5 Works Exegetes Should NEVER Cite

The field of biblical studies is a field that blossoms with books and books and more books. Scholars love to read and write books. While we are people of "The Book" we are also people of "books". Many of us can easily be classified as bibliophiles. With so many books out there, however, the issue of which books to use and not to use is an important one. Certainly, some books are better than others. Some books are not worth the paper they were published on!

As a TA, one of my frequent duties is to grade students' papers. This can be both a joy and a pain. Part of that pain comes from terrible writing but part of it also comes from seeing students use sources for exegesis and interpretation that simply should not be used. In fact, the terrible writing often seems like a direct reflection of the sources that the student used. Having said these things, I offer to exegetes--with an eye toward seminary students-- a short list of 5 authors that should pretty much never be cited in an exegesis or research paper. (The same goes for sermons!) For each work below that should not be cited, I will give a few remarks as to why and then offer an alternative resources.

Please note that I am not saying there is NO value in these books. What I am saying is that they should NEVER be cited in a scholarly exegesis/research paper. Again, they should probably not be used to formulate sermons either. Many of these resources were written at times before great gains (e.g. manuscript finds, etc.) were made in scholarship. Further, they are often more devotional in nature than scholarly. By the same taken, neither am I attempting to somehow criticize the faith of these authors. I'm simply offering a critical review of their works. The fact is, I have works from each of these authors in my own personal library, which is part of the reason I feel that I can and need to offer a few words about them.

1. Matthew Henry: Mr. Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible has become something of a hit among Christian booksellers--both digital and print. There are a few reasons this is the case: 1) It is, as the title suggests, a one-volume commentary on the whole Bible. This means that instead of shelling out a bunch of money for separate commentary books and instead of taking up tons of shelf-space with a commentary set, you can have it all in one book. While saving extra cash and shelf-space seems sexy, that is not really the case. Why? 2) Well, you should know that you can get it anywhere online for free, including HERE. You can make your own copy for free and then sell it at whatever price you want to whoever you want! This is exactly what Christian publishers have been doing and they have been making quite a bit of money this way! 3) Since the book was written in the 1700s it is, in many ways, out-of-touch with the realities of today. I mean, this was written pre-World Wars, pre-terrorism, pre-media technology, etc. There are many, much better one-volume commentaries that are more timely and worth the cost. I will recommend two here: 1) The New Interpreter's Bible One-Volume Commentary (by Gaventa & Peterson), 2) Africa Bible Commentary: A One Volume Commentary Written by 70 African Authors.

2. William Barclay: Over the last decade, at two different points in my ministry, I was given William Braclay's complete set of commentaries on the New Testament. I still have one of those sets. These texts are more homiletical and devotional in nature than they are scholarly. In fact, there is little to no scholarship in them at all. Now reprinted in both the WBL (William Barclay Library) and NDB (New Daily Bible) sets, the covers are more appealing than they used to be, but of course, the weak content remains the same. Barclay was a respected churchman and professor throughout England all through the 1900s. This is not as outdated as the work of Matthew Henry but again, it is still outdated. It is also public domain, which means that Christian publishing houses can get it for free, print it and then sell it at whatever cost they want. You can get it for free HERE (E-Sword) and it comes packaged in platforms like Logos as well. If you are going for a complete commentary set (as opposed to the one-volume type) and you are operating on a small budget, I would recommend Eerdman's "socio-rhetorical" series with Ben Witherington. These are scholarly yet accessible to the church-goer and they are not terribly expensive.

3. Marvin R. Vincent: Vincent's Word Studies are another very popular resource found in Christian book stores. I had a copy of this text passed on to me when I first started seminary. However, like many older works, this one is outdated because it was published prior to many of the advances made in manuscript, text-critical and linguistic studies. While the glosses that Vincent's Word Studies are often correct, many of them are also less nuanced and ignorant of other possibilities. Once again, this text is public domain and it can even be downloaded for free to mobile phones You can access it online HERE. The standard alternative today is either BDAG or the TDNT (which needs to be re-edited before it falls into this category).

4. J. Vernon McGee: This famous preacher, known for his commentaries and his Thru the Bible Radio Network and book series, has also become somewhat of a hit among Christian retailers. While McGee was certainly no pushover when it came to the Bible, many of his methods and approaches have been outdated. More of a homiletician (preacher) than anything, McGee was not seeking to be scholarly in the most proper sense of the work but rather accessible. I think he achieved the latter. Yet, because of this his works are slim on good scholarship. Still, there are far more scholarly works by preachers and homileticians than Mr. McGee. A great example of provocative preaching points combined with scholarship can be found in Richard Swanson's "Provoking the Gospel" series, found HERE. Also, I am hoping that Dawn Ottoni Wilhelm writes more commentaries like the one she did on Mark. If she does, these might just be promising resources! Check out her work HERE.

5. Warren Wiersbe: Best known among readers for his "Be" series (e.g. Be Real, Be Joyful, etc.), Wiersbe has, for a long time, been a famous peacher, speaker and writer. He has been a renowned churchman and his devotional-oriented publications have amassed thousands of fans. Certainly, Wiersbe has made great contributions to the church and to teh world. Having said these things, his work do not measure up to the point of being able to be used in scholarly exegesis/research papers. A great alternative to Wiersbe's works, which could be engaged at a more scholarly level would be the Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preacher series, which is found HERE.

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