07 February 2008

Leaning on the everlasting... commentary-ruts?

by Dan Phillips

No regular reader will expect this to be an attack on commentaries, or a plea for the lonely quicksand of solipsistic interpretation. Nor is it. I'm not sure which is the greater fool: the man who blindly depends on commentaries rather than looking directly to the Word (pace Matthew 15:1-9), or he who sniffs at learning from his olders, wisers, and betters (pace Proverbs 1:5; 5:13; 12:15; 18:2; 19:20; 26:12). Regardless, they're both fools.

I was invited to preach last Sunday, and theoretically had about eight days to prepare. But I think I've never had a more brutal week for devouring prep-time. Ended up having to take a day off from work, and just go at it from well before sunrise to after, and likewise the next day. In the course of the week I read and re-read the section (Genesis 15:1-6) in Hebrew and English, read the larger context, and walked and meditated on it. I also hit the books, literal and digital: grammars, lexicons, commentaries, theologies, many dozens of journals. Everything I had the time to get my hands on. The usual, just compressed.

But something stood out to me from the text that, as far as I saw, none of them noticed.

Now, you don't need me to tell you my luminosity relative to the other bulbs on the chandelier. So my first thought is that, if I'm seeing it and they're not, it probably isn't there.

But I think it was, and is. It isn't a major point (or I would flat-out doubt it). It's just a touch of vividness, color, detail. It's in verse 5. Here's a fairly literal translation:
Then He brought him outside, and He said, 'Now, gaze towards the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.' Then He said to him, 'Thus shall your seed be!'"
Most who comment just say how God brought Abram outside, showed him the stars, and said that his descendants would be similarly vast in number. Which is true.

But they don't make much of the break, the pause in the text. God tells Abram to count the stars — then there's a beat, a pause. Only then does God say, "Thus shall your seed be!"

What's that about?

Reading it, I simply recalled that Abram hadn't ever read Genesis 15. He had no idea where Yahweh was going with this. Yahweh's Word has come to Abram, He speaks with him, they're having a dialogue... and then God tells the old gent to go outside. So of course, Abram does. He doesn't know why. God tells him to look up into the heavens, so Abram does. He doesn't know why.

And then God tells Abram to count the stars.

And the text pauses, it takes a breath. God waits.

Why?

So Abram can start counting!

God had given Abram an order. True, it was a big order. But Abram knew that God told his impossibly old great-great granddad to build an enormous boat, and old Noah had done it. Maybe He actually meant Abram to do this, too. So he started.

How long did Yahweh pause? Of course, I've no idea; but I would wager that it was long enough for the sheer enormity of the task to sink in. A minute? Five? By the time Abram had even begun counting the stars at one horizon, many new ones had appeared, and others had sunk out of sight, uncounted. There was absolutely no way he was going to be able to do this job.

And only then does Abram get the word, the staggering promise: "That is what your seed will be like."

This observation is a small facet from one of the truths I endeavored to lift out of the text. Feel free to hear the whole, which is titled Three Pivotal Firsts.

But my point is that commentaries tend to get into a rut. They ask and answer the same questions, although giving different answers. Can't tell you how many times I've gone to the commentaries with a question of my own, a facet of the text on which I want some light — and nobody has anything to say about it! Could be I'm just strange; probably is that I'm just strange.

But I also see they get in ruts. You see, it goes like this: Commentator G reads Commentator F and comments on what F comments on; but he's already done the same with Commentator E, who did the same with Commentator D... and so on, and so forth. Ruts.

So use good commentaries judiciously and with due respect, thank God for them.

But be sure to approach the text afresh. It's the issue, after all (you knew that). It's the Word that is still living and powerful. A fresh, diligent, faithful eye may spot a fresh angle.

Maybe yours!

(Just make sure that lovely glitter isn't fool's gold.)

Dan Phillips's signature


64 comments:

Tom Chantry said...

One of the most common ruts of the commentaries is to forget that the Noahs and Abrahams and Moseses weren't stained glass saints, but were ordinary persons with no idea what was going on until it happened. The better commentaries acknowledge this, but then regularly forget. I think it is an essential part of preparation for preaching narrative to endeavor to put yourself in the story and try to imagine experiencing it as one of the characters - who, as you say, never knew where God was going with the story. They hadn't learned the story in Sunday School as kids, so they necessarily approached it differently than us.

