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Commentaries on the Bible

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"To write a full history of exegesis", says Farrar, "would require the space of many volumes." Nor is this surprising when it is borne in mind that the number of commentaries on such a recent writer as Dante reached the grand total of thirteen hundred at the beginning of the twentieth century. As the ground to be covered is so extensive, only the barest outline can be given here. The bibliography at the end will enable the reader to pursue the subject further. We touch upon the salient points of Jewish, patristic, medieval, and modern (Catholic and non-Catholic) commentaries. We begin with the Jewish writers, and deal briefly with the Targums, Mishna, and Talmuds; for, though these cannot be regarded as Bible commentaries in the proper sense of the word, they naturally lead up to these latter. Those who require further information on this head may be referred to the special articles in THE CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA, and to the works mentioned in the bibliography. Special attention is directed to the list of the best modern non-Catholic commentaries in English [V (3)]. The article is divided as follows:

I. Jewish Commentaries
II. Patristic
III. Medieval
IV. Modern Catholic
V. Non-Catholic

Jewish commentaries


There was a story among the Jews in the Middle Ages to the effect that Aristotle accompanied Alexander the Great to Jerusalem, and, with characteristic Greek craftiness, obtained possession of the wisdom of Solomon, which he subsequently palmed off on his countrymen as his own. This accounted for everything that was good in Aristotle; the defects were the only thing peculiar to the philosopher. That Greek literature, in general, got its inspiration from Moses was an uncritical idea that dated back as far as Philo, the great Jewish writer of Alexandria. A visitor to Alexandria at the time when Christ was preaching in Galilee would find there and in its vicinity a million Jews using the Septuagint as their Bible, and could enter their magnificent Great Synagogue of which they were justly proud. Whoever had not seen it was not supposed to have beheld the glory of Israel. The members of their Sanhedrin, according to Sukkah, were seated on seventy-one golden thrones valued at tens of thousands of talents of gold; and the building was so vast that a flag had to be waved to show the people when to respond. At the head of this assembly, on the highest throne, was seated the alabarch, the brother of Philo. Philo himself was a man of wealth and learning, who mingled with all classes of men and frequented the theatre and the great library. Equally at home in the Septuagint and the Greek classics, he was struck and perplexed by the many beautiful and noble thoughts contained in the latter, which could bear comparison with many passages of the Bible. As this difficulty must have frequently presented itself to the minds of his coreligionists, he endeavoured to meet it by saying that all that was great in Socrates, Plato, etc. originated with Moses. He set about reconciling Pagan philosophy with the Old Testament, and for this purpose he made extensive use of the allegorical method of interpretation. Many passages of the Pentateuch were not intended to be taken literally. They were literally false, but allegorically true. He did not hit upon the distinction, made later by St. Thomas Aquinas and other Catholic thinkers, between natural and revealed religion. The Bible contains not only revealed but also natural religion, free from error and with Divine sanction. Pagan systems may have natural religion highly developed, but with much concomitant error. Though this distinction did not occur to Philo, his exegesis served to tide over the difficulty for the time amongst the Hellenistic Jews, and had great influence on Origen and other Alexandrian Christian writers.

The Targums

In order to get on the main lines of Jewish interpretation it is necessary to turn to the Holy Land. Farrar, in his "Life of Christ", says that it has been suggested that when Christ visited the Temple, at twelve years of age, there may have been present among the doctors Jonathan ben Uzziel, once thought the author of the Yonathan Targum, and the venerable teachers Hillel and Shammai, the handers-on of the Mishna. The Targums (the most famous of which is that on the Pentateuch erroneously attributed to Onkelos, a misnomer for Aquila, according to Abrahams) were the only approach to anything like a commentary on the Bible before the time of Christ. They were interpretative translations or paraphrases from Hebrew into Aramaic for the use of the synagogues when, after the Exile, the people had lost the knowledge of Hebrew. It is doubtful whether any of them were committed to writing before the Christian Era. They are important as indicating the character of the Hebrew text used, and because they agree with the New Testament in interpreting certain passages Messianically which later Jews denied to have any Messianic bearing.

The Mishna and Talmuds

Hillel and Shammai were the last "pair" of several generations of "pairs" of teachers. These pairs were the successors of the early scribes who lived after the Exile. These teachers are said to have handed down and expanded the Oral Law, which, according to the uncritical view of many Jews, began with Moses. This Oral Law, whose origin is buried in obscurity, consists of legal and liturgical interpretations and applications of the Pentateuch. As no part of it was written down, it was preserved by constant repetition (Mishna). On the destruction of Jerusalem several rabbis, learned in this Law, settled at Jamnia, near the sea, twenty-eight miles west of Jerusalem. Jamnia became the head-quarters of Jewish learning until 135. Then schools were opened at Sepphoris and Tiberias to the west of the Sea of Galilee. The rabbis comforted their countrymen by teaching that the study of the Law (Oral as well as Written) took the place of the sacrifices. They devoted their energies to arranging the Unwritten Torah, or Law. One of the most successful at this was Rabbi Akiba who took part in the revolt of Bar-Kokba, against the Romans, and lost his life (135). The work of systematization was completed and probably committed to writing by the Jewish patriarch at Tiberias, Rabbi Jehudah ha-Nasi "The Prince" (150-210). He was of noble birth, wealthy, learned, and is called by the Jews "Our Master the Saint" or simply Rabbi par excellence. The compilation made by this Rabbi is the Mishna. It is written in New Hebrew, and consists of six great divisions or orders, each division containing, on an average, about ten tractates, each tractate being made up of several chapters. The Mishna may be said to be a compilation of Jewish traditional moral theology, liturgy, law, etc. There were other traditions not embodied in the work of Rabbi, and these are called additional Mishna.

