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The Danger of Commentaries

Saturday, December 23, 2017


While valuable to our study, commentaries can be dangerous:

1) They can mislead us.  While it’s helpful to evaluate a commentator’s errors, it may be tempting to believe those errors.  The New Testament warns us not to be misled by false teaching, so we need to proceed with caution.  I’m not suggesting we stay away from commentaries.  The same dangers exist when we listen to sermons or Bible classes.  However, we need to be diligent to “test the spirits” (1 John 4:1) and “accurately handle the word of truth.” (2 Tim. 2:15). 

2) They can scare us away from original thought.  Commentaries are helpful because they can correct our errors.  However, there is the danger of always assuming commentaries are right and we’re wrong.  It’s intimidating to throw our interpretation in the ring with real scholars.  We might have the proper view and they might be wrong, but if we’re not careful we can let them intimidate us into abandoning all our original thoughts on a passage.  

3) They can replace original thought altogether.  If we assume commentaries are right and we’re wrong, why think at all?  Why not save time, skip our personal study of the text and let the commentators tell us what to think?  May it never be!  While there’s value in meditating on what others say about the Scriptures, we need to meditate on the Scriptures ourselves first.  When asked about the greatest command in the Law, Jesus didn’t ask the lawyer, “What do all the scholars say?”  He asked, “How does it read to you?” (Luke 10:26)   

4) They can become idols.  For a long time, many of us probably thought Strong’s and Vine’s were the 4th and 5th parts of the godhead!  I’ve sat through sermons where it seemed like the preacher thought J.W. McGarvey wrote the book of Acts!  When preachers string together paragraph after paragraph from commentaries to prove a point, it makes commentaries the standard, not God’s Word.  When we think, “The commentary said it so that’s the end of all argument,” we’ve made the commentary an idol.  

5) Commentators can become idols.  If we’re not careful, we can idolize their authors too.  “You say it means this, but William Barclay disagrees!”  We’ll all have favorite commentators.  Some authors write higher quality commentaries than others.  We just need to be careful aligning ourselves with particular commentators instead of with Christ.  When we divide into factions and think, “I am of Barclay, I am of Barnes, and I am of McGuiggan,” we’re no better than the foolish Corinthians. (1 Cor. 1:12)  

6) We can waste money on bad ones.  This is less a spiritual danger and more a pragmatic one.  Some get overly excited and buy entire sets of commentaries as “investments,” only to be sorely disappointed.  In the next couple installments, I’ll share ways to make sure you’re getting high quality commentaries and not wasting your time or money on resources that aren’t helpful. 

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