I think you made a good catch here. It's not like you were disagreeing with all of church history about the meaning of the stars, you were merely noticing a nuance that most commentaries miss. But this is the sort of thing that can open a text to the hearers in a fresh way.

DJP said...

Exactly, and well-put.

YoungCalvinist said...

Congratulations TeamPyro! You've been awarded a Thinking Blogger Award! Check out http://blackreformingkid.wordpress.com/2008/02/07/blogger-awards/ for the details

dac said...

Dan

I know you will take this as a snarky comment, but it isn't intended that way

Just where in the text do you see a pause? Where does the text "takes a breath"? Where does it in any way indicate that God waits?

I do not know Hebrew, so perhaps it is in the original. But based on the english translations I have, I see no indication in the sentence structure that would indicate a pause.

Did God pause? Possibly. But it seems pure speculation to state that he did pause.

Johnny Dialectic said...

Yes, the Bible sheds a lot of light on commentaries.

Also, I like the oldies. Henry, Clarke. Pre-ruts.

But as you stress, it's so important to read, digest and react to the text directly, first.

Well done, and great insight, Dan.

Scott Gordon said...

Thanks for the necessary reminder. I needed to hear it.

Sola Gratia!

Don Fields said...

I had the same frustration this week as I was preparing to teach Colossians 3:1-14. In Colossians 3:5 Paul tells the Colossians to "put to death" certain sins. Then in 3:8 he says to "put off" others sins. Why the change? Not one commentary talked about the differences. They explained each phrase, but didn't deal with the change in terminology from list to list.

It led me to believe there most not be a difference, just two ways of saying the same thing. But I'm not convinced. Putting off something seems quite different from killing it.

NoLongerBlind said...

Dan,

Does the Hebrew word translated "Then" give any indication as to time...?

Can you open that up a bit??

centuri0n said...

Reading.

Completely fundamental.

Here's the only thing I'd toss on top of what Dan just said: if you aren't a good reader, get better at it before you try to do what Dan did here. Because there's a massive difference between, for example, interpreting that God pauses while Abram starts counting and interpreting (as happened on Tuesday) that pigs="Roman Empire".

Theophilus said...

A good reminder that it is first and foremost the Holy Spirit that leads us in opening up the Word of God, and scripture that interprets scripture.

Sometimes a familiar verse can seem to lose its luster if we bring previous insights -- whether others', or our own -- instead of reading it afresh through a child's eyes.

Like that old commercial "taste it again, for the first time."

centuri0n said...

nolongerblind:

Dan doesn;t have blogger access at work, so I'll screw up the answer and let him fix it when he gets home.

It turns out that the "then" is an English accommodation of the Hebrew text, so I wouldn't hang a lot on it per se. What underscores Dan's point, I think, is that the passage repeats the statement "he [God] said". God said, "look up and count"; [then] God said, "So shall your decendents be."

The repetition is emphasis in Hebrew; it has the same force in English. The interpretation that God emphasized this statement really hangs on the notion that one has actually tried to do what God commanded in the first clause.

Does that make sense?

donsands said...

"So use good commentaries judiciously and with due respect, thank God for them."

Good exhorting.

I'm reading through the minor prophets, and also reading James Boice's comments.
It's helpful to do both for me, for the minor prophets are very difficult to grasp for me.

Jerry said...

Maybe I am being dense (nothing new I can assure you), but I am having a hard time figuring out how Sgt. Stryker from "The Sands of Iwo Jima" figures into this post.

Sled Dog said...

Engage the Word personally. Great concept. The Word is living and active so we can interact with it and expect God to illuminate our hearts and minds to what it means.

I'd add one thing: I've known some preachers who spend a lot time preaching the intricacies and nuances of the text, to the exclusion of the main points. I remember one pastor who had his congregation more excited about the little nuggets he discovered than the big ideas that were screaming out. When they came in on Sunday to listen, they couldn't wait to hear what stuff he dug out of the text. In the long run, he was treated as if he had special knowledge of the scriptures.

And it showed in the church. Way more concern about minor issues than weightier matters.

Not disagreeing with Dan's post...just an additional thought.