The discussions of later generations of rabbis all centred round the text of the Mishna. Interpreters or "speakers" laboured upon it both in Palestine and Babylonia (until 500), and the results are comprised in the Palestinian and Babylonian Talmuds. The word Talmud means teaching, doctrine. Each Talmud consists of two parts, the Mishna (in Hebrew), in sixty-three tractates, and an explanation of the same (Gemara), ten or twelve times as long. The explanatory portion of the Palestinian Talmud is written in Western Aramaic and that of the Babylonian Talmud in Eastern Aramaic, which is closely allied to Syriac or Mandaic. The passages in the Gemara containing additional Mishna are, however, given in New Hebrew. Only thirty-nine tractates of the Mishna have Gemara. The Talmud, then, consists of the Mishna (traditions from 450 B.C. till A.D. 200), together with a commentary thereon, Gemara, the latter being composed about A.D. 200-500. Next to the Bible the Babylonian Talmud is the great religious book of orthodox Jews, though the Palestinian Talmud is more highly prized by modern scholars. From the year 500 till the Middle Ages the rabbis (geonim) in Babylonia and elsewhere were engaged in commenting on the Talmud and reconciling it with the Bible. A list of such commentaries is given in "The Jewish Encyclopedia".

The Midrashim

Simultaneously with the Mishna and Talmud there grew up a number of Midrashim, or commentaries on the Bible. some of these were legalistic, like the Gemara of the Talmud but the most important were of an edifying, homiletic character (Midrash Haggadah). These latter are important for the corroborative light which they throw on the language of the New Testament. The Gospel of St. John is seen to be steeped in early Jewish phraseology, and the words of Psalm 109, "The Lord said to my Lord", etc. are in one place applied to the Messias, as they are in St. Matthew, though Rashi and later Jews deprived them of their Messianic sense by applying them to Abraham.

Karaite commentators

When the nature of the Talmud and other such writings is considered, it is not surprising that they produced a violent reaction against Rabbinism even among the Jews themselves. In spite of the few gems of thought scattered through it at long intervals, there is nothing in any literature so entirely uninviting as the Talmud. The opposition to these "traditions of men" finally took shape. Anan ben David, a prominent Babylonian Jew in the eighth century, rejected Rabbinism for the written Old Testament and became the founder of the sect known a Karaites (a word indicating their preference for the written Bible). This schism produced great energy and ability on both sides. The principal Karaite Bible commentators were Mahavendi (ninth century); Abul-Faraj Harun (ninth century), exegete and Hebrew grammarian; Solomon ben Yerucham (tenth century); Sahal-ben Mazliach (died 950), Hebrew grammarian and lexicographer; Joseph al-Bazir (died 930); Japhet ben Ali, the greatest Karaite commentator of the tenth century; and Judah Hadassi (died 1160).

Middle Ages

Saadiah of Fayûm (died 892), the most powerful writer against the Karaites, translated the Bible into Arabic and added notes. Besides commentaries on the Bible, Saadiah wrote a systematic treatise bringing revealed religion into harmony with Greek philosophy. He thus became the forerunner of Maimonides and the Catholic Schoolmen. Solomon ben Isaac, called Rashi (born 1040) wrote very popular explanations of the Talmud and the Bible. Abraham Ibn Ezra of Toledo (died 1168) had a good knowledge of Oriental languages and wrote learned commentaries on the Old Testament. He was the first to maintain that Isaias contains the work of two prophets. Moses Maimonides (died 1204), the greatest Jewish scholar of the Middle Ages, of whom his coreligionists said that "from Moses to Moses there was none like Moses", wrote his "Guide to the Perplexed", which was read by St. Thomas. He was a great admirer of Aristotle, who was to him the representative of natural knowledge as the Bible was of the supernatural. There were the two Kimchis, especially David (died 1235) of Narbonne, who was a celebrated grammarian, lexicographer, and commentator inclined to the literal sense. He was followed by Nachmanides of Catalonia (died 1270), a doctor of medicine who wrote commentaries of a cabbalistic tendency; Immanuel of Rome (born 1270); and the Karaites Aaron ben Joseph (1294), and Aaron ben Elias (fourteenth century).


Isaac Abarbanel (born Lisbon, 1437; died Venice, 1508) was a statesman and scholar. None of his predecessors came so near the modern ideal of a commentator as he did. He prefixed general introductions to each book, and was the first Jew to make extensive use of Christian commentaries. Elias Levita (died 1549) and Azarias de Rossi (died 1577) have also to be mentioned. Moses Mendelssohn of Berlin (died 1786), a friend of Lessing, translated the Pentateuch into German. His commentaries (in hebrew) are close, learned, critical, and acute. He has had much influence in modernizing Jewish methods. Mendelssohn has been followed by Wessely, Jaroslaw, Homberg, Euchel, Friedlander, Hertz, Herxheimer, Philippson, etc., called "Biurists", or expositors. The modern liberal school among the Jews is represented by Munk, Luzzato, Zunz, Geiger, Fürst, etc. In past ages the Jews attributed both the Written and the Unwritten Torahs to Moses; some modern Jews seem disposed to deny that he had anything to do with either.

Patristic commentaries

The history of Christian exegesis may be roughly divided into three periods: the Age of the Fathers, the Age of Catenæ and Scholia (seventh to sixteenth century), and the Age of Modern Commentaries (sixteenth to twentieth century). Most of the patristic commentaries are in the form of homilies, or discourses to the faithful, and range over the whole of Scripture. There are two schools of interpretation, that of Alexandria and that of Antioch.

