And take…the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Ephesians 6:17
Volume 21, Number
In this issue:
The gospel preacher has a divine charge to “preach the word” (2 Tim. 4:1-2). To do so, he must know the word of God, since he cannot preach what he does not know. He has an obligation to learn and live the Scriptures (for which he will be held accountable, 1 Tim. 4:6; 1 Cor. 9:16; Jas. 3:1). Clearly then, the preacher’s study of God’s word is crucial to doing his work effectively and with God’s approval (2 Tim. 2:15).
The evangelist Timothy was taught by the apostle Paul how to equip himself as a preacher, so that he could “instruct the brethren” as well as teach the lost (1 Tim. 4:6). Among other things, Timothy was urged to “give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine” (1 Tim. 4:13). And, he was told to “meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all” (1 Tim. 4:15).
The preacher studies the Bible for his own spiritual development, as well as to equip himself to preach the doctrine of Christ fully and faithfully. There are many study tools available to assist in one’s study of the Scriptures. Bible commentaries are one such resource. Every Bible commentary must be assessed against the word of God. Does it respect the verbal inspiration of the Bible? Does the author use other Scriptures to support his conclusions upon a given text? What is the basic theology of the commentator? These are just some of the questions to ask when using commentaries. One can be led astray by the comments of Biblical and theological scholars.
The Bible is the first and most important thing to learn. This seems obvious, yet Paul’s encouragement to Timothy to “give attention to reading” undoubtedly refers to the inspired text (1 Tim. 4:13; 2 Tim. 3:15-17). The best commentary on inspired Scripture is inspired Scripture itself. We do well to “heed the prophetic word” that has been confirmed to us, for it shines the divine light of truth in every dark place (2 Pet. 1:20-21). The hundreds of New Testament citations of Old Testament passages help unlock the “mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it is has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets” (Eph. 3:4-5). Allow the Scriptures to explain themselves. Then, use commentaries to assist in increasing your understanding.
Bible commentaries are tools intended to give instruction on what the Biblical text means. There are limitations and dangers associated with using them. Let us briefly consider some of both.
The Value of Commentaries
1) The different types of Bible commentaries add value to one’s study of the Scriptures. We should distinguish here between lexicons, concordances and word study reference books, and Bible commentaries. Commentaries actually expound upon the Bible text, its background, context and meaning. Two major types of Bible commentaries are expository and exegetical. The first typically includes “teaching notes, outlines, illustrations and practical applications of the authors’ study and teaching.”1 The second is “more technical or academic in nature, concentrating on the original languages, context or grammar of the text.”2 The preacher needs to realize that his personal study preferences (for example, perhaps he loves to do in depth word analysis) is not always equivalent to the present need of his audience. Using reference works and commentaries to equip you to use the Bible to “reprove, rebuke and exhort” is of primary concern (2 Tim. 4:2-5).
2) A Bible commentary exposes the student to another person’s devoted study of God’s word. A Bible commentary typically reflects the author’s years of dedicated study and meditation upon some portion of God’s word. As one studies a passage of Scripture, reading how someone else has thought through that passage (with its implications, instruction, etc.) can be instructive and lend insight into its meaning and application. At the same time, this reminds us to search the Scriptures to see is those comments harmonize with God’s revelation (Acts 17:11).
3) Commentaries can give us a perspective on things that cannot be learned from the Biblical text itself. For example, a commentary may include historical information about the period of time and location of the text. It may provide insight into the cultural background of a given text or book of the Bible. Such information from commentaries broadens our understanding of the times, places and forces at work in the Biblical narrative.
4) Commentaries help inform and increase our knowledge of the Bible. Bible commentaries often provide us with additional passages of Scripture that enhance our understanding of the verse under consideration. For example, commentaries on Psalm 110 will likely direct us to the New Testament passages which show its Messianic fulfillment, enhancing one’s understanding of the text. Commentaries are at their best when they help us gain further knowledge and understanding into how Scriptures relate to each other.
Some Dangers of Commentaries
1)The danger of going to Bible commentaries first. Conferring with the wisdom of men does not validate or authenticate the certainty of God’s word (1 Cor. 2:1-5; Gal. 1:6-17). In other words, truth is not truth because a Bible commentator said it is so. Inspired Scripture is our source book for personal spiritual growth as well as for the preacher’s sermon preparation. Using Bible commentaries and other resources is helpful, but they will never replace the Bible itself. We must not allow them to do so. As one man said, “Invest yourself in studying the Bible text itself first, and work towards using commentaries as a reference. It is a mistake to jump quickly to see what the ‘expert’ says and build your teaching on that.”3 Commentaries are not inspired; they can be wrong. And so, we must “test the spirits, whether they are from God” by using the standard of apostolic revelation (1 Jno. 4:1, 6).