S.J. Walker said...

I have read and occasionally been aided by Matthew Henry's commentary. and a few others.

One thing to remember is that the older ones had a distinct advantage: they didn't have other commentaries to gum up the works.

Dan was right on when he said:

"I'm not sure which is the greater fool: the man who blindly depends on commentaries rather than looking directly to the Word (pace Matthew 15:1-9), or he who sniffs at learning from his olders, wisers, and betters (pace Proverbs 1:5; 5:13; 12:15; 18:2; 19:20; 26:12). Regardless, they're both fools"


Good commentaries can NEVER replace good reading of the Word; but the Good Old Word can far outplace the commentaries when read deliberately and honestly before God. But like dan said, to shun the help of older and wiser men of God is just plain foolish.

As to the thought on Genesis, Dan, good observation. How often in tother things does He also give pause for us to look at the vastness of something--be it His creation, or our own sin.

"Now, consider this..."(Psalm 50)

Thanks

NoLongerBlind said...

Thanks, Cent--your point does make sense.

Not knowing the reading of the original language, I'll walk out on a limb and venture to add to what you said:

The possible "pause" wouldn't be suggested if God had only taken him outside and said, "Look toward the heavens. See all those multitudes of stars? So shall your offspring be."

As you put it, the command to "number the stars" is the key to the "suggested" pause.

Chris Latch said...

There aren't many things more satisfying than to read the text and pull one of those little nuggets of truth out before reading where someone else has already found it - and it's even better when you can't see that anyone else found it before you (though I'm sure that someone, somewhere, did so...)

Proverbs 25:2 It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out.

spencer said...

Thanks for the great insight.
Here is a bit of confirmatory evidence.
I just returned from my January term seminar at SBTS (DMin Expository preaching).
Our instructors were Thomas Schreiner, William Cook, and Hershael York.
I took I don’t know how many pages of notes.
Upon returning home I went through my notes and pulled out the most practical points to apply right away.
The first one:
“Quit using so many commentaries!”
Why is it that the more schooling we receive -- the further we stray from simply reading the text with a pencil and a blank paper. I returned from school more committed to the simple process of observation as fundamental to exegesis. I don’t know why I needed a doctoral seminar for that. I could have stayed home and read your blog.
Thanks.
Spencer DeBurgh

stratagem said...

AHA! So there is a place, after all, for the "what does this passage mean to you?" type Bible study! /sarcasm

Now a serious note: The thing that scares me about commentaries is that people are still writing them. And, we are in a time when it seems like most modern teachers, especially those who've been through Semetary and are high-profile, are coming at things from the liberal angle. And I'd just as lief struggle with the text only, if their "help" were my only choices.

Now, someone will say "but those aren't your only choices, dummey." True, but how is a youngster who may not have guidance from an old, reliable mentor, supposed to know who's a good commenter, and who isn't? Particularly when not everyone who's old and mature is also sound? (Ref: McLaren, who is no spring chicken).

Just some questions to chew on.

Sled Dog said...

s.j.:

It's interesting because I've heard a lot of grief over the years about Matthew Henry's commentaries...dismissing them more as "devotional commentaries" rather than scholarly work, thus rendering them near useless.

I've found them to be helpful, not hurtful.

centuri0n said...

Spencer:

We charge less, and often our jokes are better.

S.J. Walker said...

Stratagem,

Maybe commentaries, at least "modern" ones, should be like buying handguns--you have to be at least 21, no make it 50 and until then, you can only read the Word it self. Lexicons and other study helps can be permissible, like BB guns and rubber bands before graduating to something stronger.

Of course, I do realize that by doing this I have taken away the "handguns" and replaced them with the Sword. Hmmmm

Johnny Dialectic said...

I don't know who said this, but I like it. "The text must preach to me before I can preach the text."

All the "commentary knowledge" in the world isn't going to make for an effective sermon. It's when you bring to the people what the text has brought to you.

I use commentaries mostly AFTER I've engaged the text, to make sure what I'm getting is not something I've added. It's more for confirmation and correction.

But then there are times when a solid insight from a good commentary makes its way into a message. One reason I like the oldies is that their writing is just so much better. It has an elegance we lack today.

