To venable (verb): To randomly muse upon this and that.

I use commentaries

I am often left in a bit of dismay after reading books on sermon preparation. This is because the usual formula which is presented, is  that you work on the text yourself first and only then turn to commentaries as a cross-check. I know this is a crude generalization, but I do find this approach deflating. The reason for my deflation is because this is not the way I tend to do it and I am left feeling that I have got it wrong. However, when I come to my senses and ponder on the matter I do feel there is a legitimacy in turning to commentaries first. So here are a few observations;

  • In looking at the text, commentaries immediately put me on the right track in understanding the text. I am not left to drift down some cul-de-sacs of my own making. They direct me to immediately get into the text.
  • This means that you generally need a range of commentaries to consult. Through this, you get different perspectives which can help in assimilating the meaning of the text. It would be wrong just to be in the thrall of one commentator.
  • Some may say that you are not depending on the Lord through His Holy Spirit to direct your understanding. What I would say is that God has given these  writers the gift of understanding the text; the Holy Spirit has guided them. In a sense, we are standing on giant’s shoulders.
  • I still have to come to an understanding of the text; I cannot just leave myself in the hands of others. However, these others are my helpers in understanding the text.
  • There must be discretion in choosing which commentaries to use. We must go for those who have a high view of Scripture and are suitably gifted to explain it.
  • For me, in ploughing the text into my mind for preparation, I am continually reading these commentaries through. Thus I trust under God, I am coming to understand what is God’s mind in the text.
  • We always need to be praying for the Holy Spirit to give us illumination. Commentaries compliment the Work of the Spirit; they are not a substitute for the Spirit.

In making my observations on the use of commentaries, I realize that everyone has to choose an approach which works for themselves. There is a danger of pontificating that my way is the “only” way to prepare sermons. This can be so intimidating. In the end, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Are we producing sermons which are exegetically accurate, bring out the meaning of the text and are being used of the LORD. May the LORD bless you if you are a preacher whichever way you go about preparing.

Comments on: "I use commentaries" (2)

  1. Stephen Talas said:

    Totally agree,For those who have time, the energy and the skill set needed, nothing quite beats learning the original languages, but for the rest of us who have little or any of these we should surely give thanks to God that we have the vast selection of resources that we do, Even if we did have an elementary grasp of Greek or Hebrew, many of these men were and are heavy weights in their understanding of the subtleties and nuances of these languages,I don’t read a commentary to primarily tell me how to think, I read it to give me linguistic information and obviously to act as a very necessary safeguard against reading into the text things that simply aren’t there.

    A good collection of Commentaries are akin to a good company of faithful and wise friends in whose counsel we are certain to find help, I fear for those who (and you and I know of such folk) make such statements as “I only have 66 books in my Library” as if such a statement were somehow indicative of a level of pseudo spiritual purity that few others possess. We need to realize that God does not reward mental laziness, and that a view of the Holy Spirit which amounts to little more than some bizzare almost superstitious stirring of the waters, or an almost Mormon-like ‘burning in the bosom’, is extremely treacherous ground on which to stand and prepare a Sermon. Not that one denies that the Holy Spirit can burden us with issues and needs, but again to divorce these things from sober mindedness is most perilous, and the history of the Church is littered with the debris and train wrecks that have resulted from such an approach to the text of scripture.

    We should also give thanks that we live in a day and age when many of the writings of giants of the past are available for free or near free in electronic book form or in Bible software, e-sword is excellent and if you can splash a little cash, programmes like Logos and Olive Tree are incredibly powerful as well as useful. We have a burden of responsibility to use such resources electronic or print and it is in my mind a serious flaw in our approach and a worrying statement about our attitude if we fail to do so.

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