Reformation & Puritan Commentaries on:
Commentaries in Latin:
Order of Contents
The Best Commentary Ever Written on the Bible
Henry was a reformed puritan. Here is a thoughtful and helpful Preface to the commentary by Archibald Alexander (1828, 8 pages), the first professor at old Princeton Seminary. While abridged versions of anything are not usually recommended, this Concise Version of Matthew Henry’s Commentary is very suitable for children, family reading-aloud, and for those who just want to make it through the Bible a bit quicker.
Rev. Derek Thomas: ‘George Whitefield read this commentary four times on his knees. It cost, then, a quarter of an average working man’s annual salary!’
Spurgeon: *** ‘First among the mighty for general usefulness we are bound to mention the man whose name is a household word, Matthew Henry. He is most pious and pithy, sound and sensible, suggestive and sober, terse and trustworthy. You will find him to be glittering with metaphors, rich in analogies, overflowing with illustrations, superabundant in reflections. He delights in apposition and alliteration; he is usually plain, quaint, and full of pith; he sees right through a text directly; apparently he is not critical, but he quietly gives the result of an accurate critical knowledge of the original fully up to the best critics of his time. He is not versed in the manners and customs of the East, for the Holy Land was not so accessible as in our day; but he is deeply spiritual, heavenly, and profitable; finding good matter in every text, and from all deducing most practical and judicious lessons.
His is a kind of commentary to be placed where I saw it, in the old meeting-house at Chester [where Henry preached]—chained in the vestry for anybody and everybody to read. It is the poor man’s commentary, the old Christian’s companion, suitable to everybody, instructive to all…
You are aware, perhaps, that the latter part of the New Testament [after the book of Acts] was completed by other hands, the good man having gone the way of all flesh… they have executed their work exceedingly well, have worked in much of the matter which Henry had collected, and have done their best to follow his methods, but their combined production is far inferior to Matthew Henry himself, and any reader will soon detect the difference.
Every minister ought to read Matthew Henry entirely and carefully through once at least… Begin at the beginning, and resolve that you will traverse the goodly land from Dan to Beersheba. You will acquire a vast store of sermons if you read with your notebook close at hand; and as for thought, they will swarm around you like twittering swallows around an old gable towards the close of autumn. If you publicly expound the chapter you have just been reading, your people will wonder at the novelty of your remarks and the depth of your thoughts, and then you may tell them what a treasure Henry is.’
Whole Bible Commentaries – 1500’s
ed. George, Timothy – Reformation Commentary on Scripture, vols. Gen 1-11, Sam-Chron, Psalms 1-72, Eze-Dan; Lk, Jn 1-12, Acts, Gal-Eph, Phi-Col Buy
The purpose of this commentary series is to give a sampling of the protestant Reformation’s Bible interpretation by way of 1-2 paragraph samplings, with background info, from various Reformation era figures. This is a great way to get familiar with some lesser known reformers and their writings. Some are newly translated for these volumes.
Because the series is focused on the history of the Reformation, some non-reformed folk are included as well, such as Anabaptists, Arminians, etc. The volumes are well done. Hopefully the series will continue and eventually cover the entire Bible.
Calvin, John – Commentary on the Bible d. 1564
Most people know of Calvin as the one whose name is imbibed (against Calvin’s wishes) in the label ‘Calvinism’, otherwise known as the harmonious teaching of Holy Scripture. What is not as well known is that his judiciousness as a commentator perhaps even excelled his skills as a theologian. This remains, after 400 years, to be one of the best commentaries available. Slowly read it and you will understand why.
Spurgeon: *** ‘Of priceless value.’ ‘It would not be possible for me too earnestly to press upon you the importance of reading the expositions of that prince among men, John Calvin!… if it be possible, procure them… use them diligently. I have often felt inclined to cry out with Father Simon, a Roman Catholic, ‘Calvin possessed a sublime genius,’ and with Scaliger, ‘Oh! How well has Calvin reached the meaning of the prophets—no one better.’ You will find forty-two [22 in some modern editions] or more goodly volumes worth their weight in gold. Of all commentators I believe John Calvin to be the most candid.
In his expositions he is not always what moderns would call Calvinistic; that is to say, where Scripture maintains the doctrine of predestination and grace he flinches in no degree, but inasmuch as some Scriptures bear the impress of human free action and responsibility, he does not shun to expound their meaning in all fairness and integrity.
