Monday, May 28, 2012

Proper Place of Commentaries

Phillip J. Long is beginning a blog series of Top Commentaries for New Testament Studies.  Reading his introductory post, I was pleased by his early statements:
First and foremost, a commentary ought never take the place of reading the text of the Bible.  Study should begin by reading the passage to be studied several times through, in context, with a pencil in hand.  Make your own observations before opening a commentary.
 I have heard this taught many times, and yet, so often in the past my first reaction was to open commentaries first.  Not until years later did I realize that most everything the Holy Spirit is saying in a passage through the writer is quite understandable just by reading through and meditating on the passage in context.  How much context?  Enough to know the flow of logic: this could be one chapter, a block of chapters, or the whole book.  Removing the passage from context leads to poor doctrine and ultimately to full-blown heresy.  Notice the recommendation is not directed to preachers and teachers.  No, this is pertinent for anyone wants to understand his Bible.

Should commentaries be used?  Certainly, but in their place: in an abundance of counselors there is safety (Prov 11:14).  And do not think that only the latest commentaries are those only worthwhile.  They reference and build off centuries of scholarship for a reason.  There are many websites that contain the historical works (CCEL, for example).  For more contemporary work, check out something like, which has solid studies by book or topic.  Above all, have someone older and wiser in the faith that you can go to with ideas and questions.  If you are the older and wiser, talk with your peers.  Check and recheck your findings.

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.  (2 Tim 2:15)

1 comment:

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

I was a Christian for 14 years, reading the Bible through every year, before I ever saw a commentary. Commentaries are good as long as we remember they are man's word, and some are better than others. Definitely know something about the author!