A Friday Question – Commentaries?

March 23, 2007

Biblical commentaries. Some preachers love them; others, frankly, hate them. Some use them with abandon; others treat them with suspicion. But what do you think?

1. Are good commentaries an essential part of modern preaching preparation? What might we gain/lose by using them?

2. At what point and to what degree should we use them in our preparation?

3. Should we ever quote from a commentary?


  1. Great Questions!

    I would say:

    1. No, commentaries are not essential. If that were so, many missionaries and pastors in poor countries could never preach.
    We gain years of insight/research from them. God has gifted these men to understand and apply His Word and we are the beneficiaries of their labor. We don’t lose anything if we use them properly. However, if they are relied upon too much (they do the thinking/meditating for us), we will lose the capacity to think on our own. If they become the first thing we run to, we will develop sloppy habits of preparation. Worst of all, if they are relied up too heavily, we will lose our sense of desperation for God to open our eyes that we might see wonderful things from His Word (Ps. 119:18).

    2. I think this will vary from preacher to preacher. Some say to never use them until you have already prepared the majority of your sermon. Others will say to begin with them. There must be a balance. You must know yourself. If you tend to rely on them too much, then push them back in your study. Force yourself to think through the structure and issues of the passage before you open the commentaries.
    One of the main benefits of a commentary is to be able to check/balance your interpretations with the history of the church. If you come up with an interpretation that is not found in the commentaries, you should probably re-think your position!

    3. Yes, quote from anything and everything that is helpful in understanding and communicating the Biblical text.

  2. I mostly agree with Justin.

    1. They are not essential, but they are important. I can’t imagine preaching without them. I check the lists of “best” commentaries and try to buy the best for each book of the Bible. They have saved me from mistakes in interpretation or application on many occassions. They have enriched my understanding of culture or customs.

    2. I use commentaries at different points: if I know a book or passage well, or I can do lots of research from lexicons and dictionaries, then I don’t use the commentary until near the end to double-check. Different parts of different commentaries are helpful at different stages of preparation.

    3. I don’t like listening to quotes, so I very seldom use them.

    Thanks for blogging so consistently. Your stuff is great.

  3. 1. Commentaries aren’t essential, but they are very helpful. The people who write these commentaries are often great scholars and people of faith, and I shouldn’t be too arrogant to think that I don’t have anything to learn from them. Therefore commentaries can be of great value.

    2. I try not to rush to them too quickly, I want to spend the time reading and meditating on the text.

    3. I try not to quote them directly in my sermon, unless the quote would be very helpful and understandable. I remember hearing one time that all the spade work that I do in preparing for a sermon is like the plumbing in the house. When you go into a house you don’t notice or even see the plumbing, but you know that it is there. The same is true with preaching. When I communicate a sermon it is like showing my audience a house, and therefore they don’t need to have to see all the “plumbing”, but they know that it’s there.

  4. If you are going to preach the Bible, then preach the Bible, not what some comentary says about the Bible.
    Certainly commentaries are valuable, but they can not replace diligent study of the scriptures and the anointing of the Holy Spirit.

    I like to use them for archealogical details, cultural information, and confirmed historical data.

    If I hear a preacher quoting extensively from a commentary, I tend to turn him off. and add him to my prayer list.

  5. I’d pretty much agree with Justin, and further enforce my belief that quoting is beneficial. In many cases, men before us have worded and structured sentances that carry truths in a profound and direct manner. If you can’t improve upon it, then don’t starve your flock with a lesser attempt.

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