He was no trimmer and pruner of texts. He gave their meaning as far as he knew it. His honest intention was to translate the Hebrew and the Greek originals as accurately as he possibly could, and then to give the meaning which would naturally be conveyed by such Greek and Hebrew words: he labored, in fact, to declare, not his own mind upon the Spirit’s words, but the mind of the Spirit as couched in those words. Dr. King very truly says of him,
‘No writer ever dealt more fairly and honestly by the Word of God. He is scrupulously careful to let it speak for itself, and to guard against every tendency of his own mind to put upon it a questionable meaning for the sake of establishing some doctrine which he feels to be important, or some theory which he is anxious to uphold. This is one of his prime excellences. He will not maintain any doctrine, however orthodox and essential, by a text of Scripture which to him appears of doubtful application, or of inadequate force. For instance, firmly as he believed the doctrine of the Trinity, he refuses to derive an argument in its favor from the plural form of the name of God in the first chapter of Genesis. It were easy to multiply examples of this kind, which, whether we agree in his conclusion or not, cannot fail to produce the conviction that he is at least an honest commentator, and will not make an passage of Scripture speak more or less than, according to his view, its divine Author intended it to speak….
If you needed any confirmatory evidence as to the value of his writings, I might summon a cloud of witnesses, but it will suffice to quote one or two. Here is the opinion of one who is looked upon as his great enemy, namely, Arminius:
‘Next to the perusal of the Scriptures, which I earnestly inculcate, I exhort my pupils to peruse Calvin’s commentaries, which I extol in loftier terms than [Werner] Helmich [(1551-1608) a Dutch Protestant divine] himself; for I affirm that he excels beyond comparison in the interpretation of Scripture, and that his commentaries ought to be more highly valued than all that is handed down to us by the Library of the Fathers; so that I acknowledge him to have possessed above most others, or rather above all other men, what may be called an eminent gift of prophecy.’’
Various – The Geneva Bible Annotations 1599 These are comments by way of margin notes on the Bible by the following editors: John Calvin, John Knox, Theodore Beza, Miles Coverdale, William Whittingham, Anthony Gilby, Christoper Goodman, Thomas Sampson, William Cole, William Keithe, Laurance Tomson, Franciscus Junius, John Bale, Heinrich Bullinger and some others.
See the link for an introduction to these historically influential Bible notes from your favorite reformers at Geneva. The notes, intending to be only marginal notes, unfortunately are often concise and sparse.
Whole Bible Commentaries – 1600’s
Various – The King James Version’s Translator’s Notes 1611
These are the alternate translations for the Hebrew and Greek verses from the King James translators themselves.
These are reliable alternate translations from a reliable textual base, and these alternate translational readings lack the loose translation philosophy of many translational philosophies today found in many popular Bibles.
Mayer, John – Exposition of the Whole Bible 1627-1653
Mayer produced one of the major reformed, whole Bible commentaries during the 1600’s. The first volume was published in 1627 and the last in 1653.
** ‘A rare and valuable author… The six volumes, folio, are a most judicious and able digest of former commentators, enriched with the author’s own notes, forming altogether one of the fullest and best of learned English commentaries; not meant for popular use, but invaluable to the student. He is a link between the modern school, at the head of which I put Poole and Henry, and the older school who mostly wrote in Latin, and were tinctured with the conceits of those schoolmen who gathered like flies around the corpse of Aristotle. He appears to have written before Diodati and Trapp, but lacked opportunity to publish. I fear he will be forgotten, as there is but little prospect of the republication of so diffuse, and perhaps heavy, an author. He is a very Alp of learning, but cold and lacking in spirituality, hence his lack of popularity.’ – Spurgeon
The Dutch Annotations upon the Whole Bible
‘If Spurgeon had rated the Dutch Annotations, translated by Theodore Haak, for example, according to its just deserts, perhaps it would have been reprinted several times during the twentieth century!’ – Rev. Joel Beeke
** ‘Haak’s Annotations come to us as the offspring of the famous Synod of Dort… but if, with my hat off, bowing profoundly to those august conclaves of master minds, I may venture to say so, I would observe that they furnish another instance that committees seldom equal the labors of individuals. The notes are too short and fragmentary to be of any great value. The volumes are a heavy investment.’ ‘Similar to the Westminster Assembly’s Annotations.’ – Spurgeon
Grotius, Hugo – Annotations on the Old and New Testaments 1641-1650
Grotius was a leading Biblical scholar of his day as well as an Arminian and Erastian. His commentary was widely influential for generations afterwards, though it greatly suffers for his aberrant doctrinal views and often idiosyncratic and unlikely textual interpretations.
