Reading this recent interview with D. A. Carson reminded me about the importance of thinking carefully about commentaries. Bible commentaries can be useful tools. So can screwdrivers. But like screwdrivers, Bible commentaries are most useful when you use them well. And to use them well, we need to what they should not be used for, just as we (hopefully) know that screwdrivers shouldn’t be used to hammer nails into the wall.
Please don’t use a Bible commentary (or study Bible notes) . . .
1. As a substitute for reading the text. Read the text before you read the commentary. Read early, read often. Don’t let someone else tell you what you need to read for yourself.
2. As a substitute for reading the text carefully. Read the text carefully before you read the commentary. Don’t let someone else tell you what a careful reading of the text reveals before you have discovered it yourself. You really don’t want to just take their word for it (or, if you do, shame, shame).
3. As a substitute for thinking about the text carefully. Ponder the text before you read the commentary. What is it saying? Not saying? Implying? Not implying? How does it relate to its context? What are its implications? You can likely find out for yourself from the source!
4. As a substitute for wrestling with the text fervently. As you ponder, wrestle. Pray. Wonder. Are there difficulties in understanding and applying the text? Have you thought through a biblical solution to such difficulties? Tried to progress in your own understanding? If so, you may finally be ready to go consult a commentary.
5. In other words, please don’t use commentaries as a quick and easy alternative to really studying the passage for yourself. Don’t let your mental and spiritual muscles atrophy by becoming too reliant on commentaries. They do have a useful place, but it should not be first place. That should go to your own direct and prayerful study of the Bible.
Next week: Tips on How to Use a Bible Commentary