Saturday, December 13, 2014

No Comment?

"Commentaries,"  began my friend with a disdainful edge to her voice,  "give man's opinion. Inductive Bible study, on the other hand, gives you God's Word without the filter of human interpretation."

I resisted the urge to point out that she hears a commentary every Sunday morning when  her pastor opens his mouth. In retrospect, I regret my silence. Perhaps saying something about sermons being commentaries might have challenged her to reconsider her stance on Bible study tools so that she could take advantage of insights by scholars such as Matthew Henry, Albert Barnes, John Gill and even  contemporary scholars like John MacArthur and William MacDonald. Instead, I muttered something about being thankful for software that gave me access to Bible study tools. Then I changed the subject.

Currently, my personal Bible study time primarily leans toward more inductive methods as I work through the Old and New Testaments with the goal of understanding Scripture's overall  context. I've learned more than I thought I would by studying this way, and I do think I'd developed an over-dependence on commentaries. But several times a week, I encounter a verse or passage that puzzles me. In those times, I consult two or three commentaries (never just one) to gain insight.

Using commentaries and other study tools reminds me that I often need help in understanding God's Word.  Unlike the commentators I read, I don't know  Hebrew and  Greek, nor do I know ancient history or First Century customs. Sometimes, therefore,  I need background information in order to accurately understand (for example) why God killed Uzzah for steadying the Ark (2 Samuel 6:6-7) or why the apostle Paul emphasized that all wisdom and knowledge is hidden in Christ (Colossians 2:2-3).

Indeed, we all have the potential to elevate commentaries to the level of Scripture itself, and in that respect I appreciate my friend's  caution. At the same time, too much inductive study holds the danger of subjective interpretation.

God gave us Scripture in order to reveal Himself. As we read and study it in an attitude of prayer, His Spirit speaks to us. But those of us who know neither the original languages nor the historical and cultural backgrounds may need the input of more advanced Bible scholars. Let's have the humility to at least look at the perspectives they offer, realizing that they each have flaws. As do we.
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 Timothy 2:15 (ESV)

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