So there you are sitting with Bible open, ready to dive into Truth, not sure where to start exactly. You wonder if you’re smart enough; if somehow you can figure out this “Bible study” thing. Confidence may be lacking but the desire is there. Your heart is right but you wonder if it will ever be possible to discover the rich truths like your favorite preachers. Surely they had a go-to resource they turned to … didn’t they? Some commentary they flipped open and great truths were revealed?
I know it makes sense — commentaries are there to help you dive into the Word, so why not use them? But let me challenge you: you don’t need one. Here’s why.
The problem with commentaries is that people often turn to them first when they start a Bible study.
Is that wrong? Maybe not, but it significantly affects and taints (for better or worse) your insight and conclusions of the text.
It has been often stated: the Bible is its own best commentary. And it’s true.
As men and women of the Word, we must allow Scripture to speak and interpret itself. Commentaries can be useful but they are someone’s interpretation of the text. Commentaries are not Scripture, Scripture is Scripture. And we must allow the Word to speak, define, clarify, and give context to the passage we are studying.
But aren’t commentaries helpful in our study?
Yes they can be, but we must not rely or turn to them first. There is a tremendous profit in wrestling long over a text. When something doesn’t make sense and we are forced to come before God, asking the Holy Spirit to illuminate Truth and reveal Himself to us (John 16), we not only learn and remember more, we discover an enrichment of intimacy and truth as we lean and depend upon God for the wisdom and insight of His own Word.
Here is my suggestion: if you are going to use commentaries, use them last. There are several commentaries I like and I have found that God has used them to spark a thought or greater truth, but I turn to them only after I have spent a significant amount of time in the text wrestling. When I turn to commentaries at the beginning, I find myself with their perspective, thought process, and conclusions — rather than allowing Jesus to shape those in me untainted by someone else’s opinion.
However, like I learned in 7th grade Algebra, checking your work is important. Reading a few choice commentaries further along in your study will guard against immediately using their conclusions but it will also help you see if you are heading in the right direction.
If I am the first person in Christian history to come to a certain conclusion on a passage, I need to be wary that I’m not going off the deep end. I don’t always agree with what commentaries come up with but they are helpful in checking your work, giving you additional lines of thinking to go study and think through, and can provide insight into cultural, historical, social backgrounds you may not otherwise know.
So can commentaries be helpful in your study? Sure. But you don’t need them.
If you have your Bible, and are willing to allow the Word to interpret itself, that is truly all you need. Yes there are great tools and resources that can aid your study (here are 3 you should be using) but even then you don’t NEED them.
The Bible is its own best commentary. Start saturating!
Question: what benefits and drawbacks have you found by using commentaries? Answer in the comment section below.