The End Goal of Good Bible Study: To Know and Enjoy God. How do I use commentaries?
PART 2: TIPS FOR UTILIZING BIBLE COMMENTARIES
Did Carmen’s last blog scare you away from using commentaries? Bible commentaries are not a replacement for the Bible. However, Bible commentaries can be useful study tools to help us better know and enjoy God through His Word.
In this conversation, Carmen offers a few helpful tips in regards to utilizing Bible commentaries:
What is your concern with Bible commentaries?
As I mentioned in the blog, Bible commentaries have the propensity to lead us on the road to knowing right answers versus knowing God Himself. Thinking we have all the right answers can equate to being puffed up with knowledge. Whereas, knowing God through His Word leads us to humility.
We will never have all the right answers about God! His ways and thoughts are ever above our ways and thoughts! (Isaiah 55:8)
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. - Isaiah 55:8
When doing Bible study, is it wrong to want the right answers and seek commentaries?
Of course not! The purpose of good Bible study is to know and enjoy God. Commentaries can help illuminate the historical and cultural context of Scripture and the meaning of texts in their original language. The problem is that in our hurry and eagerness to find the right answers, we often jump directly to commentaries. Commentaries can provide us with some answers to our questions, but rarely have I seen a commentary lead us to worship and relating directly to God. Relationships grow while pondering Scripture.
This is why I often wait until the end of the week to access commentaries. I don’t want to short-change the work of the Holy Spirit. God uses His Word, not commentaries, in order to teach, rebuke, correct and train us in righteousness (II Timothy 3:16-17). I find that I short-change my conversation with God about His Word when I jump directly to commentaries. The Simply Bible format - a process long used by pastors and scholars - leads me to connect with God. Prayer then comes naturally.
I lead a group of women and feel pressure to spend a lot of time in commentaries. Shouldn’t I be prepared to answer all the questions that can come up in study?
I felt pressure to be an “expert” in the beginning too. For the first Simply Bible study that we offered, The gospel of John, I thought I needed to be a walking commentary on John. What wrong thinking! Even if I spent every hour each week studying, I would never become an expert.
As leaders, we certainly have a responsibility to prepare our studies, but that preparation has a lot more to do with knowing God than knowing all the right answers. Participants discern authenticity. Does a leader place more importance in seeing, caring and pointing others to Jesus? Or does she place more importance on being seen and having the answers? In essence, this is simply “dressing up and playing church.” I’ve been guilty of it myself.
God works powerfully through humble leaders who pray. He works through leaders who follow hard after Jesus and point their flocks to Him rather than pointing to themselves and any knowledge they’ve gleaned.
Look at the disciples! In the 1st century, why didn’t Jesus choose men from the religious elite to be among His closest followers? Jesus looked at the heart. He didn’t need men who thought they had all the right answers, He found men who would follow Him with all their heart, soul, mind and strength and point others to Him. I love that!
In small group scenarios, I have observed that reading notes from commentaries unintentionally discourages others. I’m not saying it is right, but we tend to compare ourselves to others. The woman on the other side of the table may shut down thinking, “I didn’t get that. What’s wrong with me? I must not be good at this kind of Bible study.” This is wrong thinking, but it happens. Sharing from commentaries should be a rare occurrence. Again, these books provide historical and cultural insight. They can keep us on the right track. Perhaps consider using them as a last resort when the group as a whole reaches a stalemate and is looking to better understand.
The best discussion happens when all participants feel safe to share their various observations, interpretations and applications. Personal stories of how God pricked hearts through His Word are way more powerful than notes shared from commentary.
How should I use Bible commentaries?
I recommend using commentaries at the end of a week’s study to verify your work.
Where can I find good commentaries?
That’s a great question! Two resources that I use in order to find solid commentaries are www.bestcommentaries.com and Tim Challies. Best Commentaries labels various commentaries according to type. Because I do not read Hebrew or Greek, I usually stay away from the “technical” commentaries and lean more towards pastoral commentaries.
Is it okay to google a question related to Scripture?
Please use caution when roaming the web. When we have a medical issue and google our symptoms, what happens? We find a lot of options for a diagnosis! Most are wrong, too.
The same holds true for questions related to the Bible. Know your sources! Bible commentaries vary theologically. Online- even on popular Bible study sites- you will bump into poorly researched commentaries that are not written by educated scholars. If someone has written a commentary on every book of the Bible, that ought to send up red flags! No single person can be an expert on the entire Bible! Look for commentaries written by scholars with degrees from well-known institutions.
Are Bible commentaries always right?
Study Bibles and commentaries are not infallible. I’m not infallible. Have you ever read notes in a study Bible and second-guessed whether those notes are correct? I have. I don’t always agree with the opinion shared. Therefore, when utilizing commentary, always use more than one and note both the similarities and differences.
I even encourage you to take my videos with a grain of salt. I try to simply share what I observe, how I understand, and then, how I apply God’s Word. I can get it wrong, too. This is why it is best to study the Bible with others. Be a part of a local church. We need accountability with one another. I’m so grateful for all the women who study and earnestly seek to know God with me!
If you do question a scholar’s conclusion in a Bible commentary, be humble. Talk to God about it! Go back and simply ponder His Word for a while.
Lord God, Thank You for desiring a relationship with us. Thank You for giving us Your Word to better know You. Sometimes we struggle to understand. Your way of thinking can be so far above our own. Add in the historical and cultural differences, and we can feel lost. As we study and read, would you give us wisdom and discernment to better know You and understand You? Help us "get it" such that our hearts would be unified with Yours.
"JESUS WILL DO THE TEACHING"
Michele described her own journey with Bible commentaries thusly:
"In the first couple Simply Bible studies, I felt like I didn’t have the “correct” answers, and so I was quick to run to the commentary. I basically wrote down what I read from the commentary. I did not think about the passage much- I just wrote down someone else’s answers. When I made the decision to stop reading the commentary before my study, my time in the Word started to become intimate. Jesus started to reveal meaning to his word and then the application became real. I enjoy His word so much more — now I know Jesus will do the teaching, I just need to ask him to show me. I ponder it and I trust Him to do the revealing. Amazing how simple it really is!!"
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