Diodati, John – Pious Annotations, upon the Holy Bible 1643
** “Bickersteth says: ‘The spiritual and evangelical remarks are of much value.’ Diodati’s notes are short and worth consulting.” – Spurgeon
These were also popularly known as the Westminster Annotations, as over half of the commentators were Westminster divines. The first edition has rather brief notes. The fuller third (and last) edition is considered the best edition. It can be purchased on the Puritan Hard-Drive, sold by Still Waters Revival. Here is an introduction to the commentary with the list of contributors.
** ‘…the Westminster Annotations [come to us] as the production of a still more venerable assembly; but if, with my hat off, bowing profoundly to those august conclaves of master minds, I may venture to say so, I would observe that they furnish another instance that committees seldom equal the labors of individuals. The notes are too short and fragmentary to be of any great value. The volumes are a heavy investment.’ ‘Contain valuable remarks, but are somewhat out of date. The work is probably less esteemed than it should be.’ – Spurgeon
“Really a commentary on the whole Bible. A very useful work.” – Dr. Leslie McFall
Hall, Joseph – A Plain and Familiar Explication: by way of Paraphrase, of all the hard texts of the whole divine scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, vols. 1 (Gen-Dan), 2 (Hos-Rev) d. 1656
By hard texts, Hall means the hard parts in about every other verse of the Bible, as that is how much he comments on.
** ‘Not so pithy as the Contemplations; nor, indeed, could it be expected to be so. It is not necessary to the Student, but might be useful.’
Trapp, John – A Complete Commentary on the Bible d. 1669
Trapp was a reformed Anglican, though presbyterian in his leanings.
*** ‘Would it be possible to eulogize too much the incomparably sententious and suggestive folios of John Trapp? Since Mr. Dickinson has rendered them accessible, I trust most of you have bought them. Trapp will be most valuable to men of discernment, to thoughtful men, to men who only want a start in a line of thought, and are then able to run alone.
Trapp excels in witty stories on the one hand, and learned allusions on the other. You will not thoroughly enjoy him unless you can turn to the original, and yet a mere dunce at classics will prize him. His writings remind me of himself: he was a pastor, hence his holy practical remarks; he was the head of a public school, and everywhere we see his profound scholarship; he was for some time amid the guns and drums of a parliamentary garrison, and he gossips and tells queer anecdotes like a man used to soldier-life; yet withal, he comments as if he had been nothing else but a commentator all his days.
Some of his remarks are far-fetched, and like the far-fetched rarities of Solomon’s Tarshish, there is much gold and silver, but there are also apes and peacocks. His criticisms would some of them be the cause of amusement in these days of greater scholarship; but for all that, he who shall excel Trapp had need rise very early in the morning.
Trapp is my especial companion and treasure; I can read him when I am too weary for anything else. Trapp is salt, pepper, mustard, vineagar, and all the other condiments. Put him on the table when you study, and when you have your dish ready, use him by way of spicing the whole thing. Yes, gentlemen, read Trapp certainly, and if you catch the infection of his consecrated humor, so much the better for your hearers.’ – Spurgeon
Poole (1624–1679) was a reformed puritan.
Spurgeon: *** ‘Matthew Poole also wrote Annotations upon the Word of God, in English, which are mentioned by Matthew Henry as having passed through many impressions in his day, and he not only highly praises them, but declares that he has in his own work all along been brief upon that which Mr. Poole has more largely discussed, and has industriously declined what is to be found there. The three volumes, tolerably cheap, and easily to be got at, are necessaries for your libraries.
On the whole, if I must have only one commentary, and had read Matthew Henry as I have, I do not know but what, I should choose Poole. He is a very prudent and judicious commentator; and one of the few who could honestly say:
‘We have not willingly balked any obvious difficulty, and have designed a just satisfaction to all our readers; and if any knot remains yet untied, we have told our readers what hath been most probably said for their satisfaction in the untying of it.’
Poole is not so pithy and witty by far as Matthew Henry, but he is perhaps more accurate, less a commentator, and more an expositor. You meet with no ostentation of learning in Matthew Poole, and that for the simple reason that he was so profoundly learned as to be able to be able to give results without display of his intellectual crockery.