Alexandrian school

The chief writers of the Alexandrian School were Pantænus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Dionysius of Alexandria, Didymus the blind priest, Cyril of Alexandria, and Pierius. To these may be added St. Ambrose, who, in a moderate degree, adopted their system. Its chief characteristic was the allegorical method. This was doubtless, founded on passages in the Gospels and the Epistles of St. Paul, but it received a strong impulse from the writings of Alexandrian Jews, especially of Philo. The great representative of this school was Origen (died 254). From his very earliest years Origen manifested such extraordinary marks of piety and genius that he was held in the very highest reverence by his father, himself a saint and martyr. Origen became the master of many great saints and scholars, one of the most celebrated being St. Gregory Thaumaturgus; he was known as the "Adamantine" on account of his incessant application to study, writing, lecturing, and works of piety. He frequently kept seven amanuenses actively employed; it was said he became the author of 6000 works (Epiphanius, Hær., lxiv, 63); according to St. Jerome, who reduced the number to 2000 (Contra. Rufin., ii, 22), he left more writings than any man could read in a lifetime (Ep. xxxiii, ad Paulam). Besides his great labours on the Hexapla he wrote scholia, homilies, and commentaries on the Old and the New Testament. In his scholia he gave short explanations of difficult passages after the manner of his contemporaries, the annotators of the Greek classics. Most of the scholia, in which he chiefly sought the literal sense, are unfortunately lost, but it is supposed that their substance is embodied in the writings of St. John Chrysostom and other Fathers. In his other works Origen pushed the allegorical interpretation to the utmost extreme. In spite of this, however, his writings were of great value, and with the exception of St. Augustine, no writer of ancient times had such influence. It is lamentable that this great man fell into serious error on the origin of souls, the eternity of hell, etc.

Antiochene school

The writers of the Antiochene School disliked the allegorical method, and sought almost exclusively the literal, primary, or historical sense of Holy Scripture. The principal writers of this school were St. Lucian, Eusebius of Nicomedia, Maris of Chalcedon, Eudoxius, Theognis of Nicæa, Asterius, Arius the heresiarch, Diodorus of Antioch (Bishop of Tarsus), and his three great pupils, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Theodore's brother Polychromius, and St. John Chrysostom. With these may be counted St. Ephraem on account of his preference for the literal sense. The great representatives of this school were Diodorus, Theodore of Mopsuestia, and St. John Chrysostom. Diodorus, who died Bishop of Tarsus (394), followed the literal to the exclusion of the mystical or allegorical sense. Theodore was born at Antioch, in 347, became Bishop of Mopsuestia, and died in the communion of the Church, 429. He was a powerful thinker, but an obscure and prolix writer. He felt intense dislike for the mystical sense, and explained the Scriptures in an extremely literal and almost rationalistic manner. His pupil, Nestorius, became a founder of heresy; the Nestorians translated his books into Syriac and regarded Theodore as their great "Doctor". This made Catholics suspicious of his writings, which were finally condemned after the famous controversy on The Three Chapters. Theodore's commentary on St. John's Gospel, in Syriac, has recently been published, with a Latin translation, by a Catholic scholar. Dr. Chabot. St. John Chrysostom, priest of Antioch, became Patriarch of Constantinople in 398. As an interpreter of Holy Scripture he stands in the very first rank of the Fathers. He left homilies on most of the books of the Old and the New Testament. There is nothing in the whole of antiquity to equal his writings on St. Matthew's Gospel and St. Paul's Epistles. When St. Thomas Aquinas was asked by one of his brethren whether he would not like to be the owner of Paris, so that he could dispose of it to the King of France and with the proceeds promote the good works of his order, he answered that he would prefer to be the possessor of Chrysostom's "Super Matthæum". This reply may be taken as the true expression of the high admiration in which the writings of St. Chrysostom have ever been held in the Church. St. Isidore of Pelusium said of him that if the Apostle St. Paul could have used Attic speech he would have explained his own Epistles in the identical words of St. John Chrysostom.

Intermediate school

The other Fathers combined what was best in both these systems, some learning more to the allegorical and some to the literal sense. The principal were Isidore of Pelusium, Theodoret, St. Basil, St. Gregory of Nazianzus, St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Hilary of Poitiers, Ambrosiaster, St. Jerome, St. Augustine, St. Gregory the Great, and Pelagius. St. Jerome, perhaps the greatest Biblical scholar of ancient times, besides his famous translations of the Scripture, and other works, left many useful commentaries, some of great merit. In others he departed too much from the literal meaning of the text. In the hurry of composition he did not always sufficiently indicate when he was quoting from different authors. and this, according to Richard Simon, accounts for his apparent discrepancies.

Medieval commentaries

The medieval writers were content to draw from the rich treasures left them by their predecessors. Their commentaries consisted, for the most part, of passages from the Fathers, which they connected together as in a chain, catena (q.v.). We cannot give more than the names of the principal writers, with the century after each. Though they are not all known as catenists they may be regarded as such, for all practical purposes.

Greek catenists

Procopius of Gaza (sixth century) was one of the first to write a catena. He was followed by St. Maximus, Martyr (seventh), St. John Damascene (eighth), Olympiodorus (tenth), Œcumenius (tenth), Nicetas of Constantinople (eleventh), Theophylactus, Archbishop in Bulgaria (eleventh), Euthymius Zigabenus (twelfth), and the writers of anonymous catenæ edited by Cramer and Cardinal Mai.

Latin catenists, scholiasts, etc.