S.J. Walker said...

sled dog,

I have certainly not agreed with some of Henry's thoughts, and were I to compare his to another's, it may be true what is said about being scholarly. The point that can't be overlooked here is that as helpful as any might be, they must be parallel to Scripture. In order to tell that, one must first read the Scripture. Period.

S.J. Walker said...

johnny,

You beat be to the punch. I need to learn to type faster.

Josh said...

Why commentaries exist: Genesis 10

(Chapter I am preaching this week)

Josh said...

Another question in the same stream - Why do bad commentaries happen to good pastors?

centuri0n said...

'k, I'm going to confess something here and I don't want anyone to overblow what I'm going to say as I think that reading commentaries can be useful in shaping one's own personal hermeneutical style.

I think writing a commentary is far more useful and helpful and frankly informative than reading a commentary. I admire people who what written commentaries because they have had to take the text seriously. Even really bad commentaries at least spell out what a person is bringing to the text and is either willing or unwilling to do to/for the text.

I have read a -lot- of books on how to read the Bible because the subject interests me, but the one which, I think, gives the beginning student of the Bible a method which simply works is (you guessed it) Dr. John MacArthur's Unleashing God's Word in Your Life, which is inexplicably unavailable from CBD.

There isn't really a "trick" to reading the Bible: you just have to read it seriously, prayerfully, and frankly faithfully -- that is, as if it is the rule of faith, and as if you have faith. Dr. MacArthur's book fills that out well.

centuri0n said...

BTW, I love being the only Pyro with access to the site on days like today when I have a free moment.

Everything you need to know about Gen 10: watch the Shemites.

If you find something more insightful than that in that passage, I'd be interested.

S.J. Walker said...

Cent,

Haven't read that book, but I completely agree. In only say that because, well, I'll use my Sunday School class for an example(I always want to abbreviate Sunday School, but that would not be cool for anybody with a brain). Anyway.

I do use help in certain places, but for the most part, I take the Word and write our basic study notes based on what it has told me in the context and so on. as I look back, the verse by verse explanation and "commentary", actually writing out what I have been taught as I read the Word, is in itself a mini-commentary and has been far more beneficial that just taking point notes and trying to remember the basic ideas.

Now, I am SO not qualified to take it too much further. But, on the other hand, if I am in Christ, it He Who enables. And who am I to sit still when there is a game afoot?

Bottom line for any of this so far: GET INTO THE WORD.

Johnny Dialectic said...

Yes, MacArthur advocates a method that a Dr. Gray advanced in the late 19th Century: Read a book (or about 7 chapters) over and over for a month. Summarize each chapter on note cards. I've never found a better method.

Tom Chantry said...

Or, as the Shorter Catechism says:

That the word may become effectual to salvation, we must attend thereunto with diligence, preparation and prayer, receive it with faith and love, lay it up in our hearts, and practice it in our lives.

centuri0n said...

catechism: the one part of ancient traditions the Emerg*** hate.

Rileysowner said...

I agree with Dan's comment that commentaries tend to get in a rut. I have had it quite often that a question I have about the text is not answered in any of the commentaries I can get my hands on since they are all discussing their own questions that don't happen to be mine.

On the other hand, I have had commentaries ask questions that I did not ask which forced me to look at the text again from a different point of view. That helps me get out of my own ruts, and stay away from my own hobby horses.

As for using newer commentaries rather than old, I have found both old and new commentaries that are simply bad theologically. Having said that, there do seem to be more newer ones that wander off to denying the very text they are seeking to comment on. On the other hand I find the newer commentaries often deal with issues in the original language in a much more helpful manner than older ones do.

ezekiel said...

Gotta watch those commentaries. Sort of like you gotta watch those preachers. IMO they are best used to confirm your reading from the WORD rather than interpret your reading of the WORD. Let the Holy Spirit do that. The Word is the final authority.

We never know when some professor teaches Pigs=Romans.

De 4:2 and Rev 22:18,19

Stefan said...

When I read through the whole Bible from cover to cover, it struck me how much of Scripture itself is actually internal self-commentary. Some passages that caused me to go, "Huh!?" were cleared up a few chapters or verses later, for example. And of course, you get amplifications in Chronicles and Psalms of stuff in Samuel/Kings, the parallels among the Gospels, commentary on the Old Testament in Paul and Hebrews, and so on.

