Wednesday, June 18, 2014

How to Use a Commentary

For the Better Bible Study Index, click here.

Lesson Three -- How to Use a Commentary

Q:  You have mentioned that commentaries can be helpful in Bible Study, but how do you use one without getting lost in all the "technical" language?

A:  It depends on the commentary; use a less "technical" commentary.

Commentaries are written to explain and illuminate the Bible; some are written for scholars (who understand the Biblical languages, cultural significance, and controversies), while others are written for "lay-men" or Bible students.

Commentaries somewhat works on a similar scale to Bible Translations; some are more exact/detailed and some are focused more on the message/meaning -- this is the type of commentary you want!

My suggested pick for Bible Study is the New International Version Application Commentary (NIVAC).  It focuses on both the historical meaning of the text, but also discusses how those concepts translate to today's world and how they can be applied.

Here is an example of the commentary on the book of Hebrews (George H. Guthrie).

Here, you can see that the larger section of text is broken down into paragraphs (or smaller sections) and explained.

If you are looking for something slightly more technical, the Encountering the Bible Series is also good.

This is an example of Encountering John (Andreas Kostenberger).

Like the NIVAC, this series also breaks up larger passages into paragraphs (or smaller sections).

So how do I find the right commentary for me?
Unfortunately, this can sometimes be hit-or-miss.  While I recommend these two commentary series for personal Bible Study, I don't personally agree with every viewpoint in every commentary of either series.  Even the "technical" commentaries I use sometimes argue for an interpretation or viewpoint with which I do not agree; however, many of these "disagreements" are over minor things, not doctrinal issues.

No matter which commentary (or series) you choose, just remember to read it with a grain of salt.  Most are going to help you see the Bible more clearly.  If you feel really lost on what to use, talk to your pastor and get a recommendation.

Remember:  commentaries are simply a tool to help you, not an "answer key" or guide book on what is right or wrong.  Study the Bible for yourself, then consult a commentary.