The principal Latin commentators of this period were the Venerable Bede, Walafrid Strabo, Anselm of Laon, Hugh of Saint-Cher, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Nicholas de Lyra. The Venerable Bede (seventh to eighth century), a good Greek and Hebrew scholar, wrote a useful commentary on most of the books of the Old and the New Testament. It is in reality a catena of passages from Greek and Latin Fathers judiciously selected and digested. Walafrid Strabo (ninth century), a Benedictine, wrote the "Glossa Ordinaria" on the entire Bible. It is a brief explanation of the literal and mystical sense, based on Rabanus Maurus and other Latin writers, and was one of the most popular works during the Middle Ages, being as well known as "The Sentences" of Peter Lombard. Anselm, Dean of Laon, and professor at Paris (twelfth century), wrote the "Glossa Interlinearis", so called because the explanation was inserted between the lines of the Vulgate. The Dominican cardinal, Hugh of Saint-Cher (Hugo de Sancto Caro, thirteenth century), besides his famous "Concordance", composed a short commentary on the whole of the Scriptures, explaining the literal, allegorical, analogical, and moral sense of the text. His work was called "Postillæ", i.e. post illa (verba textus), because the explanation followed the words of the text. St. Thomas Aquinas (thirteenth century) left commentaries on Job, Psalms, Epistles of St. Paul, and was the author of the well-known "Catena Aurea" on the Gospels. This consists of quotations from over eighty Greek and Latin Fathers. He throws much light on the literal sense and is most happy in illustrating difficult points by parallel passages from other parts of the Bible. Nicholas de Lyra (thirteenth century), a converted Jew, joined the Franciscans in 1291, and brought to the service of the Church his great knowledge of Hebrew and rabbinical learning. He wrote short notes or "Postillæ" on the entire Bible, and set forth the literal meaning with great ability, especially of the books written in Hebrew. This work was most popular, and in frequent use during the late Middle Ages, and Luther was indebted to it for his display of learning. A great impulse was given to exegetical studies by the Council of Vienne which decreed, in 1311, that chairs of Hebrew, Chaldean, and Arabic should be established at Paris, Oxford, Bologna, and Salamanca.

Besides the great writers already mentioned the following are some of the principal exegetes, many of them Benedictines, from patristic times till the Council of Trent: Cassiodorus (sixth century); St. Isidore of Seville (seventh); St. Julian of Toledo (seventh); Alcuin (eighth); Rabanus Maurus (ninth); Druthmar (ninth); Remigius of Auxerre (ninth); St. Bruno of Würzburg, a distinguished Greek and Hebrew scholar; St. Bruno, founder of the Carthusians (eleventh); Gilbert of Poirée; St. Rupert (twelfth); Alexander of Hales (thirteenth); Albertus Magnus (thirteenth); Paul of Burgos (fourteenth to fifteenth); Alphonsus Tostatus of Avila (fifteenth); Ludolph of Saxony; and Dionysius the Carthusian, who wrote a pious commentary on the whole of the Bible; Jacobus Faber Stapulensis (fifteenth to sixteenth); Gagnæus (fifteenth to sixteenth). Erasmus and Cardinal Cajetan (sixteenth) wrote in a scientific spirit, but have been justly blamed for some rash opinions.

Modern Catholic commentaries

The influx of Greek scholars into Italy on the fall of Constantinople, the Christian and anti-Christian Renaissance, the invention of printing, the controversial excitement caused by the rise of Protestantism, and the publication of polyglot Bibles by Cardinal Ximenes and others, gave renewed interest to the study of the Bible among Catholic scholars. Controversy showed them the necessity of devoting more attention to the literal meaning of the text, according to the wise principle laid down by St. Thomas in the beginning of his "Summa Theologica".

It was then that the sons of St. Ignatius, who founded his order in 1534, stepped into the front rank to repel the attacks on the Church. The Ratio Studiorum of the Jesuits made it incumbent on their professors of Scripture to acquire a mastery of Greek, Hebrew, and other Oriental languages. Salmeron, one of the first companions of St. Ignatius, and the pope's theologian at the Council of Trent, was a distinguished Hebrew scholar and voluminous commentator. Bellarmine, one of the first Christians to write a Hebrew grammar, composed a valuable commentary on the Psalms, giving an exposition of the Hebrew, Septuagint, and Vulgate texts. It was published as part of Cornelius a Lapide's commentary on the whole Bible. Cornelius a Lapide, S.J. (born 1566), was a native of the Low Countries, and was well versed in Greek and Hebrew. During forty years he devoted himself to teaching and to the composition of his great work, which has been highly praised by Protestants as well as Catholics. Maldonatus, a Spanish Jesuit, born 1584, wrote commentaries on Isaias, Baruch, Ezechiel, Daniel, Psalms, Proverbs, Canticles (Song of Solomon), and Ecclesiastes. His best work, however, is his Latin commentary on the Four Gospels, which is generally acknowledged to be one of the best ever written. When Maldonatus was teaching at the University of Paris the hall was filled with eager students before the lecture began, and he had frequently to speak in the open air. Great as was the merit of the work of Maldonatus, it was equalled by the commentary on the Epistles by Estius (born at Gorcum, Holland, 1542), a secular priest, and superior of the College at Douai. These two works are still of the greatest help to the student. Many other Jesuits were the authors of valuable exegetical works, e.g.: Francis Ribera of Castile (born 1514); Cardinal Toletus* of Cordova (born 1532); Manuel Sa (died 1596); Bonfrère of Dinant (born 1573); Mariana of Talavera (born 1537); Alcazar of Seville (born 1554); Barradius "the Apostle of Portugal"; Sánchez of Alcalá (died 1628); Serarius of Lorraine (died 1609); Lorinus of Avignon (born 1559); Tirinus of Antwerp (born 1580); Menochius of Pavia; Pereira of Valencia (died 1610); and Pineda of Seville.

