Commentary Survey for Public Domain Commentaries

New Testament Commentary Survey by D.A. CarsonDon Carson’s excellent New Testament Commentary Survey fulfils a very specific and valuable purpose: it evaluates modern commentaries and allows readers who have access to books to choose the best ones for them.

For Bible teachers in the Majority World, such surveys may be of less value. The commentaries recommended, even if they were available in their country, would cost far more than the average person could afford. Older commentaries, that are now in the public domain, are poorly covered (though understandably so, given the book’s purpose), often being dismissed with phrases like “The key insights have been incorporated into more recent works…”.

Given that the primary purpose of Theology on the Web is to provide good biblically-based resources for the Majority World and those without access to physical books, I want to find a way around this problem – with your help.

How You Can Help

I want to upload (on BiblicalStudies.org.uk) a survey of public domain biblical commentaries. This survey would identify the strengths and weaknesses of each. It would then rank them as suitable for (a) the general reader; (b) for ministers, or (c) for scholars.  Once the survey is completed I would ensure that the best commentaries are all available via BiblicalStudies.org.uk.

I am therefore seeking a number of contributors who would agree to evaluate commentaries on a biblical book, or group of books e.g. the Pastoral Epistles or the Minor Prophets.

Please let me know if you are interested in contributing to this Project by e-mailing me at [email protected] Please feel free to make comments and suggestions below. If you are not sure which commentaries might be in the Public Domain, I can help you to narrow down your list.


This Project was initially proposed on the Theology on the Web Facebook Group. I am grateful for the Group’s feedback, which has enabled me to refine its parameters.

7 thoughts on “Commentary Survey for Public Domain Commentaries

  1. I commend you for promoting this project. I have been saddened to see resources like Carson’s dismissing or ignoring older commentaries and resources, relegating them to the dustbins of history. As you say, some of this is understandable due to the Dr. Carson’s expressed intent, as is also the case with those who have produced similar volumes such as Tremper Longman, John Glynn and others. However, this simply will not do for those who value works published beyond the last decade or two, and those who, as you indicated, may only have access to commentaries freely available online.

  2. You may find that some of what you are looking for has already been done. Annotations including evaluations may be found in works already published for public domain commentaries. Some of these are included in Jason Button, “Tools for Building a Theological Library” (27 APR 2008), on TheoSource at http://theosource.blogspot.com/p/tools-for-building-theological-library.html [accessed 27 AUG 2018]. Charles H. Spurgeon’s Commenting & Commentaries listed by Button is available online on Phil Johnson’s site The Spurgeon Archive at http://www.romans45.org/spurgeon/misc/c&c.htm [accessed 27 AUG 2018]. This link is not provided in Button’s “Tools…” post. The works Button lists by Cyril Barber and Wilbur Smith may be especially helpful when it comes to older works that either were or are now in the public domain.

  3. A web site that has done some of what you are aiming for is Precept Austin at https://www.preceptaustin.org/ [accessed 27 AUG 2018]. For example, see what has been done on this web site for commentaries on Matthew at https://www.preceptaustin.org/matthew_commentaries [accessed 27 AUG 2018]. Also see what Travis Fentiman has done on Reformed Books Online at https://reformedbooksonline.com/commentaries/ [accessed 27 AUG 2018]. For comparison, see what Fentiman put together on Matthew at https://reformedbooksonline.com/commentaries/new-testament-commentaries/commentaries-on-matthew/ [accessed 27 AUG 2018].

  4. I present you with this information so that you don’t “reinvent the wheel,” and to save those involved with your project from unnecessary reproduction of work that has already been done in an acceptable fashion.

  5. Another helpful resource to be considered in this project is Jim Rosscup, Commentaries for Biblical Expositors: An Annotated Bibliography of Selected Works, 4th rev. ed. (The Woodlands, TX: Kress Christian, 1966, 1983, 1993, 2004). Rosscup includes a section titled “New Ratings of Commentaries on the 66 Books” (pp. 3–19). His three ratings are: “Detailed Exegetical,” “Expositional Survey,” and “Devotional Flavor.” The rest of Rosscup’s volume (pp. 20–351) is an annotated bibliography of biblical commentaries that includes some now in public domain status.

  6. Thanks for this initiative, Rob. I’d like to participate as time allows.

    In fact, I started a site around 2009 (!) not a million miles from this proposal, but with a focus on identifying quality resources available at Archive.org.[1] (The last entry, I see, happens to be to one of your book scans!)

    It would be great to see this initiative take off.

    [1]: http://biblerefshelf.sudalyph.org/

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