard set by the original author” (50 People Every Christian Should Know [Grand Rapids: Baker, 2009], 27). Yet Wiersbe will clarify that Matthew Henry’s high standards were not with respect to technical analysis, “there were times when he spiritualized the text and missed the point; but generally speaking, he did his work well…[Yet] you will not find Matthew Henry grappling with big problems as he expounds the Word, or always shedding light on difficult passages in the Bible. For this kind of help you must consult the critical commentaries. He did not know a great deal about customs in the Holy Land…the student will need up-to-date commentaries and Bible dictionaries to help him [or her] in that area” (50 People, 28).
An additional red flag for a commentary series is when a single person writes a commentary on the entire Bible. Though an individual may have a firm grasp of the entire Bible, the level of rigor required for a technical commentary is beyond the reach of any single person to write on every single book of the Bible. Everyone can be an expert on some things, but no one is an expert on everything.
While each of the works on the following list has value, that value is not in the area of formal, technical research based on the current state of the question.
- Barnes, Albert, New Testament Notes, 1832.
- Clarke, Adam. Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible, 1831.
- Constable, Thomas. Thomas Constable’s Notes on the Bible. Fort Worth: Tyndale Seminary Press, 2010-2022.
- The issue with this commentary is not in its date but in its purpose. These are expository study bible notes by a single author. Dr. Constable was on faculty at Dallas Theology Seminary for 45 years and has taught the Bible in church and overseas, so he certainly has the expertise to offer comments on the Bible. Yet these notes are not intended to give a representative discussion of the major interpretive options. Dr. Constable and Plano Bible Church are to be commended for creating these notes and making them available online for free, and they do contain footnotes with references for further reading. But in themselves these notes are suitable for research in an exegetical paper.
- Easton, Matthew George. Easton’s Bible Dictionary, 1893, 1894, 1897.
- Geneva Study Bible, 1560.
- Gill, John. Exposition of the Bible, 1746-63.
- Guzick, David. David Guzik’s Bible Commentary. https://enduringword.com.
- This commentary series is also known as the Enduring Word Bible Commentary. The problem with this commentary series for research is not in it age but with its purpose. David Guzik is a faithful Christian pastor whose pastoral teaching notes are the basis of this commentary. Notes designed for teaching in a pastoral setting are valuable in a pastoral setting, but they were not designed for, nor suitable in, technical research, simply because the expectations are so different in each venue. David Guzik himself has “no formal Bible College or seminary training” (enduringworld.com/about/david-guzik). So while he is to be commended for making his notes available for free online, this commentary series is unsuitable for exegetical research for a paper or sermon.
- Halley, Henry Y. Halley’s Bible Handbook. 1924.
- Born in 1922 as a 16 page pamphlet that grew into a book in its own right (1st ed., 1924; 24th rev. ed, 1965, 25th rev. and exp. ed., 2008), this handbook has continually been supplemented with charts and maps as its rights were transferred between various publishing houses. The problem with using this for research is, from its own Forward, that “it is not designed as a textbook, but rather as a handy brief manual, of popular nature, for the average Bible reader who has few or no commentaries or reference works on the Bible.” From the preface to the 25th edition, “Dr. Halley’s goal was not to write a book that would help people know more about the Bible…[but] to get people and churches to read the Bible in order that they might meet and listed to the God of the Bible and come to love His Son, Jesus Christ.” While there is much to commend about Halley’s Handbook, it is neither designed for nor suitable for research.
- Henry, Matthew, Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible, 1706, 1708-10, 1811.
- Jamieson, Robert, A.R. Fausset, David Brown. Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, 1871.
- Johnson, Barton Warren. People’s New Testament, 1891.
- Lange, Johann Peter. Philip Schaff, transl. Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical, 1867-1900.
- McGee, J. Vernon. Genesis through Revelation. Through the Bible with J. Vernon McGee. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998.
- The issue with this commentary series for research is not in its age but with its purpose. Dr. McGee is a faithful Christian with academic qualifications who has spent a career dedicated to teaching Scripture to a wide audience. This commentary series is a lightly edited version of those radio broadcasts which, while noble in intent, were intentionally limited in scope. Dr. McGee himself in the commentary’s own preface says, “These are popular messages, prepared originally for a radio audience. They should not be considered a commentary on the entire Bible in any sense of that term. These messages are devoid of any attempt to present a theological or technical commentary on the Bible. Behind these messages is a great deal of research and study in order to interpret the Bible from a popular rather than from a scholarly (and too-often boring) viewpoint. We have definitely and deliberately attempted ‘to put the cookies on the bottom shelf so that the kiddies could get them.’ The fact that these messages have been translated into many languages for radio broadcasting and have been received with enthusiasm reveals the need for a simple teaching of the whole Bible for the masses of the world.”
- Orr, James, ed. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia,1915.
- The revised version of ISBE edited by Geoffrey Bromiley is from 1995 and would make for a good first step in your research. But the edition edited by James Orr in 1915 is unsuitable for research. Unfortunately, since the 1915 version is out of copyright, it is also the only version that is going to be freely accessible online.
- Smith, William. Smith’s Bible Dictionary, 1863.
- Spence, H.D.M. and Joseph S. Exell, The Pulpit Commentary, 1909-1919.
- Wiersbe, Warren. The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: The Complete New Testament in One Volume and The Complete Old Testament in One Volume. Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2007; Wiersbe, Warren. The Bible Exposition Commentary. Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2002. “Be” series, 1972-2004.
- The problem with this commentary series for research is not in its age but with its purpose. The Bible Exposition Commentary series and Wiersbe Bible Commentary sets are both edited versions of Wiersbe’s “Be” series. The intent of that entire project was not to provide the data or analysis required for technical study of the Bible, but instead to provide devotional guidance and opinion on the meaning of Scripture. “The author spends no time discussing introductory issues such as authorship, date, setting, historical background, audience, and even purpose. Such critical issues need to be addressed because one’s commentary cannot help but be influenced by these matters” (Israel Loken, “Bible Exposition Commentary: History, review” Bibliotheca sacra 161 (2004), 373). While there is devotional value to this series, it is neither designed for nor suitable in research.
- Any Study Bible.
- Study Bibles are useful, but their value is not as a reputable resource of information for a research paper. They typically do not support their opinions with evidence nor do they have space to explain all of the relevant data that supports to their conclusions. They can raise helpful questions, but are not intended to serve as a source for technical research. See BibTheo.com/StudyBibles for a more detailed discussion of the benefits and limitations of Study Bibles.