[Update 27 Oct 2006: This list of commentary recommendations has just gone through another major update over the last month or so. I've added new releases and replaced some commentaries with ones I've since concluded would be better for the list in question. I've also added several alternatives for each book in the advanced commentary list rather than just the one or two I was recommending originally at that level. Also, here are some links to all the posts in this series below, which for some reason I'd never gotten around to doing. The basic level commentaries are in this post. The other posts are intermediate commentaries, advanced commentaries, and my recommended forthcoming commentaries (as opposed to my more comprehensive forthcoming commentaries list)]
People often ask me what commentaries I would recommend for a particular book of the Bible. I have a significant commentary library that I constantly refer to, even reading some cover to cover. I also read lots of reviews of commentaries and investigate further purchases through the libraries I have access to and inter-library loan. I have a fair idea of the strengths and weaknesses of different commentaries.
For those who have never used a commentary before, they help your study of the Bible by giving background on language, archeology, theology, poetry, and connections with other scriptures. You can take advantage of someone who has spent hours wrestling with the text to find its meaning, its purpose, its relevance to life, etc. A commentary is incredibly helpful in getting the details of the text while also providing a broader framework. Commentaries vary in quality and usefulness for study of scripture as God's word, and some are too technical for someone without seminary or Bible school training.
I'll be starting a series of posts that will review the commentaries on each book of the Bible, working one book at a time. When I start that, I'll have one post that serves as an index for the whole series, and I'll link to it from here. This series will in part serve to explain my justification for the choices I've made in the lists in this post. It's much more than that, though. Sometimes it's worth having a number of commentaries on a given book, and this will help sort through all the possibilities, emphasizing the strengths and weaknesses of each book I discuss. Until that's finished, there are the lists here that just give the ones I recommend most highly in each of three categories.