A pedant who is for ever quoting Ambrose and Jerome, Piscator and Oecolampadius, in order to show what a copious reader he has been, is usually a dealer in small wares, and quotes only what others have quoted before him, but he who can give you the result and outcome of very extensive reading without sounding a trumpet before him is the really learned man… Strange to say, like the other great Matthew [Henry], he [Poole] did not live to complete his work beyond Isaiah 53; other hands united to finish the design.’
Owen, John – Biblical Theology: the History of Theology from Adam to Christ Buy †1683 856 pp.
While this work is not a commentary, it covers most of the whole of revelation and the interpretation of much of it.
This work is not in Owen’s 16 volume Works, nor in his Hebrews commentary, but must be purchased as a separate volume, it being only recently translated out of the Latin.
Clarke, Samuel – Annotations upon the Old and New Testaments 1690
Clarke (d. 1701) was a late puritan. His annotations are very hard to find, though sometimes the New Testament portion can be bought as a print-on-demand. The main drawback is the brevity (and often sparsity) of his comments. See George Whitefield’s recommendatory preface to Clarke’s Annotations in Whitefield’s Works, vol. 4, p. 277
** ‘Notes very brief, but judicious. Author one of the ejected ministers, an exceedingly learned man. This work was highly commended by Owen, Baxter, Howe and others, but is now superseded.’ – Spurgeon
Ness, Christopher – A Complete History and Mystery of the Old and New Testament logically discussed and theologically improved: in four volumes… the like undertaking (in such a manner and method) being never by any author attempted before: yet this is now approved and commended by grave divines 1690-1696
Ness (1621-1705) was the reformed puritan that wrote An Antidote Against Arminianism, which is known to some reformed folk.
*** ‘Far more useful [than the commentary of Arthur Jackson (1653)] is Ness’ History and Mystery of the Old and New Testament, a grand repository of quaint remarks upon the historical books of Scripture. You will find it contained in four thin folio volumes, and you will have a treasure if you procure it.’ ‘Quaint, pithy, suggestive. Full of remarks such as are to be found in Thomas Fuller and Bishop Hall.’ – Spurgeon
Knatchbull, Norton – Annotations upon Some Difficult Texts in all the Books of the New Testament (Cambridge, 1693)
Knatchbull (1602–1685) was an English politician who sat in the House of Commons at various times between 1640 and 1679. In 1680, Peter du Moulin the younger dedicated to Knatchbull his Short View of the Chief Points in Controversy between the Reformed Churches and the Church of Rome, a translation from an unprinted manuscript by his father, Peter du Moulin the elder.
This was the first whole Bible commentary to come from American soil. Cotton was a reformed puritan. The series is projected to be 10 volumes. The 47 page General Introduction to the series is online. These volumes are very pricey as they are done by an academic publisher.
On the Whole Old Testament or the Majority thereof
Jackson, Arthur – A Help for the Understanding of the Holy Scriptures, vols. 1 (Torah), 2 (Josh-esth), 3 (Job-Song), 4 (Isa) 1643
Jackson (1593-1666) was a reformed puritan.
** ‘In 1653, Arthur Jackson, preacher of God’s Word in Wood Street, London, issued four volumes upon the Old Testament, which appear to have been the result of his pulpit expositions to his people. Valuable his works would be if there were no better, but they are not comparable to others already and afterwards mentioned. You can do without him, but he is a reputable author.’ ‘Rather tame, but will well repay quiet reading. His works are now somewhat rare.’ – Spurgeon
Richardson, John – Choice Observations and Explanations upon the Old Testament, containing in them many remarkable matters, additional to the large Annotations made by some of the Assembly of Divines d. 1654
Richardson was reformed and printed this only a few years after the second edition of the English Annotations (which were nicknamed the Westminster Annotations, as 6 of the 11 commentators were Westminster divines), to which it was designed as a supplement.
** ‘Of secondary importance, and very short; yet good. Frequently bound up with Leigh [as Edward Leigh wrote a commentary on the whole N.T.].’ – Spurgeon
Hall, Joseph – Contemplations on the Historical Parts of the Old Testament d. 1656
Hall was an influential reformed Anglican bishop. These devotional and practical contemplations savor of deep spirituality and are very insightful. One of a kind and one of the best. Not every part of the O.T. is commented on.
