Step Six – Go to the Commentaries

I have been deliberating over how to blog this next step in my sermon prep- reading the commentaries- for quite some time. I have decided that the best way for me to blog this step is to first describe how I read and take notes in this step, and then give you a short bibliography of the best commentaries on the book of James.

1. After I have completed the work of digging through the passage (see previous steps) I then go to the commentaries to compare my thoughts and conclusions with the pertinent commentators. As one of my college profs used to say in this step I am “standing on the shoulders of spiritual giants seeking to understand God’s Word.” It is very important that you have done your own study of the passage before you dive into a commentary and look at someone else’s study. You want to be influenced by the text first, and then you want the commentators (who know more than I) to help refine the insight your gleaned from your own study. As I am in this proccess I take one verse at a time and read through all of my commentaries on that verse, and then I take the second verse and so on and so on… There are pros and cons to this method.  The big con is that it will be hard to see the overall view of the passage that individual commentators take.  If you were to read one commentary on an entire passage before you moved on to the next this would be easier.  That being said, the pro side of reading in sequential order is that it will probably help to keep you in the text as you preach (or as you seek to understand that passage).  As you read about each verse you will progress in the passage just as the author did when he wrote it.  I have struggled over the last few years with the decision to keep notes are not keep notes in this process.  Notes can be very profitable to look back at as you write your sermon (you will not have to get out an entire book for a quote if you put it in your notes).  Notes can also be helpful to keep in your file for future study.  However, taking notes can be very time consuming and can take away from other more important steps.  Lately I have tried to make a habit of keeping notes,  and I have tried to use modern technology to help me do that.  Many of my commentaries are digital (thanks to Logos) and so I can simply copy and paste a paragraph from a commentary onto a Word document and then print it up for my file.  Additionally, for all those actual books, I use a pen scanner (about a $100, or in my case one Christmas present) to scan notes onto documents.  With these two tools I have found taking notes from my commentary reading to be profitable and feasible. 

2.  What follows is a list of some of the best commentaries for the book of James.  After the bibliographical info I will include my own category to help you know what level the commentary is written at.  “All” means just that; everyone can pick up this commentary and gain valuable insight into God’s word.  “Advanced” means that this commentary digs a little deeper and you will need to understand some theological and Greek concepts to fully understand the author.  “Greek” means that this commentary will only be useful if you are proficient in Greek. The following list is not a full bibliography, but rather a list of the most useful commentaries on James.

  • Douglas Moo, Pillar NT Commentary, The Letter of James (advanced) [my favorite]
  • D. Edmond Heibert, James (advanced)
  • Homer A.Kent, Faith that Works: Studies in the Epistle of James (all)
  • John MacArthur, James (Chicago, Ill.: Moody Press, 1998) (all)
  • Kurt A. Richardson, vol. 36, James, electronic ed., Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (advanced)
  • D. A. Carson, New Bible Commentary : 21st Century Edition (all)
  • John Calvin, James (all)
  • Peter H. Davids, The Epistle of James : A Commentary on the Greek Text (Greek)
  • I-Jin Loh and Howard Hatton, A Handbook on the Letter from James, UBS handbook series (Greek)
  • Joseph Mayor, The Epistle of James (Greek)