The Jesuits were rivalled by Arias Montanus (died 1598), the editor of the Antwerp Polyglot Bible; Sixtus of Siena, O. P. (died 1569); John Wild (Ferus), O.S.F.; Dominic Soto, O.P. (died 1560); Masius (died 1573); Jansen of Ghent (died 1576); Génébrard of Cluny (died 1597); Agellius (died 1608); Luke of Bruges (died 1619); Calasius, O. S. F. (died 620); Malvenda, O.P. (died 1628); Jansen of Ypres; Simeon de Muis (died 1644); Jean Morin, Oratorian (died 1659); Isaac Le Maistre (de Sacy); John Sylveira, Carmelite (died 1687); Bossuet (died 1704); Richard Simon, Oratorian (died 1712); Calmet, Oratorian, who wrote a valuable dictionary of the Bible, of which there is an English translation, and a highly esteemed commentary on all the books of Scripture (died 1757); Louis de Carrières, Oratorian (died 1717); Piconio, Capuchin (died 1709); Lamy, Oratorian (died 1715); Guarin, O. S. B. (died 1729); Houbigant, Oratorian (died 1783); Smits, Recollect (1770); Le Long, Oratorian (died 1721); Brentano (died 1797). During the nineteenth century the following were a few of the Catholic writers on the Bible: Scholz, Hug, Jahn, Le Hir, Allioli, Mayer, van Essen, Glaire, Beelim Haneberg, Meignan, Reithmayr, Patrizi, Loch, Bisping (his commentary on the New Testament styled "excellent" by Vigouroux), Corluy, Fillion, Lesêtre, Trochon (Introductions and Comm. on Old and New Test., "La Sainte Bible", 27 vols.), Schegg, Bacuez, Kenrick, McEvilly, Arnauld, Schanz (a most valuable work, in German, on the Gospels), Fouard, Maas, Vigouroux (works of Introduction), Ward, McIntyre, etc. Catholics have also published important scientifical books. There is the great Latin "Cursus" on the whole of the Bible by the Jesuit Fathers, Cornely, Knabenbauer, and Hummelauer. The writings of Lagrange (Les Juges), Condamin (Isaïe), Calmes (Saint Jean), Van Hoonacker (Les Douze Petits Prophètes), etc., are all valuable works. For a list of modern Catholic publications on the Scripture, the reader may be referred to the "Revue biblique", edited by Lagrange (Jerusalem and Paris), and the "Biblische Zeitschrift', published by Herder (Freiburg im Breisgau). For further information concerning the principal Catholic commentators see respective articles.

Non-Catholic commentaries

In general

The commentaries of the first Reformers, Luther, Melanchthon, Calvin, Zwingli, etc., are mostly controversial, and are now seldom quoted by scholars. Their immediate successors were too energetically engaged in polemics among themselves to devote much time to regular works of exegesis. The following wrote on Holy Scripture during the 17th and 18th centuries. Lutherans: Gerhard; Geier; Calov; S. Schmid; J. H. Michaelis; Lange. Calvinists: Drusius; Louis de Dieu (great Oriental scholar); Cappel; Bochart; Cocceius; Vitringa. Socinians: John Crell and Jonas Schlichting. Arminians: Hugo Grotius (a man of great erudition); Limbroch; John le Clerc (rationalistic). English Writers: Brian Walton (London Polyglot), John Lightfoot (Horæ Heb. et Talm.), both mines of learning; Pearson, etc., editors of "Critici Sacri" (compiled from the best Continental writers, Catholic and Protestant); Mayer; S. Clarke (brief judicious notes); Wells; Gill; John Wesley; Dodd; W. Lowth; R. Lowth; and the editors of the Reformer's Bible. During the nineteenth century: Priestly (1803); Burder (1809); D'Oyly and Mant (1820); A. Clarke (1826, learned); Boothroyd (1823, Hebrew scholar); Thomas Scott (1822, popular); Matthew Henry (1827, a practical comm. on Old and New Test.); Bloomfield (Greek Test., with Eng. notes, 1832, good for the time); Kuinoel (Philological Comm. on New Test., 1828); Oldshausen (1839); Haevernick (1845); Baumgarten (1859); Tholuck (1843); Trench (Parables, Sermon on the Mount, Miracles, N. T. Syn. — very useful); "The Speakers Commentary" (still valuable); Alford (Greek Test., with critical and exeg. comm., 1856, good); Franz Delitzsch (1870), Ebrard Hengstenberg (1869); Wordsworth (The Greek Test., with notes, 1877); Keil; Ellicott (Epp. of St. Paul, highly esteemed); Conybeare and Howson (St. Paul, containing much useful information); Lange, together with Schroeder, Fay, Cassel, Bacher, Zoeckler, Moll, etc. (Old and N. Test., 1864-78); Lewin (St. Paul, 1878); Beet; Cook; Gloag; Perowne; Bishop Lightfoot (Epp. of St. Paul); Westcott. There were many commentaries published at Cambridge, Oxford, London, etc. (see publishers' catalogues, and notices in "Expositor", "Expository Times", and "Journal of Theological Studies"). Other writers are Farrar, A. B. Davidson, Fausset, Plummer, Plumptre, Salmon, Swete, Bruce, Dods, Stanley, Driver, Kirkpatrick, Sanday, Green, Hovey, Robinson, Schaff, Briggs, Moore, Gould, etc. "The International Critical Commentary" is a work by many distinguished American and English scholars. There are also the Bible dictionaries of Kitto, Smith, and Hastings. Many of these works, especially the later ones, are valuable for their scientific method, though not of equal value for their views or conclusions. [See below (3) The best modern (non-C.) Commentaries in English.]