*** ‘Need I commend Bishop Hall’s Contemplations to your affectionate attention? What wit! What sound sense! What concealed learning! His style is as pithy and witty as that of Thomas Fuller, and it has a sacred unction about it to which Fuller has no pretension.’ ‘The work can be readily procured; but if its price were raised in proportion to its real value, it would become one of the most costly books extant.’ – Spurgeon
Jewish Commentaries on the Old Testament
Elias Levita – The Massoreth Ha-Massoreth of Elias Levita: being an Exposition of the Massoretic Notes on the Hebrew Bible, or the Ancient Critical apparatus of the Old Testament in Hebrew d. 1549 Translated, and with an 84 page introduction, by Ginsburg, 1867.
Masoreth means ‘to bind’ or ‘fix’, that is, it was the Jewish commentary on the scribal reproduction of the Hebrew scriptures during the first millennium of the Christian era, meant to ‘fix’ and preserve the Hebrew text indefinitely. For a helpful summary of the Masorah and its significance, see the reliable McClintock and Strong’s Cyclopedia.
Levita’s title connotates something to the effect of ‘a binding commentary on the Masorah’, that is, to shore up and confirm the validity and usefulness of the Masorah. Ginsburg was a leading Hebraicist of the 1800’s. In the very valuable introduction he says:
‘The work now submitted to the public in the original Hebrew, with an English translation, is an explanation of the origin and import of the Massorah. Those who are acquainted with the fact that our Hebrew Bibles abound with marginal and textual glosses… and who know that there is no guide in our [English] language to these enigmatical notes, will welcome this Treatise, written first, and almost the only, Massoretic exposition.’
On the Whole New Testament
Erasmus was the Roman Catholic humanist Bible scholar that argued for free-will against Martin Luther. While a bit off on his doctrine of salvation, his writings, which exude his piety, are very much worth reading. Erasmus was one of the preeminent Bible scholars of his day and compiled the Greek text that underlies the KJV Bible.
** ‘This paraphrase was appointed by public authority to be placed in all churches in England, and the clergy were also ordered to read it. The volumes are very rare, and expensive because of their rarity.’ – Spurgeon
The margin notes are very brief and sometimes sparse; hence the reason for this not being rated higher.
*** ‘The compact marginal notes are still most useful. The possessor of this old black letter Testament may think himself happy.’ – Spurgeon
Boys is rich, deep and profound, but it has been categorized in this section as the work does not have a table of contents, so it is not very easy to use unless one is very familiar with the yearly Anglican liturgy. Great for daily (or weekly) devotional reading.
*** ‘Racy, rich, and running over. We marvel that it has not been reprinted [in Spurgeon’s day]. English churchmen ought not to leave such a book in its present scarcity, for it is specially adapted for their use. Boys is all essence [substance]. What a difference between the John Boys of 1638 and the Thomas Boys [also an Anglican] of 1827 [when he published, ‘A Plain Exposition of the New Testament’]! Note well the name.’ – Spurgeon
Leigh, Edward – Annotations upon All the New Testament, Philological and Theological (1650)
A major reformed commentary from the mid-1600’s.
*** ‘Good, brief notes. Antique, but still prized.’ – Spurgeon
Hammond, Henry – A Paraphrase and Annotations upon all the Books of the New Testament, briefly explaining all the difficult places thereof, vols. 1 (Mt- Acts), 2 (Rom-Rev), 3 (Mt-Acts), 4 (Rom-Rev) 1659 Vols. 1-2 are the paraphrase of the N.T., vols. 3-4 are the annotations, or commentary on the N.T. †1660
Hammond was an Arminian Anglican, though Matthew Henry found him profitable enough to refer to him 96 times in his commentary.
** ‘Though Hammond gives a great deal of dry criticism, and is Arminian, churchy, and peculiar, we greatly value his addition to our stores of biblical information. Use the sieve and reject the chaff.’ – Spurgeon
Baxter, Richard – A Paraphrase on the New Testament with Notes, Doctrinal and Practical, by plainness and brevity fitted to the use of religious families in their daily reading of the Scriptures and of the younger and poorer sort of scholars and ministers, who want fuller helps, with an advertisement of difficulties in the Revelations (1685)
Baxter had a number of errors on Justification, universal atonement, covenant theology, etc., but by and large he is helpful and was regarded as a puritan.
** ‘The notes are in Baxter’s intensely practical and personal style, and show the hortatory use of Scripture; but they are not very explanatory.’ – Spurgeon