Even verse-by-verse annotated Bibles can leave something to be desired at times. The Reformation Study Bible will have detailed exegesis on this or that theologically key passage, then let several possibly puzzling verses go by with little more than a short explanatory note, if that.

Gummby said...

Cent: I think they reissued that book under a new title. Ask Phil.

DJP said...

Very hurriedly:

DAC — to rephrase what I said in the post, there is a pause in the verse. It does not read, "Now, gaze towards the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them, for thus shall your seed be!" Nor, "Now, gaze towards the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them, which are many as your seed be!"

The Hebrew has a construction in that verse that is the common way of narrating sequential events. God said A, commanding Abram to do B. Then He said C. There is a break between B and C.

And no, nolongerblind, no indication of the length of time. Just a little catch in the narrative. God orders Abram to do something. Then after that, He says something additional. What comes between those two points? Abram's attempt to do as ordered, I take it.

Your next comment is just right.

Jerry, rest your cursor on the picture for a moment.

Sled Dog, I totally agree with you. If you'll listen to the sermon, you can judge whether or not I do that.

Well, gotta run.

Thanks, all.

Strong Tower said...

Is the connecting key word "seed"?

He does not say seeds as in many, but seed...

Is this a reference to the coming of Jesus who is of Abraham, and is the Seed who calls the stars by name, the only One who is able to count them.

So, perhaps it reads in the negative way, "You cannot count the stars, but the One who is your Seed, can." Indicating to Abraham that out of him would come the Promise, which is Jesus Christ our Lord.

Jerry said...

Big star (Groan)

Strong Tower said...

The idea of numbering can mean to be in conmmand of, as in the Lord of Hosts. Only the commander has the authority to muster, that is to count a troop. Scripture tells us that He commands the stary host, calls each by name. They arise and march on their cours according to his pleasure, and bow at his command.

Genesis 22:17 speaks again of this Lord of Hosts, this Seed, who is triumpant over his enemies. And Isaiah 9.6, tells us of his government which increases with no end. The one who numbers is the one who governs and assigns to each his station. So God, asked Job, “Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades or loose the cords of Orion? Can you lead forth the Mazzaroth in their season, or can you guide the Bear with its children? Do you know the ordinances of the heavens?
Can you establish their rule on the earth?" Job saw the One which Abraham understood to be the Star of Bethlehem; that Seed which is the Commander of the Stary Host. Yes, he saw Jesus' Day, shinning in the night sky, was glad and glorified God in it.

Craig Bennett said...

Whooo hooo

Great post Dan. One that I completely agree with.

I think that when we read narrative that we need to immerse ourselves into the story so that we can actually learn more from what we are reading. Also the point you have said makes a lot of sense when you consider these stories were passed down to generation to generation orally, and there was most likely a lot of play acting to help in the telling of the story.

I'm going to use what you have written in a book I'm writing at the moment, when I get into Abraham. I'm in the process of writing about Noah at the moment.

You might like to read what I have written here .

http://craigb1.wordpress.com/2008/02/06/who-can-pray/

Well done.

Puritan said...

Commentaries like the MacArthur Study Bible are certainly very good and useful , the problem is and I’ve seen this so much is when people treat the study notes as if they are Scripture itself.

And the second problem when people stop thinking for themselves and just take every study note at face value.

DJP said...

JerryBig star (Groan)

Everyone's a critic.

stratagem said...

How about the commentaries that are inserted at the beginning of each chapter in most Bibles? Such as the Chapter heading dubbing Jesus's last command as being "The Great Commission" even though Jesus never called it that? (and actually, said that the two greatest commandments were somethign entirely different.

bassicallymike said...

Dan, Duuude,
You sure are going to a lot of trouble to prepare for a sermon. You know you can buy an outline online don't you? Save all that digging! Give you more time to enjoy the abundant life!

Tongue planted firmly in cheek! LOL

Ya'll keep up the good work!

Strong Tower said...

Luther said something like: "Commentaries are good for a season, but then they need to be put away and return to the Scripture." And this from a man who never tired of writting commentaries.

The Doulos said...