Rationalistic commentaries

The English deists, Lord Herbert of Cherbury (died 1648), Hobbes, Blount, Toland, Lord Shaftesbury (died 1713), Mandeville, Collins, Woolston (1731), Tindal, Morgan, Chubb, Lord Bolingbroke (died 1751), Annet, and David Hume (died 1776), while admitting the existence of God, rejected the supernatural, and made desperate attacks on different parts of the Old and the New Testament. They were ably refuted by such men as Newton, Cudworth, Boyle, Bentley, Lesley, Locke, Ibbot, Whiston, S. Clarke, Sherlock, Chandler, Gilbert West, George Lord Lytton, Waterland, Foster, Warburton, Leland, Law, Lardner, Watt, Butler. These replies were so effective that in England deism practically died with Hume. In the meantime, unfortunately, the opinions of the English rationalists were disseminated on the Continent by Voltaire and others. In Germany the ground was prepared by the philosophy of Christian Wolff and the writings of his disciple Semler. Great scandal was caused by the posthumous writings of Raimarus, which were published by Lessing between 1774-78 (The Fragments of Wolfenbüttel). Lessing pretended that he discovered the manuscript in the ducal library of Wolfenbüttel and that the author was unknown. According to the "Fragments", Moses, Christ, and the Apostles were impostors. Lessing was vigorously attacked, especially by Götze; but Lessing, instead of meeting his opponent's arguments, with great literary skill turned him to ridicule. The rationalists, however, soon realized that the Scriptures had too genuine a ring to be treated as the results of imposture. Eichhorn, in his "Introd. to the Old Test." (1789), maintained that the Scriptures were genuine productions, but that, as the Jews saw the intervention of God in the most ordinary natural occurrences, the miracles should be explained naturally, and he proceeded to show how. Paulus (1761-1850), following the lead of Eichhorn, applied to the Gospels the naturalistic method of explaining miracles. When Paulus was a boy, his father's mind became deranged, he constantly saw his deceased wife and other ministering angels, and he perceived miracles everywhere. After a time the young Paulus began to shake off this nightmare and amused himself by taking advantage of his father's weakness, and playing practical jokes upon him. He grew up with the most bitter dislike for everything supernatural, and his judgment became almost as warped as that of his father, but in the opposite direction. The Apostles and early Christians appeared to him to be people just like his worthy parent, and he thought that they distorted natural facts through the medium of their excited imaginations. This led him to give a naturalistic explanation of the Gospel miracles.

The common sense of the German rationalists soon perceived, however, that if the authenticity of the Sacred Books were admitted, with Eichhorn and Paulus, the naturalistic explanation of these two writers was quite as absurd as the impostor system of Raimarus. In order to do away with the supernatural it was necessary to get rid of the authenticity of the books; and to this the observations of Richard Simon and Astruc readily lent themselves. G. L Bauer, Heyne (died 1812), and Creuzer denied the authenticity of the greater portion of the Pentateuch and compared it to the mythology of the Greeks and Romans. The greatest advocate of such views was de Wette (1780-1849), a pupil of Paulus, of the hollowness of whose method he soon became convinced. In his "Introd. to the Old Test." (1806) he maintained that the miraculous narratives of the Old Testament were but popular legends, which, in passing from mouth to mouth, in the course of centuries, became transformed and transfused with the marvellous and the supernatural, and were finally committed to writing in perfectly good faith. Strauss (1808-74), in his "Das Leben Jesu" (1835) applied this mythical explanation to the Gospels. He showed most clearly, that if with Paulus the Gospels are allowed to be authentic, the attempt to explain the miracles naturally breaks down completely. Strauss rejected the authenticity and regarded the miraculous accounts in the Gospels as naive legends, the productions of the pious imaginations of the early generations of Christians. The views of Strauss were severely criticized by the Catholics, Kuhn, Mack, Hug, and Sepp, and by the Protestants Neander, Tholuck, Ullman, Lange, Ewald, Riggenbach, Weiss, and Keim. Baur especially, the founder of the Tübingen School, proved that Strauss ran counter to the most clearly established facts of early Christian history, and showed the folly of denying the historical existence of Christ and His transcendent personality. Even Strauss lost all confidence in his own system. Baur, unfortunately, originated a theory which was for a time in great vogue, but which was afterwards abandoned by the majority of critics. He held that the New Testament contains the writings of two antagonistic parties amongst the Apostles and early Christians. His principal followers were Zeller, Schwegler, Planck, Köslin, Ritsch, Hilgenfeld, Volkmar, Tobler, Keim, Hosten, some of whom, however, emancipated themselves from their master.

Besides the writers already mentioned, the following wrote in a rationalistic spirit: Ernesti (died 1781), Semler (1791), Berthold (1822), the Rosenmüllers, Crusius (1843), Bertheau, De Wette, Hupfeld, Ewald, Thenius, Fritzsche, Justi, Gesenius (died 1842), Longerke, Bleek, Bunsen (1860), Umbreit, Kleinert, Knobel, Nicolas, Hirzel, Kuenen, J. C. K. von Hoffmann, Hitzig (died 1875), Schulz (1869), B. Weiss, Renan, Tuch, H. A. W. Meyer* (and his continuators Huther, Luneman, Dusterdieck, Brückner, etc.), Wellhausen, Wieseler, Jülicher, Beyschlag, H. Holtzmann, and his collaborators Schmiedel, von Soden, etc. Holtzmann, while practically admitting the authenticity of the Gospels, especially of St. Mark, endeavours to explain away the miracles. He approaches the subject with his mind made up that miracles do not happen, and he tries to get rid of them by cleverly attempting to show that they are merely echoes of Old Testament miracle stories. In this he is quite as unsuccessful as Paulus, who saw in them only the counterpart of the distorted imaginings of his unfortunate father. Holtzmann is severely taken to task by several writers in the "International Critical Commentary". The attempt to get rid of the supernatural has completely failed; but the activity of so many acute minds has thrown great light on the language and literature of the Bible.