2) Beware of the commentator’s biases. The theological biases of a commentator may well distort his comments. Calvinism is likely to permeate the commentary written by a Calvinist. The presumptions of Premillennialism will find their way into commentaries by its adherents. Those inexperienced in the Scriptures can be swayed to adopt the terminology and the false definitions presented in commentaries. This does not mean we should not use commentaries; biases will likely be found in them all. It means we should be careful to test a commentator against the Scriptures (Acts 17:11; Jno. 5:39). Discernment is in order as we use Bible commentaries, or we will find ourselves drinking from “broken cisterns” (Phil. 1:9-11; Jer. 2:13). A firm grasp of the Scriptures is needed to avoid being led into error by false definitions, erroneous concepts and philosophical approaches that distort God’s word (Col. 2:8, 2-3; 1 Tim. 4:1-3). The faithful and sound words of Scripture take precedence over the “contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge” (2 Tim. 1:13; Titus 1:9; 1 Tim. 6:20).
3) The danger of intellectual elitism. We glory in the Lord, not in intellectual prowess (1 Cor. 1:26-31; 2:1-5). Commentaries represent biblical scholarship. But, not all scholarship is good; some is poor. Academic scholarship does not equate to Scriptural soundness. Indeed, such knowledge can lead to arrogance (1 Cor. 8:1). Knowing what a commentary says does not make one fluent in the Scriptures. Some are tempted to put undue stock in men and their commentary upon the Scriptures, so much so that if you disagree with commentator “so and so,” then you are diminished or discounted. That degree of trust in men is misplaced and endangers souls (Jer. 17:5-7).
4) The danger of relying on commentaries instead of a “thus saith the Lord.” Bible commentators do not establish truth; Jesus does (Jno. 14:6). His authority is revealed in His word, which we can understand and do (Matt. 28:18-20; Heb. 1:1-2; Eph. 3:3-5; 5:17; Jas. 1:21-25). Bible commentators are not our binding authority for whatever we do “in word or deed” (Col. 3:17). Only the inspired Scriptures fit that bill (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
All Bible commentaries
are not created equal. Let us seek balance as we use them, giving preference
to the divine word over the words of men. Diligent
use of the Scriptures is paramount to handling God’s word accurately and
being approved workmen in His sight (2 Tim. 2:15). We may
aptly apply the following inspired comments as we use Bible commentaries:
“Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold
fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thess. 5:19-22).
1 Fairchild, Mary, “What
is a Commentary?”,
-Truth Magazine, March 2017, pages 22-23 (minor editing, jrp)
(Current events in the light of Scripture)
You remember the boy who cried, “Wolf!” When real danger appeared, his pleas for help went unheeded due to his previously fabricated warnings. He was in deep trouble. Nobody believed him or responded to help.
This past week we heard a recurring phrase from politicians. They told us we face an “existential threat” from climate change, North Korea, and our president. Politics are so embroiled in charges and countercharges, bluster and blather, that it has become a challenge to cut through the hype to get to the truth. Such an environment easily leads to real warnings being ignored.
An existential threat means something that threatens our very existence. There are real threats to any nation, society and civilization that deserve careful analysis and attention. But, when everything is viewed as a crisis, eventually nothing is a crisis. That presents a menace to seeing and addressing true hazards when they arise.
We need to be just as clear as the Bible when we speak of spiritual crises. We ignore these threats at our eternal peril.
1. The existential threat of sin. We cannot take sin out of our vocabulary. Sin destroys lives now and souls eternally (Rom. 6:23). The gospel is the solution (Rom. 1:16-17).
2. The existential threat of moral and religious compromise. We are commanded to “come out and be separate” from the darkness of error, faithlessness and evil (2 Cor. 6:14-18; Eph 5:11). We must see the danger of “evil company” instead of thinking we are immune from its corrupting power (1 Cor. 15:33-34).
3. The existential threat of worldliness. Making the things of this world one’s priority presents genuine spiritual and eternal dangers (Matt. 16:26; Lk. 12:13-31; 1 Tim. 6:6-10). We must set heavenly priorities (Matt. 6:19-21, 33-34).
Spiritual threats are existential. They imperil eternal life, and they must be taken seriously (2 Thess. 1:8-9). Live for Jesus – “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God,” and “our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 10:31; 12:29). The Bible is not crying, “Wolf!” Neither do we.
Created by Chuck Sibbing, last updated. 03/01/2019
The Spirit's Sword is a free,
weekly publication of the Mt. Baker church of Christ, Bellingham, WA