One of my least favorite moments when teaching a Bible study class: when one of the students asks "Can I read what it says about that verse in my study Bible notes at the bottom of the page?"

I've come to the point where my usual answer is, "No, let's look at what the text says, unless your notes are inspired." Then I recommend that people don't use a "study Bible" for Bible study. If the notes aren't there, you won't be distracted by them.

Craig Bennett said...

I had a very cheeky thought about your premise here Dan.

How about throwing out all the commentaries especially Calvin's institutes and re-reading the Bible once again to find afresh Gods word as He says it, not through the eyes of how someone else thinks He said it?

DJP said...

Well, Craig, that goes in the direction of the solipsism I rejected at the start of the post. Run that sort of thinking to its end, and I will have to ignore your comment that I ignore men's comments.

Strong Tower said...

McCainite- was that a bald head joke, or the fact that he makes himself sound too good to be true?

Craig Bennett said...

Dan, not only don't I know the meaning of the word, I can't even pronounce solipsssiosm ???

I did say that I said it cheekily. However I think it is a good idea for us to take time out and read the Bible through, trying not to allow the lenses of our indoctrination to color what we are reading, which ever way we lean. Which is harder to do then to say it.

One of the things that I really enjoyed about your post is that you did just that, and allowed your self to be immersed in the real story that Scripture was telling.

Far to often, and I'm not saying it about you guys, but in a general sense. It seems that often when I read someones blog or commentary in regards to the Scriptures or doctrine, they say what someone else has said about the Scripture or repeat by rote doctrine and not what Scripture truly said to them at the time.

I'd love to read more of this kind of post.

Benjamin P. Glaser said...

He had no idea where Yahweh was going with this.

Brilliant. I think we too often think the people in Scripture know the whole story like we do.

Nate and Andrea said...

It's interesting. So much of the discussion has surrounded commentaries, but I find myself just wanting reach over, pick up my Bible, and read the Word. I'm reminded of how much I just like holding it in my hand and feeling it's weight, let alone reading it!

There's nothing like sitting down next to a fire, a warm cup of coffee or tea in hand and opening up my Bible with pen and highlighter by my side.

mmm...bread...

Tom Chantry said...

Craig wrote:

It seems that often when I read someones blog or commentary in regards to the Scriptures or doctrine, they say what someone else has said about the Scripture or repeat by rote doctrine and not what Scripture truly said to them at the time.

Craig, that statement disturbed me. You should know that after I read it I took a minute to look at your own blogs and try to figure out where you're coming from, and when I did I calmed down some. I doubt you meant to imply what I thought you were implying.

It is absolutely true that the Bible speaks to the individual Christian when he reads it. The Bible is "living" in that it is the word of a living God, and the Holy Spirit is constantly illuminating the word for God's children, giving them a sense of its meaning and the application of that meaning to them.

But that illuminating work of the Spirit is never divorced from the static meaning of the text. The clause "what the Scripture truly said to them at the time" hints at a postmodern, narcissistic approach to Scripture in which real meaning is found in my own reaction to Scripture. I don't think you mean that, but it is what it sounds like.

We must be very clear on the fact that God's words have absolute meaning. We may misunderstand them one day and come to a clearer realization the next, but their actual meaning does not change. Their Author is too perfect for that to happen, and He never changes.

The words of Genesis 15:5 mean something, and whatever that is, they always mean it. They don't tell Dan one thing when he reads it and tell me another when I read it. They were instead given one meaning by their Author which is their true meaning.

What may have happened, and I suspect did happen, is that Dan, upon reading carefully, was directed in his heart by the Spirit to see something that was intended from the beginning by God. It is neither the meaning which Dan the text has because of Dan's reading, nor is it the meaning God has in the text especially for Dan. Rather, at most it is the true meaning of the text, which some others may have missed in its fullness, but which Dan, through careful study and the grace of the Spirit, discerned.

I might reformulate your comment: ...they say what someone else has said about the Scripture or repeat by rote doctrine and not ever the meaning to which the Spirit has guided them in their careful, prayerful endeavor to discern the truth. Is that what you were trying to say?

Of course, that is also why the commentaries cannot be abandoned. If the truth of the passage is unchanging, then it would be arrogance to assume that no earlier student of the word can have anything to say to us. We are never to look for the special meaning which the passage has just for me, but for the true meaning.

