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I was watching "Crossing the Threshold" with Fr. Mitch Pacwa last night and he was saying that when starting a bible study it is good for each member of the bible study to get their own commentaries. He mentioned a good one being St. John Chrystostom. But I've never seen a whole lot in the book store coming from other Catholic sources.

This however, isn't a Catholic question specifically (although pointing me in the right direction is an instant +1). The main point is, what to look for in a bible commentary, especially when the New American Bible's footnotes just aren't quite cutting the mustard (not that they were intended to).

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closed as primarily opinion-based by Flimzy, curiousdannii, Nathaniel, Mr. Bultitude, Lee Woofenden Apr 19 at 5:31

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

I've heard others say the NAB's footnotes aren't as good, too. I like them (when they're there). What do you mean when you say they "aren't quite cutting the mustard"? Just that they don't cover enough ground? Or are they just plain wrong at times? – Ben Richards Sep 14 '11 at 18:46
Not everything in this book is orthodox, but I find it quite extensive.… – bit_ly_1selcQ3 Sep 14 '11 at 18:49
@sid I couldn't tell you if they were wrong, I don't believe they have any reason to be wrong. They're just vague at times. Especially like at the end of John's gospel, I think it says, "well... If John is still alive then this sort of makes sense." There's just too much to cram into the bible for the footnotes to possibly be sufficient, at other times they're life savers though. – Peter Turner Sep 14 '11 at 18:50 has a commentary page that lets you refine by "theological tradition", among other criteria. That is probably a good start, and will at least let you find commentaries written by Catholics.

Additionally, you could look a commentary up on and read what reviewers have to say about it. That might not tell you whether the commentary is "safe" or not, but it should at least tell you what perspective the author has.

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This is a question of hermeneutics. You can think of a hermeneutic as the lens you use to view and interpret scripture and come to doctrinal conclusions. Having an explicit, clear hermeneutic in mind as you study will help you build interpretations that are consistent. It provides a measuring stick by which specific interpretations of passages can be evaluated and helps avoid the problem of finding the conclusion first, and the scriptural support second.

Most commentaries will have an introduction or preface, and in the preface the author should declare something of the hermeneutic used in that commentary. This will help you decide if the commentary is a good selection for you.

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There really are only two possible ways:

  1. Read the commentary enough to know for sure. Assuming some biblical knowledge, by comparing different commentaries on same passages it'll be easy to weed out some of the not-so-good ones.
  2. Get a recommendation from someone you really trust.

If these aren't practical, you can always just use a commentary with a skeptical attitude. If the commentary says anything unexpected that doesn't immediately make sense, beware.

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In order to evaluate the spiritual value of anything, we have to apply the "Regula Fidei", or "Rule of Faith".

Regula Fidei

A quick definition:

the rule of faith means something extrinsic to our faith, and serving as its norm or measure
Catholic Encyclopedia

Essentially, the Rule of Faith is the ultimate authority that is used to measure doctrines, practices, or beliefs (or other items in Christianity).

Ultimate Authority

Applying the Rule of Faith is much more tricky since it depends on what you consider the "ultimate authority". Sola Scriptura adherents, for example, consider the Bible to be the ultimate authority;

For Catholicism:

But since Divine revelation is contained in the written books and unwritten traditions (Vatican Council, I, ii), the Bible and Divine tradition must be the rule of our faith
Catholic Encyclopedia

Applying Regula Fide for Commentaries

Ultimately, when examining commentaries, we have to use the Regula Fidei to determine if a commentary is valid. For Sola Scriptura adherents, this means that we have to use the Bible to determine if a commentary is valid or not (which is often not easy). Fortunately, in Catholicism, there is a bit larger body of work to draw upon.

All commentaries come from a certain doctrinal standpoint. Often, a commentary (as others have mentioned) will note their doctrinal standpoint, but sometimes they will not. In these cases, it's most important to examine the Bible and Divine traditions to see if the commentary contradicts anything within the Bible or Divine traditions. If it does, then clearly the commentary should be avoided.

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Unless you're referring to a Sola Fide I'm not familiar with (which is quite possible!), then I don't think it's correct to try to contrast it against Sola Scripture. The Sola Fide I'm familiar with is part of the "5 Solas" which is kind of a "whole package deal" of Reformed Theology...Sola Scriptura refers to the ultimate authority of Scripture, but Sola Fide is addressing salvation by faith alone. – Steven Nov 10 '11 at 14:37
@Steven yeah, you're right. I've dropped the Sola Fide reference. The idea behind it still stands (ultimate authority), but the reference was a little skewed. – Richard Nov 10 '11 at 15:39

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