Sep 29, 2011 David Lang

Commentary Where You Least Expect It

In my last post, I weighed the advantages of purchasing entire commentary sets rather than individual volumes, and I promised to show you how larger sets can be mined for hidden gems.

Imagine for a moment that you're preaching through Ephesians 4, a passage which is concerned with the need for Christians to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” You go to your bookshelf, which contains every volume of Word Biblical Commentary (isn't imagination fun?), and pull out the volume on Ephesians. You turn to the section on Ephesians 4, and read all about “The Church’s Calling to Maintenance of the Unity It Already Possesses.” When you're done, you return the volume to the shelf. Not once have you consulted any of the other volumes of that massive commentary set. That's the way a print commentary is typically used.

Here's the thing about the folks who write commentaries: they rarely confine their comments to the passage they've been asked to write about. And that's as it should be. The really good commentators help you connect the passage they're commenting on with other passages. Most of the time they'll just mention several related verses, but sometimes they'll write an extended excursus about a related passage or a major theme which recurs throughout the Bible. Those are the hidden gems that you'll never find by grabbing the relevant volume of a print commentary.

Accordance commentaries are divided into different kinds of information called "fields." These typically include the Reference, which is the verse reference of the passage being commented on, the article Titles and body Content, and the Scripture field, which includes any Scripture references cited in the body of the commentary. By searching one or more of these fields, you can find discussions of your passage of study in the most unexpected places. To show how this works, I'll use the Word Biblical Commentary: Old Testament module (WBC-OT), which contains 32 volumes of commentary. I'll change the field pop-up menu to Scripture and enter Eph. 4 in the search entry box. Doing that alone would find me every reference to Ephesians 4 in these 32 volumes, but I don't just want the casual references to Ephesians 4; I want to find the places where Ephesians 4 is mentioned in connection with the idea of "unity." To do that, I'll open the More options section where I can search an additional field. I'll choose Content from the pop-up menu and enter the word "unity" in that entry box. When I perform this search, I get eight hits.


The first set of hits comes in the commentary on Nehemiah, where the author uses the unity of the Jewish people in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem as "an exemplary illustration of much NT language about unity in the Church." Would you have thought to look in the commentary on Nehemiah 3 for a discussion of unity in Ephesians 4? Neither would I!

The next set of hits comes from the comments on Psalm 86:11:

V 11c is a “penetrating climax” (Kidner, II, 312), a key statement in the psalm. A reverent and obedient response to God involves a “united heart” (i.e., “mind” or “will”) toward God (cf Jer 32:39–41; Ezek 11:19–20). The uncentered and divided will toward Yahweh is destructive (cf Ps 12:3; IQH 4.14; James 1:8; 4:8). There is a unity in Yahweh himself (a “oneness”) which is complemented by a “oneness” in his people’s response to him (cf Deut. 6:4–5; 10:12; Eph 4:1–6).

Once again, we've found an interesting connection with Ephesians 4 that we would never have found with a print commentary. And that's just one half of one commentary set. Searching WBC-NT or another commentary series will turn up additional comments on Ephesians 4 in volumes which are not specifically focused on Ephesians.

It is these hidden gems which were largely missed by previous generations of pastors, students, and scholars who knew only to go to a specific volume of commentary. Accordance's ability to find those gems quickly and easily is another reason to consider purchasing commentary sets as opposed to individual volumes.

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Archived Comments


September 29, 2011 12:09 PM

Is there a way to do these searches irrelevant to a particular commentary selected? Ie, can I search for references to Eph 4 and "unity" in all my commentaries (e.g., NICNT, WBC, NAC) in a single search or do I have to duplicate the search for each commentary I own?

David Lang

September 29, 2011 12:40 PM

Stephen, the Search All window doesn't support searching multiple fields, but you could search all your commentaries for Eph. 4, then open the ones of interest in a Tool window and add the Content field search for unity to filter the results.