Note on commentaries: Timothy George on Galatians

New Warhorn Media post by Tim Bayly:

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I was glad to see Lange repeatedly in Spurgeon’s list. Although he was a student of Schleiermacher, his commentary has solid gold. I have used the series for many years - some are better than others but they are almost always worth reading. He also includes many quotes from other commentaries that are helpful.

I had this recurring argument with my friends in seminary: what are commentaries for? Some saw them to help us preach. I maintained, and still do most of the time, that’s not what commentaries are for. Commentaries are to help us understand what the passage says and what the passage means (and to help us connect this passage to the rest of scripture since most of us can’t hold that much in our brains at one time!). But getting from what the passage says and means to how to preach, that’s our job as pastors!

Maybe I was completely off base! Now I think my view is a bit of a false dichotomy. There are plenty of solid commentaries that help us both understand what the passage means and how to preach it. Calvin on the pastoral epistles for example (though technically I think those are sermons… so do they really count?).

But it helped me to understand the different types of commentaries so I didn’t waste money buying multiples of the same type for a given preaching series.

And to be honest, I rely on the commentaries a lot less than I used to. It just seems that in most places, God’s Word simply isn’t that hard to understand. I’ve also found @tbbayly’s tip to save the best commentary/ies for Sunday morning to help prime the preaching pump invaluable.


… Earlier in this century R. Niebuhr warned against the prevalence of a domesticated theology that proclaimed “a God without wrath who brings men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross".

Man is that the money quote. It’s not only Progressives who are guilty of that.


One of my pastors once told me that one of the best uses for commentaries is benefiting from the observations that the author has made, irrespective of the interpretations or applications that are also there.


My primary use for commentaries has been as a sort of sanity check. “Did my forefathers in the faith read this text the way I am reading it, or am I way off the beaten path in what I’m thinking about here? If so, which ones saw what I am seeing, and which ones would disagree, and why?”

There is safety in counselors. Dead or living. :slight_smile:


Finally, here is Watson’s edited version of (mostly) previous English translations of Luther’s Commentary on Galatians. I’ve saved it as a PDF and you may freely circulate it. If you prefer, you may access it online here and here. I’ve also attached a PDF of Watson’s unabridged preface. It’s a rich mine of information about the history of Luther’s commentary, its influence, and its various translations.

Watson’sPrefaceLutherGalatians.pdf (565.2 KB)

Luther’s commentary on Galatians, edited by Watson:
LutherGalatians.pdf (2.7 MB)


I recently had a church member ask me about good commentary recommendations and they asked specifically about my thoughts on the God’s Word For You series. For those not aware, this is a recent (and I guess on-going) series by The Good Book Company that does very popular level commentaries by contemporary TGC type authors. To give you an immediate taste, Tim Keller does several in this series (including Galatians) and even gay pastor Sam Allberry gives his take on the book of James. No thanks. That’s enough to condemn the whole series, in my mind. (I have read Ephesians For You by Richard Coekin and Daniel For You by Paul Helm. Daniel was decent. Ephesians was a waste of time.)

Thankfully, I was able to steer this church member away from this series toward John Calvin, Matthew Henry, the Geneva Series, and Ryle’s Expository Thoughts. I’m glad to have these other good recommendations in my back pocket as well.

It’s sad how many Reformish people get bored with old things like Calvin’s commentaries even though it seems that most of these pastors coming through seminary in the last 30 years have probably never really read them. Maybe that’s inaccurate but it has been rare that I have ever asked Reformed pastors for advice on a commentary and ever been handed Calvin. I’ve certainly never been handed Luther.


Another thing: understanding that commentaries have a specific “pitch” or approach, and there are horses for courses. When I was preaching years ago on Romans, I used John Stott’s commentary in The Bible Speaks Today series. Now, some might think of it as “popular”, but for the sort of approach I was taking (8 messages across the whole Epistle), it seemed to strike a good balance between being completely academic and being a simple Bible study guide on the Epistle.

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