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5 Reasons To Read Commentaries

March 11, 2008

1) Historical Reconstruction.
Yes we can all read Tacitus and Josephus as well as various other background sources to the New Testament. But the fact is few of us do. Given our time constraints, one way commentaries serve the preacher is by doing much of the historical legwork for us. Out of this resovoir of historical, social and cultural research, the biblical scholar then shares with us any relevant background information which may improve our understanding of the passage.

2) Content Clarification.
Commentaries can act as a check on technical issues – not least those relating to the original language. Frankly, many of us lay preachers are not as sharp on our biblical Greek or Hebrew as we might be! Whilst we strive to grow in this proficiency, it is useful to have gifted individuals who can ‘correct us’ on those ocassions when our prior study is shown to be deficient.

3) Problem Discussion.
Not all commentaries wrestle with interpretive problems (instead they just take ‘a line’) but the best will. Such good commentaries cannot possibly cover every interpretive position on a ‘problem point’ (there may be hundreds of views!), but the most plausible positions will be laid out. Supplementing this, the supporting arguments for each view will also be added. This then allows the preacher to consider for himself what is the most viable position without simply taking the commentaries view as ‘a given.’

4) Legitimate Application.
Some commentaries – especially those which have more of a ‘preaching focus’ – will suggest to the preacher ‘lines of application.’ This can be very stimulating. Although no commentator knows our particular congregation (and hence the specific application for them), the preacher can nevetheless be shown ‘a broad road’ of how the text relates to life. I cannot count how many times a commentator has proposed a line of application that otherwise I wouldn’t have begun to think about.

5) Enriched Communication.
Mike Bullmore says that he is an invenerate plunderer of words! He points out that words, unlike sentences (that’s plagiarism…), don’t possess copyright! In relation to this commentators often have a rich vocabluary and simply reading them will expand our communication possibilities. Anything to enhance the variety of our language when coming to write the sermon will add colour to our explanation of the text.

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