Yesterday I showed you the Blue Letter Bible app that I love, and today I’ll share what I think are helpful parameters for how to incorporate the use of Bible commentaries in your study time.

Let’s begin with a simple definition of “commentary” from dictionary.com:

noun, plural commentaries.

1.

a series of comments, explanations, or annotations:

a commentary on the Bible; news followed by a commentary.

2.

an explanatory essay or treatise:

a commentary on a play; Blackstone’s commentaries on law.
I’ve included this definition as a reminder that we must not confuse commentary with truth. I think we know that, but when studying the Bible we easily slide into thinking commentaries hold the final say on what we read. Don’t we sometimes act like it is? Confused by what a passage of Scripture means, we often turn to a trusted Bible commentary to explain it and then it’s settled in our minds and we move on. I’m thankful for these commentaries and all the ways they teach us the Scriptures, yet I fear we sometimes thoughtlessly attribute them as having an authority they do not possess.
I want us to be careful about that. However, let’s also embrace how blessed we are by the efforts of so many to write and share their thoughts on God’s Word. Some say that using commentaries isn’t necessary, pointing to the Christians who lived before us that never had this kind of access to extra study helps, but I desire to make the most of what I have been given to better know God’s Word instead of worrying about what those in the past were given or not. It’s not an essential, but it sure can help! When it comes to additional supports for studying the Bible, we’ve been gifted with so much, haven’t we? I hope I’m grateful in receiving those gifts and faithful in using them well.

So how do we use commentaries well?

My experience has been that Bible commentaries are a beneficial tool the Holy Spirit – our Perfect Teacher – utilizes in teaching what God says, but my learning is inhibited when I rush to commentary too soon in my study. I find it’s best to spend time seeking out answers on my own before turning to others’ opinions. I aim to understand the Scriptures first with the Spirit’s help and then seek to compare others’ thoughts with my own. At times, commentary will help confirm and clarify what the Spirit’s been teaching me, and other times, it will show me where I’ve missed the mark! Even in those times, recognizing where I’ve gone wrong in my study teaches me how to do it differently the next time. In this case, the mistakes end up being the best teacher. Those lessons are largely lost on me when I haven’t first attempted to learn it myself.

There are no rules here to tell you how much time to spend seeking understanding on your own before you check out what your commentaries have to say. The entirety of our study time should be Spirit-led, and his direction and timing will likely vary according to different situations and days. However, I try to reflect on the following questions when examining when I should seek commentary and when I should stay put a while longer in my personal investigating, planted in the angst it brings:

Is my need to know this answer right-this-minute rooted in impatience? Being still in a passage takes time; am I willing to endure it long enough to hear from him? It’s possible my resistance might also have something to do with laziness.

Is it rooted in my insecurity? This is when I am not confident in my own ability to hear God’s voice so I need someone else to tell me what he’s saying. I do not think I’m enough, so I’ll leave it to the “experts.”

Is it rooted in a prideful desire for knowledge? If we’re honest, sometimes we look for Bible study to tell us how smart we are. We can’t stand not knowing. Besides making us feel bad about our intellect, it also makes us believe our time in the Word has been wasted. We think ending our study with ongoing questions means we haven’t been successful, and let’s face it, we like feeling successful. It could be that we rush to commentary because we’ve elevated knowledge of information above knowing God himself.

But the truth is that God sometimes makes himself better known in the waiting.

seeking God in Bible study

Come back tomorrow for more discussion on how to handle this waiting – that place of not knowing what the Bible is saying – and what to do when studying the Bible on our own raises more questions and compounds our confusion.

Bible study grace 31 days