Tips for using bible commentaries wisely?

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Posts 879
P A | Forum Activity | Posted: Sat, Dec 17 2016 11:00 AM

Hi

Does anyone have any tips for using bible commentaries wisely?

What questions should  we ask when reading commentaries?

Thanks

P A

Posts 595
Ted Weis | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Dec 17 2016 11:13 AM

Consult them only after you have studied the text yourself

Posts 1022
Keith Pang | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Dec 17 2016 11:22 AM

I agree with the comment above. The commentaries should just help guide you after your own studying and wrestling with the text. For myself commentaries are the last thing I look at. Then I check the commentaries by reputable scholars just to make sure I'm on the right track. Or possibly missed something 

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Posts 263
Greg Corbin | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Dec 17 2016 11:28 AM

I agree with those who say that it is important to study the text first and then look to the commentaries.  I would also add that I find it helpful to consult different types of commentaries at different times.  For instance, I consult the more technical/critical commentaries early on in my sermon preparation. Those type of commentaries typically deal more with the text and flow naturally from a close look at the text. They tend to deal with linguistic issues and/or background issues.

After looking at the text and consulting the technical commentaries, I then seek to make an initial outline of the text - at least the major divisions that I might preach.  Then, I consult the next level of commentaries - the homiletical, pastoral type of commentaries that help me flesh out what I will actually preach from the given text.

Posts 72
Andrew116 | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Dec 17 2016 12:46 PM

As has been said, i do my own textual work first.

This actually saves time because it is a lot easier to puzzle through a passage than to wade through commentaries, usually! I guess God is a better author. 

Then:

1. I quickly scan a commentary or 2 looking for things that are noticably different to my own conclusions. These may be worth further study, depending on importance. Beryl VS jasper is unlikely to change the big picture of the passage.

2. I have a list of unanswered questions from my own text work in the passage. I will use the commentaries to try to answer these.

This means I'm getting help from the scholars where I need it most, without wasting time reading deeply material which just tells me what I can see for myself 

Posts 10223
Denise | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Dec 17 2016 1:12 PM

I'd think it depends on what you're proposing to do with the commentary.

If devotional, certainly, the text, and then a variety of commentaries relative to your tradition.

But if text-critical, I doubt there are too many true text-wrestlers around. You're often better off getting a variety of views first, and especially from not just commentaties, but journals, etc.

And if the author writes as if this or that is true, you can almost always assume not. Ancient is always limited, and rarely solid.


Posts 1852
David Thomas | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Dec 17 2016 3:03 PM

P A:

Hi

Does anyone have any tips for using bible commentaries wisely?

What questions should  we ask when reading commentaries?

Thanks

P A

What does this commentator say that brings out nuances (i.e. idioms and rhetorical cues) that the original audience would have seen clearly (help me get past my cultural and theological bias).

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Posts 3086
SineNomine | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Dec 17 2016 4:12 PM

P A:
What questions should  we ask when reading commentaries?

Here is a supplementary one: Has the author's mind changed since the commentary's publication?

Posts 6485
DAL | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Dec 17 2016 4:33 PM

Ted Weis:

Consult them only after you have studied the text yourself

True and wise for beginners, not for the more experienced ministers. To me reading a commentary on a section of Scriptures (whenever  I do it) gets my wheels turning; especially, when I don't agree with what the author says about a word or meaning of a verse. Reading theological, technical, homiletical and expositional commentaries helps a lot. I also like to read sermons and if I borrow an outline I try to make it better by editing and adapting the outline to fit my own preaching style and needs of the church.

Then again, if you're preaching a topical sermon is easier and not much digging is done in the text only finding principles in the Bible that apply to the topic you're preaching.

DAL 

Posts 1639
Allen Browne | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Dec 17 2016 5:28 PM

P A:
Does anyone have any tips for using bible commentaries wisely?

What questions should  we ask when reading commentaries?

Hi P A.

Commentaries are a fantastic *part* of serious Bible study. They put you in touch with how others have understood the text.

Let's assume you're about to study a book of the Bible. Here's how you might approach it:

  1. Get to know the setting of the book. To whom was it written? What was going on at that time? What is the main message of the book? What’s the big picture of the book? The introduction of the commentary gives you this information, but may provide too much detail. You'll find a shorter summary in a Bible Dictionary (such as ISBE) or How to Read the Bible Book by Book.
  2. Read the book through as a whole, without pausing to answer all the questions you have. I usually listen to it on MP3 while I’m driving. Try to hear the main message, and how the parts contribute to the whole.
  3. Now go back and listen to the first main section through. If it’s a long book, then read or listen to a subsection (such as a chapter) several times.
  4. Now read what your commentator has to say about this section/chapter. Ask questions like does she explain what this would have meant to the original readers in their context? Does she understand how this part contributes to the message of the book? The chapter will contain paragraphs. Do you see how each paragraph contributes to the big picture of the book?
  5. Once you’ve understood what God was saying to those people in their setting, ask what he’s saying to us in our setting. The commentator may (or may not) have things to say about this.  If you have friends who are studying the same book at the same time, they might be your best conversation partners at this point.

As you grow, you'll want to ask deeper questions of the commentators too, understanding their biases such as what tradition they belong to and what assumptions they've made about the text. You'll find this information spelled out in the Introduction section of each commentary. You'll want to read commentators who belong to different traditions to your own and who make different assumptions. For example, I'll often read a Jewish commentator when studying the Old Testament so I can see how he understood the text. It's the commentators who see it differently from you who can expand your thinking.

Hope that helps.

Posts 467
Nord Zootman | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Dec 17 2016 5:35 PM

Already a lot of good advise. The only other thing I would add is learn the bias of the commentaries you use. Knowing the theological inclination of the author can help you understand their comments. I recommend that a new believer ask someone you trust for suggestions. As you grow it is good to read those who challenge your thinking.

Posts 1025
EastTN | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Dec 17 2016 6:28 PM

Denise:

I'd think it depends on what you're proposing to do with the commentary.

For me, it also depends on the type of Biblical writing I'm dealing with. With historical narrative, for instance the gospels, it can be relatively easy to read first, and then go to the commentaries for additional background and to get additional insights I may have missed. With one of the minor prophets, on the other hand, getting some basic background information to set the context first can be very helpful. For other books, Isaiah for instance, having the benefit of an outline to help me keep my bearings can be helpful as well. 

Posts 2851
Sascha John | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Dec 17 2016 10:36 PM

Dit any of you make this Observation where Things are clear Commentaries writes 500 Pages, where you have Questions they write a Sentence like:"well that's difficult...let us now continue with the Text...Wink

Posts 2851
Sascha John | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Dec 17 2016 10:51 PM

I also go to any Church Father Commentary I can get. Here is why

1. They live in the Time and Culture of the Roman Empire

2. They speak the same Language and understand the Grammar

3. The read the Manusscripts we just have Papyri from

So if it comes to understanding Backround, Situation and even Meaning of the Text...they are 2000 Years nearer to the Original then me.

Posts 2851
Sascha John | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Dec 17 2016 10:54 PM

For example:" if the whole old Church say that Luke wrote the Gospel and the Acts why should I doubt it just beacause someone from today with a thousand Year Gap say it is not the same Style.

Posts 26794
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MJ. Smith | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Dec 17 2016 11:09 PM

The questions you should ask of a commentary are dependent upon the methodology used by the author - some introductions to critical methods provide examples of appropriate questions by methodology.

Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev: "To be a theologian means to have experience of a personal encounter with God through prayer and worship."

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