In looking, we are to remember that the Spirit does illuminate the text unto the church. I am part of that church, but not the whole. The Spirit may give me insight, but certainly will not give insight only and always to me. The insight He gives to others is valid insofar as it comes from Him. I would be a fool to close my eyes to the insights of others who have studied the word carefully, but I should never assume that they have the whole truth, nor even any of the truth, on a particular passage. I also must look carefully and prayerfully for myself.

DJP said...

That's very well and fairly-put, Tom. What I'm pointing to either always was there, or it never was there. It may be a little facet that hasn't been much noted. It certainly isn't a massive sea-change discovery.

I go to the text to hear it speak to me, conscious that it has spoken to generations of brothers and sisters. My assumption is that it is just shy of impossible that I will see something legitimate that no one else has see — though it is possible that the pastors who saw it didn't publish, or their books are out of print, or I haven't seen them, etc.

It's a bit of a balancing act. You aren't enslaved to your elders' errors (hi, Rome!), but you aren't fool enough to refuse to peek over their shoulders with real respect.

SolaMeanie said...

I love how little nuggets in Scripture jump out at you. Happens to me all the time, and I tend to get more blown away by those little nuggets as I age.

Strong Tower said...

We don't need no commentaries, we don't need no mind control

When confronted with the "Bibilicists" in my former SBC church, that was the response almost unanimously. Curious thing though, they have no problem with preaching, teaching and singing songs...all of which are commentary. Go figure.

Both Luther and Calvin spoke of referring to the commentaries of the ancients, and both qualified that by saying it was not their final authority, but where they spoke and were true to the Scripture, they were worthy to be heard, even if they were enemies elsewhere. Jesus speaking similarly, commanded that the children listen to the teachers, where they were right.

Thanks for letting us look over your shoulder Dan, that would irritate some folks.

pastorbrianculver said...

I think one of the problems you will find with commentaries is that, when doing a Bible study, people tend to move to quickly through the Scriptures. Not taking time to digest the Word and really get into it. If all we do is say what the commentary tells us, we will move to the next verse without examining whether the commentaries are accurate or not. We can use them as a guide, but if we truly want to do a Bible Study, let's do our own research on the Word, see if it fits with the rest of Scripture and is in harmony from beginning to end. You will find Scriptures will come alive for you and you will be able to recall Scripture at a later time.

dac said...

Money quote of this thread (via P.B.C.)

"I think one of the problems you will find with commentaries is that, when doing a Bible study, people tend to move to quickly through the Scriptures."

donsands said...

Here's a for instance.

Psalm 114:2 says, "Judah was his sanctuary, and Israel his dominion".

The New King James capitalizes the "H" in his, which means they interpreted this pronoun to refer to God.
When in fact it may most likely refer to Israel.

Commentaries are a blessing to us, and we need brother-teachers in Christ to help us through the Scriptures and commentaries.

SolaMeanie said...

I leave town for a few days, and music erupts on TeamPyro, both from the moderators and the commenters. I see hymns, Pink Floyd, Chicago, and Lipps Incorporated all in the course of a few threads.

I would suggest that you are all dating yourselves, but that would be mean of me, wouldn't it?

I am glad to have my Pyro fix again. This aint no party, this ain't no disco. Oops. Sorry about that. Have pity on me. I'm just another talking head.

Johnny Dialectic said...

"Every child of God should dig into the Bible itself entirely independently of all commentaries or all lesson helps. I love to go alone with God and His Book and see what He has to say to me, without any man’s intervention. The trouble with most of us is that we live on spoon victuals. You come here Sunday after Sunday and I ladle out to you what I have found in the Book. Go to the Book itself. I have sometimes watched a robin feed its young, and spit into their gaping mouths what it had dug up and chewed. I do not like it. It is doubtless necessary for young robins and chippy birds, but we ought to get beyond that and go right to the Book itself for ourselves." -- R. A. Torrey, The Importance and Value of Proper Bible Study

Helen said...

Neat - this is my favorite post I've ever read here.

I love when people find something I hadn't noticed in the narrative passages.

As you say it can only happen when people aren't over-reliant on commentaries.

I wonder if any Jewish commentators ever noticed the pause.