How To Build A Theological Library: Old Testament Backgrounds

November 3, 2012 — 6 Comments


I meant to post this yesterday (as readers in RSS will have noticed), so rather than wait until next week, it seemed like the thing to do while I watch some college football.

To give a preview of how this series will unfold, here’s a table of contents:

As you can see, I’m taking a kind of middle way between traditional English Bible divisions and Hebrew divisions (Torah, Prophets, Writings). This is because a) I teach Old Testament across 4 quarters rather than 3 and b) I think it helps divide things evenly giving equal time to the story of the Old Testament and the corresponding commentary on the story.

So, before we get into the actual book divisions themselves, I thought I’d give an overview of suggested background resources. Just keep in mind I’m giving my preferences and recommendations. In other words, these are the resources I prefer and use in my own library. There are certainly other great options out there, but since I’m not aiming at a comprehensive list of options, I’m just giving you what I’ve found helpful and what I think should be in pretty much every pastor and teacher’s library. With that in mind, here’s what I’d suggest as overall Old Testament resources

Old Testament Overview and Backgrounds

There are certainly more I could list, but these are the resources I’m consulting over and over as I make Bible survey notes. The last book is actually the textbook for the class. Walton’s background book is especially helpful, but as a whole these resource work together to give a broad survey and theological overview of the Old Testament.

Now, when it comes to individual books, your best bet is to get a solid commentary covering each book of the Bible. If you want a comprehensive survey of available commentaries on Old Testament books, you should check out Tremper Longman’s Old Testament Commentary Survey or John Glynn’s Commentary and Reference Survey. If you’d just like to know the 2 best commentaries on each book, then simply click here. Rather than cover individual books, here’s a quick rundown of my favorite commentary series, of which I’ll suggest individual titles in the coming posts.

Commentary Series Survey

There are other reputable commentary series on the Old Testament, but based on what you see on Best Commentaries, these are the commentaries that most frequently appear ranked in the top 2 spots for each Old Testament book. Other series worth an honorable mention are the New American Commentaries, New International Biblical Commentary, The Bible Speaks Today, and the Anchor Bible series.

In general, my goal has been to get one good pastoral commentary and one good technical and one good pastoral or devotional commentary on each book. I’m also shooting for having the top 2 listed commentaries on each Old Testament book, but am adding depth for certain books that either of special research interest (Genesis) or of importance to a Christian theologian/pastor (Psalms).

Beyond those general guidelines, I’ll just have to show you what I’ve gotten as we go through each section. Before we get to our next post, here’s two questions:

  • What do you think I’ve overlooked in the specific resources I’ve listed? What would you add?
  • What commentary series have you found especially useful when it comes to the Old Testament?

Let me know below in the comments what you think!


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I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

6 responses to How To Build A Theological Library: Old Testament Backgrounds

  1. What have I found helpful especially regarding the Old Testament?
    1: David Stern’s translation of the whole Bible : “The Complete Jewish Bible” – written from a Messianic Jewish perspective. His commentary on the New Testament is also instructive and thought provoking.
    2: “Roots of our Faith” – Chuck & Karen Cohen. Again written from a Messianic Jewish perspective, its referring back to the OT roots of NT theology brings out (for this gentile believer anyway) more things I hadn’t grasped of the old than of the new.
    3: Etc!

    • Stern’s work sounds very interesting, as does the Cohen’s. I take it you favor insights from Messianic Jewish perspectives?

      • Yes – God chose Abraham and his (designated) descendants to be His particular people – As the apostle Paul points out, the promises, covenants, and (by physical descent) the Messiah all belong to the Jews, and at the time of Jesus’ coming Godly Judaism (- we know about the failings of many of the Pharisees and Sadducees) was the authentic expression of God’s dealings with mankind. The early Church was 100% Jewish, but within a few hundred years had become almost 100% gentile, when efforts were made to minimise or even disown the Hebrew background and traditions that should have been the Church’s inheritance. Much of our modern Christian tradition and even teaching has been adversely affected by how the early Church was; and modern Rabbinical Jewish tradition has moved away from its proper roots, largely in reaction to antisemitism and persecution on the part of the Church. From the Jewish side, there needs to be a realisation that accepting Y’shua as Messiah need not end Jewish identity, and tolerance of those fellow Jews who do; and on the Christian side, a greater realisation that we have a lot to learn from a history of more than 37/2K years of study of God’s word, coupled with a greater humility to remember that we (gentile believers) are neither the trunk nor the roots, but only ingrafted branches to the tree of faith.

        That’s a bit long – Sorry! – not sure it could be said in much less!

  2. While beyond the normal accepted time limits of academic scholarship, the monumental Keil & Delitzsch commentary from the late 19th century is still beneficial (at least linguistically), and as an open source, free. Good for laymen and the ‘worker with a slender apparatus’ as Spurgeon said.

    • I’ve got Keil and Delitzsch in my Logos library but I haven’t dug too far into any of the volumes. Are there some you’ve found particularly helpful?

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