Why You Should Use A Commentary For Bible Study

I’ve been posting about using digital tools to aid in a Bible Study. I’ve repeatedly mentioned reading the Bible, and that’s no different at this point where I want to merely state (without substantiating it very much—really can’t do all that in under five hundred words) that you should be using commentaries.

First, why you should be careful with commentaries:

  1. Some of them take a non-Christian approach to studying the text.
  2. Some take an agnostic approach about God’s work in history.
  3. They can be perverted to give a sense of secret knowledge.
  4. They might take you afield from the text if you refuse to stick with the text.
  5. They can be expensive.

But now, why you should use them:

  1. The best authors have studied history; you most likely haven’t.
  2. The best authors are expert in original languages; you mostly likely aren’t.
  3. The authors have interacted with other authors and have had their ideas scrutinized by experts in their field; you most likely haven’t.
  4. They’ll provoke you to think about the text outside of your normal ways of thinking.
  5. The Holy Spirit wasn’t only given to you: he was given to all Christians. Including the very smart ones who write commentaries.
  6. The Holy Spirit works in time so that means that very old commentaries might be just as helpful to you as modern ones.
  7. They provide a way to check your understanding of Scripture against the broader community.
  8. They predicate their work on a lifetime of studying a passage; you most likely haven’t
  9. Because  they give you hard work to provoke your brain for hard thinking.
  10. Because Spurgeon said so: “In order to be able to expound the Scriptures, and as an aid to your pulpit studies, you will need to be familiar with the commentators: a glorious army, let me tell you, whose acquaintance will be your delight and profit. Of course, you are not such wiseacres as to think or say that you can expound Scripture without assistance from the works of divines and learned men who have laboured before you in the field of exposition. If you are of that opinion, pray remain so, for you are not worth the trouble of conversion, and like a little coterie who think with you, would resent the attempt as an insult to your infallibility. It seems odd, that certain men who talk so much of what the Holy Spirit reveals to themselves, should think so little of what he has revealed to others.”

Next I’ll deal with how to buy a commentary.

Crossposted at Digital Sojourner.

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3 replies on “Why You Should Use A Commentary For Bible Study”

Good points! I know that I have gone back and forth in my personal use of commentaries, but what I have found is that they know so much more than I do about the passage. It is like trying to learn physics or chemistry without the help of a textbook and aids, study guides, and outside resources.

I found myself in contradiction when I would not consult commentaries and yet I would still listen to sermons and consult godly men on questions I had from the Scriptures. To be consistent, if you are to make an argument against the use of commentaries, you must also make an argument against the listening to of sermons, or asking others advice or opinions.

I am sure that I have gleaned things I never would have gleaned with the help of commentaries. They certainly don’t replace the personal study of the Word, but they do make the personal study a lot easier!

Totally. Someone smart said something like “We wouldn’t trust a doctor who only relied on his own personal discoveries regarding the human body and medicine; why would we trust a preacher who has a message that is infinitely more important but relied solely on his own discoveries?”. Sure, it’s an overstatement but it makes a great point for us who teach.

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