The best modern (non-Catholic) commentaries in English

There is a very useful list of such commentaries in "The Expository Times" (vol. XIV, Jan. and Feb., 1903, 151, 203), by Henry Bond, Librarian of Woolwich. It is the result of opinions which he obtained from many of the most renowned English scholars. The number of votes given for the different works is printed after each name; but no name appears on the list unless it received more than five votes. The editor, Dr. James Hastings, added judicious notes and observations (270, 358). The following list is based, in great measure, on these papers, supplemented from other sources. The works are distinguished as follows: (e) excellent; (g) good; (f) fair. Some of those marked (g) and (f) were excellent for the time in which they were published; and they may still be regarded as serviceable. The characterization of each is, of course, from the non-Catholic point of view.

Old Testament

Introduction: Driver, "Introd. to the Literature of the Old Test.", written from a "Higher Critical" standpoint; on the other side is the powerful book by Orr, "The Problem of the Old Testament" (London, 1906). Both contain ample literatures. — Genesis: Skinner, in "International Critical Commentary"; Spurrell (g) (notes on the text); Delitzsch (g), and Dillmann (g); Dods in "Handbook Series". — Exodus: There is, at present, no first-class commentary on Exod.; Kennedy in "Int. Crit. Comm."; Chadwick (g). — Leviticus: Stenning in "Int. Crit. Comm."; Kalish (g) the best in English; Driver and White (f) in Polychrome Bible; Ginsburg (London); Kellog (f) (London). — Numbers: Buchanan Gray (e) in "Int. Crit. Comm."; Kittell, "History of the Hebrews"; there is little else to refer to, as the others are out of date. — Deuteronomy: Driver (e) in "Int. Crit. Comm."; Harper (g). — Josue: Smith in "Int. Crit. Comm."; Maclear (f). — Judges: Moore (e) in "Int. Crit. Comm."; Watson (f); Lias (f). — Ruth: Briggs in "Int. Crit. Comm.". — Samuel: Smith (e) in "Int. Crit. Comm."; Kirkpatrick (e). — Kings: Brown in "Int. Crit. Comm."; Lumby, an excellent popular work. — Chronicles (Paralip.): Curtis in "Int. Crit. Comm."; also his article in Hastings, "Dict. of the Bible"; Bennett (g); Barnes (g). — Esdras and Nehemias: Batten in "Int. Crit. Comm."; Ryle's is an excellent popular commentary; Adeney (f). — Esther: Paton in "Int. Crit. Comm."; Lange (f); Adeney (f). — Job: There appears to be no first-rate students' commentary on Job; Davidson's is an excellent popular book; earlier works of Driver, Gibson, and Cox are fair. — Psalms: Briggs (e) in "Int. Crit. Comm."; Delitzsch (e); Kirkpatrick (e); Perowne (g); Cheyne (f). — Proverbs: Toy (e) in "Int. Crit. Comm". — Ecclesiastes: Barton (e) in "Int. Crit. Comm."; Strong (e); Tyler (g); Plumptre, a good popular comm.; Delitzsch (f); Wright (f). — Song of Solomon (Canticles): Briggs in "Int. Crit. Comm."; Harper, a valuable work; Ginsburg (f). — Isaias: Driver and Gray in "Int. Crit. Comm."; Smith (e); Delitzsch (g); Cheyne (f). — Jeremias: Kirkpatrick in "Int. Crit. Comm."; Streane an excellent popular work; that of Ball and Bennett is good; Orelli (f). — Lamentations: Briggs in "Int. Crit. Comm."; Streane and Adeney, good popular books. — Ezechiel: Cooke and Burney in "Int. Crit. Comm."; Cobern (g); Toy (f) in "Polychrome Bible"; Davidson (e), an excellent popular commentary. — Daniel: Peters in "Int. Crit. Comm."; Kennedy (g); Bevan (g); Driver has a first-class popular commentary. — Amos and Osee: Harper (e) in "Int. Crit. Comm."; three excellent popular works are by Smith, Driver, and Cheyne. — Other Minor Prophets: Smith, etc., in "Int. Crit. Comm."; Smith (e); Davidson (g), and Perowne (g); Orelli (f); Dods, "Post-exilian Prophets", in Handbook Series; Low (g); Zechariah (g); Pusey (f).

New Testament

Introduction: Salmon, "Introd. to the New Test.", an excellent book; Westcott, "Canon of the New Test." (7th ed., 1896); Lightfoot. "Essays on Supernatural Religion" (1893), a powerful reply to the attacks of an anonymous rationalist on the New Test.; also his "Dissertations on the Apostolic Age", and Biblical Essays; Ramsay, "St. Paul the Traveller", "Was Christ born in Bethlehem?", etc.; Harnack, "St. Luke the Physician", defends the authenticity of the Gospel and Acts; Hawkins, "Horæ Synopticæ". Text: "Variorum New Test."; Weymouth, "The Resultant Greek Test.", showing the Greek readings of eleven great editions; Westcott and Hort, "The New Test. in Greek", vol. II, Introd.; Salmon, "Some Criticism of the Text" (1897), a criticism of Westcott and Hort; "The Oxford Debate on the Textual Criticism of the New Test." (Oxford, 1897); Kenyon, "Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts", an invaluable book; also his "Handbook of the Textual Criticism of the New Test." (1901); Hammond, "Outlines of Text. Crit. applied to N. Test." (Oxford); Nestle (also tr.), and the exhaustive work by von Soden (both in German). — St. Matthew's Gospel: Allen (e) in "Int. Crit. Comm."; Meyer* (e), one of the older works, but still used, Dr. Hastings says, by some of the finest scholars, who keep it always near at hand; Bruce (g) in "Exp. Greek Test."; Alford (f); Morison (g); Carr (g); "Camb. Greek Test." — St. Mark: Swete (e); Gould (g) in "Int. Crit. Comm."; Hort (g) Lindsay, an excellent little book. — St. Luke: Plummer (e) in "Int. Crit. Comm."; Wright (g), "St. Luke's Gospel in Greek"; Godet (g); Farrar (g). — St. John: Westcott (e) in "Speaker's Comm.", the most highly praised of all the commentaries on St. John's Gospel; Bernard in "Int. Crit. Comm."; Godet (g); Milligan and Moulton (g); Dods in "Exp. Gr. Test." (g); Reith (g).

