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Biblical Commentary from Historic Sources: Getting Started

Strategies for Finding Historical Commentary on Scripture

There are three main strategies for finding historical commentary on Scripture: two are targeted, and the third exploratory.

  • Strategy #1: Search by Passage
    • Start with a question like, "What commentaries exist on the parable of the prodigal (Luke 15:11-32)?"
    • Use the tools in the first column on the guide: these include commentary series that attend to reception history (organized by book of the Bible), as well as databases like BiblIndex that organize entries by Scripture passage.
  • Strategy #2: Search by Figure
    • Start with a question like, "What does Martin Luther say about the parable of the prodigal?"
    • Use the tools in the second column; these exist to help index and navigate the figure's (often broad) body of writings.
  • Strategy #3: Go Exploring
    • Start by not knowing where to start. 
    • Use the tools in the third column to browse "what's out there." These include research tools like the Encyclopedia of the Bible and its Reception, which can be searched by keyword. There are also series that publish sermons, commentaries, and treatises by various figures: follow the links to browse by title!
    • There are also loads of stand-alone books and articles in the library's collection that will help you in this work! See the section at the bottom of this guide for tips and tricks that will help you search the library catalog or Atla for works that engage historical interpretation of the Bible.

Search by Passage

Search by Figure

More to Explore

General Tips

Browsing the Stacks

  • Works that are specifically focused on the Bible are classified in the Library of Congress system under BS.
  • Commentaries and other resources on particular books of the Bible begin at BS 1231 (Genesis). The Apocrypha begins at BS 1711 (1-2 Esdras), and the New Testament begins at BS 2570 (Matthew).
  • For a more complete breakdown of Library of Congress classification for the Bible, see this page.

Searching the Catalog

Searching Atla

  • Go to https://library.divinity.duke.edu
  • Under "Research," select "Atla"
  • On the blue ribbon menu, select "More -> Indexes"
  • Browse an Index: select "Bible Citation"
  • Browse for: enter your passage (e.g., Luke 15:11 - 15:32)
    • For the best results, use the format above: put spaces around the hyphen, and repeat the chapter number as you give the closing verse in your passage)
  • A list of results will appear with citations that match either your entire passage or a section of it. The numbers on the right indicate how many articles gave this result as a citation. Check the boxes next to all the results you want to include in your search and click "add" (on the menu that says "select one or more terms and add to search"). 
  • This will place your selected citations in the Search box at the top of the page. Click "Search."
  • Enjoy your many articles!

"Church History is the history of the exposition of Scripture."

-- Gerhard Ebeling