19 February 2012
A friend who lives a long way from the nearest big-K Christian bookshop asked me "Do you know any good on-line commentaries?" My short answer would have to be "No,sorry."
But that's not the whole answer. There are commentaries available on the net. Unfortunately the most freely available are those which are out of copyright, which means they also tend to be rather out of date.
Sites such as Bible Gateway and CCEL provide access to 'classic' commentaries by Calvin, Wesley, Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, Matthew Henry and the like. Bible-Researcher.com has a comprehensive list of such commentaries. They're generally good to read for their historical and devotional value, but obviously they lack information and insights based on modern biblical scholarship. (I assume that my friend is looking for answers to curly questions that come up while reading the Bible, and isn't one of those people who love commentaries as bedtime reading.)
The classical commentaries can also be rather dated in their view of things. I recently looked at what Matthew Henry (born 1662) had to say about the story of the Levite and his concubine (Judges 19). His assessment was that the vicious treatment received by the concubine was God's judgement on her for leaving her husband and playing the whore. Huh? Matthew Henry was reading a lot into the text to come up with that one! But no doubt his idea would have been quite acceptable in his day. (For a very different take on this story, have a look at this blog post.)
Another approach my friend might use to find answers on-line to biblical questions would be to google the chapter and verse reference and see what came up. This is a bit of a chocolate-wheel approach. Sometimes googling will bring up a brilliant sermon on the topic by some anonymous minister preaching in a place never heard of. Or even something by someone well known and trustworthy from New York. But it can also deliver a lot of waffle or worse.
Stretching the idea of on-line commentaries a bit, a search on Amazon's kindle site will provide lots of commentaries available as ebooks. They're (mostly) not free, but they're (mostly) cheaper than buying paper-based books, especially if you've got to pay postage. For those who don't have a kindle, the books can be read online on Amazon's kindle cloud reader. Of course Amazon isn't the only source of ebooks and readers - substitute whatever e-reader you prefer.
What have I missed? Does anyone know of any good, up-to-date, orthodox (as in 'not heretical') commentaries on the internet?