How Do You Use a Bible Commentary?

I’ve been saying that when we study our bibles digitally we need to be reading our Bibles. Repeatedly. Exegesis requires reading. Recently, I’ve added the need to consult commentaries. In this post I want to list a few ways to use a commentary when studying the Bible digitally:

  1. Use multiple commentaries on a single passage. Almost all Bible software today lets you do this by either clicking a tab or doing a search in all resources. Plus, this makes the commentators argue with each other instead of non-expert you trying to come up with an argument against them.
  2. Read different levels of commentaries. Some commentaries are exceedingly technical and probably only need to be read by Academia. But others might be Evangelical and Semi-Technical offering great rewards for the persistent student. And yet others are very devotional and allow a person to think on a passage and how it reflects this or that. Most free programs offer a lot of devotional commentaries—which tend to be the older commentaries—while the more expensive programs allow you to purchase commentaries of different skill levels. Remember to check the last post on how to buy a commentary before diving in.
  3. Use the ones that have been recommended. In the last post, I made sure to highlight four guides that were essential to offering recommendations. Use them. You don’t want to dive into purchasing commentaries that will be of no spiritual benefit for you. You can use them both in print and digitally.
  4. Use them for what you need them to do. In other words, don’t just use devotional commentaries and don’t just use exegetical commentaries. If you’re studying your Bible, you’re going to want to study the original meanings, the meaning of the text as it stands, how the text stands in history, how others have understood the text, how the text stands in redemptive history, what it means to you, what it means to the Church as a whole, and what it says in simple terms. Right there is a whole mess of different commentaries and you’ll want to have the right tools for the right job. If you have a digital version, this could incorporate nicely into your program to aid in your overall study.
  5. Use them after you’ve done hard work but before you are convinced by your work. You don’t want to be a mere parrot for what the commentaries say, but you do want to ensure that you haven’t hardened into some faulty position before deciding to go off and consult them. That point is different for different folk.
  6. Use them consistently. Commentaries are not a one-time use sort of thing; they are an investment in your spiritual development and potentially the spiritual development of others. So ensure that you use them often, against each other, in your studies. Digital versions are easier to carry around and might aid in this respect.
  7. Use them in a quest for God’s message. It’s real easy to get caught up in reading commentaries so as to be more impressive when you teach but that misses the point of studying the Bible altogether. The Bible is, if you allow the metaphor, a love letter from God. When we’re studying the Bible we’re poring over this note from the lover of our entire being who condescended to write to us after orchestrating history for our good. So a commentary should really be an aid in trying to understand that love letter.

Crossposted at Digital Sojourner.

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