Should We Use Commentaries to Study the Bible?
I’ve heard some Christians claim that we should not use Bible study tools to study the Bible. They argue that since the genuine believer has the Holy Spirit, they don’t need any help to understand the pages of the Bible. Some even point to the Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura (Scripture alone) as support for this view.
While I can certainly sympathize with such sentiments, at the end of the day, they are not accurate. First of all, sola scriptura means that the Bible is the final authority, not the only authority. Reformers such as John Calvin and Martin Luther believed they needed the church fathers and their wisdom to study the Bible accurately. Where they parted with the Catholic Church was in the final arbitration of authority. Is it the Bible or the Pope? Or is it the ecumenical councils of the church? Calvin and Luther argued that final truth and authority was in the Bible alone. Even so, they still turned to the church fathers for help to interpret the Bible.
If you look at the Scripture index in Calvin’s Institutes (his large Systematic Theology), you will see hundreds of references to Augustine, Clement, Irenaeus, and other church fathers. Calvin clearly believed that he needed the wisdom of the church fathers to help him navigate the scriptures. So do we. Remember, God gave the spiritual gifts of pastor and teacher to His church for a reason. While the Bible is our final source of truth and authority, I also need wisdom and guidance as I seek to interpret it. Why? Because I have a fallen, sinful heart—I have blind spots—and I have cultural presuppositions that are toxic. We all do. That’s why there’s really no such thing as “reading the Bible all by myself.” Everyone comes to the text with presuppositions and blind spots. We all need help to interpret the Bible. Help first and foremost from the Holy Spirit who inspired the words of Scripture, and also help from wise and godly scholars.
SO…go get yourself a good study Bible such as the NIV Zondervan Study Bible or the ESV Study Bible. Then invest in a few good commentary series like The Expositors Bible Commentary or the NIV Application Commentary. Also worth getting: Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology. It’s a treasure trove of help, biblical literacy, and theological precision. You’ll be wiser, more joyful, and more accurate as you turn to the right people to help you understand the pages of the Bible.
by Jay Childs, Senior Pastor