Acts: Knowling (e), "Exp. Gr. Test.", one of the best commentaries on Acts in any language; Turner in "Int. Crit. Comm."; Rendall (g); Lumby (g); Rackham (g); Page (g). — Romans: Sanday and Headlam (e) in "Int. Crit. Comm.", one of the best commentaries in existence on Romans, rendering all other English commentaries superfluous. — I Corinthians: Robertson and Walker in "Int. Crit. Comm."; Evans (g) in "Speaker's Comm."; Findlay (g) in "Exp. Greek Test."; Edwards (g); Ellicott (g); Godet (f); Massie in Century Bible (g). — II Corinthians: Meyer* (g), in "Int. Crit. Comm."; Bernard (g) in "Exp. Greek Test."; Waite (g) in "Speaker's Commentary". — Galatians: Lightfoot (e) (London, 1874), a masterpiece of exegesis; Burton in "Int. Crit. Comm."; Rendall (g) in "Exp. Greek. Test."; Ellicott (g); Ramsay (g); Sanday (g). — Ephesians: Abbott (e) in "Int. Crit. Comm." (Edinburgh); Armitage Robinson (e); Macpherson (g); Ellicott (g); Salmond (g) in" Exp. Greek Test."; Alford (f) (London); Meyer* (f); Miller, good but daring. — Philippians and Philemon: Lightfoot (e), another masterpiece; Vincent (e) in "Int. Crit. Comm."; Ellicott (f); Moule (g), "Philippian Studies", and in "Camb. Greek Test." — Colossians: Lightfoot (e), another great work; Abbott (e) in "Int. Crit. Comm." (in the same volume as Ephesians); Peake (g) in "Exp. Greek Test."; Maclaren (g); Ellicott (f); Findlay (f) in "Pulpit Comm."; Moule (g), "Colossian Studies" — Thessalonians: Milligan (e), highly esteemed; Frame in "Int. Crit. Comm."; Ellicott (e); Meyer* and Alford (f); Findlay (e); Denney (g); Mason (g). — Pastoral Epistles: Lock in "Int. Crit. Comm."; Ellicott (e); Bernard (g) in "Camb. Greek Test."; Meyer* (f); Lilley (g) in "Handbook Series"; to these must be added the valuable book by James, "The Genuineness and Authorship of the Pastoral Epistles" (1906). — Hebrews: Westcott (e), on a level with Lightfoot, the greatest work on Hebrews; Nairne in "Int. Crit. Comm." Davidson (g); Farrar (g). — Ep. of St. James: Mayor (e); Ropes in "Int. Crit. Comm."; Alford and Meyer* (f); Plumptre (g). — Epp. of St. Peter and St. Jude: Bigg (e) in "Int. Crit. Comm."; Hort (e), a splendid fragment; Masterman (g), "I Peter"; Salmon (g), "I Peter" in "Popular Commentary". — Epp. of St. John: Westcott (e), another of his great works; Haupt (g) and Huther (g); Watson (g), "I John". — Revelation (Apocalypse): Swete (e), the greatest commentary on the Apocalypse; Charles in "Int. Crit. Comm."; Mulligan (e); Simeox (g); Hort (e).


Jewish Commentators. ABRAHAMS, Short History of Jewish Literature (London, 1906); GRAETZ, History of the Jews (Philadelphia, 1891-98); OESTERLEY AND BOX, The Religion and Worship of the Synagogue (London, 1907); BACHER, Bible Exegesis in Jewish Encyc.; SCHECHTER, Talmud in Hist. Dict. Bib.; FARRAR, History of Interpretation (London, 1886); VON SCHÜRER, The Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ (Edinburgh, 1902). Patristic Commentaries. — BARDENHEWER, Gesch. der altkirchlichen Litteratur (Freiburg, 1902-3); IDEM, Patroloqie (1894: Fr. tr., Paris, 1899); TURNER in HAST., Dict. of the Bible, extra vol.; EHRHARD, Altchr. Litteratur (Freiburg, 1900). Later Commentators. — CALMET, Dict. Bib., I; DIXON, General Introd. to the S. Scriptures (Dublin, 1872), II; GIGOT, General introd. to the Holy Scriptures (New York, 1900); RICHARD SIMON, Histoire critique des principaux commentateurs du N. T. (Rotterdam. 1689); HORNE, Introd. to the Scriptures (London, 1834), II; HURTER, Nomenclator; VIGOUROUX, Manuel biblique (Paris, 1882); IDEM, Les Livres saints et la critique rationaliste (Paris, 1886), II.

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APA citation. Aherne, C. (1908). Commentaries on the Bible. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Aherne, Cornelius. "Commentaries on the Bible." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Douglas J. Potter. Dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ.

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