Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Study Bibles

It seems every month or so someone is announcing a new study Bible. While study Bibles have a lot of useful features, they can also contain vast commentaries written by scholarly theologians.

I am going to ask you a question that will surely raise the hackles of many fellow bloggers.

Is it profitable to read commentaries, especially in a study Bible? Do the words of a man, no matter how scholarly and theologically sound, belong on the same pages with the inspired Word of God?

Let me explain. I used to read from a New Testament that had pages of explanatory footnotes and commentary on numerous applicable passages. However, I began to notice that whenever the text was not completely clear to me, my eyes would automatically go to the commentary to see what the editor had written. I was looking for the answer in the footnote. This is not necessarily bad in and of itself, but I found myself quickly reading the verses and then jumping down to see what the commentator thought that scripture portion actually meant.

I was robbing myself of the blessing God gives by granting revelation. Further, I was stunting my faith by relying on the wisdom of man rather than the strength of God's Word. In essence, I was being just plain lazy. Rather than getting out the concordance and seeking the greater context or more exact meaning of words and phrases I simply looked to the "answer sheet".

To make matters worse, I now adopted the theological view of my commentator (whether good or bad) without arriving at this conclusion from my own study of God's word. I was becoming a parrot.

You may not think you are being ruled by a commentary but let me ask you a few questions.

  • When you are unclear as to the meaning of a text, do you automatically skim to the notes for an interpretation?
  • Must you check each doctrinal point you believe with what your favorite commentator has written. If there are differences, do you give up what you believe simply because you are inferior in education?
  • Do you tend to quote a preacher, commentator, etc, often when either discussing theology, or preaching from the pulpit. Do you let commentators have the final say over the "sticky" texts?
  • Can you from scripture alone, make a convincing argument for the doctrines you believe and hold to be true?
  • Do you find your faith and convictions shaken when you read that some famous preacher believes otherwise than you on certain passages of scripture?
Am I saying that commentaries are bad? No, but they must be used wisely and appropriately, always realizing that the men writing them are coming from a certain theological persuasion. Hence their emphasis will be to highlight those aspect they believe to be most pertinent.

Is this not the reason we have so many English translations of the Bible today? Every camp of theology has to have a Bible of their own interpretation.

As always, your thoughts are most welcome.


Dyspraxic Fundamentalist said...

If a man does not own a Scofield Bible, let him be anathema.

Jim said...

I stand guilty as charged.

Do they still sell those ones?

Andrew said...

Yep, they still sell Scofield Bibles (both the new edition and the old edition). I have the old edition but I rarely use it. In fact, I've got several study Bibles sitting about (NKJV Study Bible, Ryrie Study Bible, MacArthur Study Bible) but I rarely use them because the notes, as you point out, are too distracting. So rather than sitting down to read the Bible, I found myself sitting down and getting caught up with some fascinating point raised by the notes. No, I didn't like it. That's why I try to use Bibles nowadays that have little or no editorial additions.

Thus I agree with you that Study Bibles ought to be used cautiously.

With commentaries, I try to read a variety of commentators from different views (even if reading them makes me cringe!) simply to challenge my thinking because it is so easy to get into a rut with doctrine whereby we simply follow our favorite commentator.

Good post.


Jim said...

Hi Andrew, thanks for your comments. You have some very good points.

Dyspraxic Fundamentalist said...

I love the Dake's Annotated Reference Bible. It contains a lot of unique truth, but also a good deal of fundamentally false doctrine.

For mature believers only.

Daniel said...

I believe that God gave teachers to the church for a reason - to explain the meaning of scripture. Philip didn't tell the Ethiopian eunuch to pray about it and try reading it again, but went over and showed him what the text was talking about. Ezra explained what the scriptures meant to the Israelites - there is certainly room for commentary.

Which is not to say we should read scripture through the filtering lens of commentary - forbid the thought! But rather that the people who are most in danger of abusing their understanding by repeated reliance on commentaries are probably the same people who most need them. Yes, our understanding is always in jeopardy of being influenced by the opinions of others, and yes, we ought to trust that God will open our eyes, but sometimes God is going to open our eyes, not by a mystical endowment of truth as we read a text, but rather by instruction on what the text means by some expository comment.

I am reminded of course of the cliched fellow in the flood stands upon his roof, and asks God to save him from the flood, and refuses to be saved by two boats and an helicopter because he is waiting for God to save him, only to die and arrive in heaven to find that it was God who sent the boats and the helicopter.

Which is by no means an shining endorsement of study bibles, but rather just what I hope is a balanced observation regarding identifying something as harmful that isn't necessarily harmful. A shovel can kill a man if used to do so, but it isn't intended for evil.

Jim said...


let me give you an example of where I am coming from.

I asked a certain person a theological question regarding eschatology. His response what that he would have to check and see what John MacArthur had to say about the issue.

This is exactly what I am referring to. I have no problem with reading commentaries to see how my theology lines up with godly men. But I am responsible to seek the truth from the pages of scripture rather than simply adopting the interpretation of another man.

The problem is that we have become accustomed to reading the answer book rather than learning how to ask the right questions and see God's divine revelation.

Daniel said...

Jim, I have met people like that! They don't know what they believe, but they know they believe the same as so and so. If there were no study bibles, they would still have the same problem however, but rather than consulting their study bible, they would be consulting another man's opinion in some other context. That being the case, I don't think the problem resides in the study bible so much as in the student.

Jim said...


That is definitely a plausible reason.

I enjoy listening to preaching, and not to make sure the person has their doctrinal ducks all in order primarily. Rather, I seek to tap into the revelation and anointing that brother has received from his own study of God's word. Obviously if he is throwing out untruths left and right, I will have a problem. But then, I have noticed that the more men are anointed the more they speak the purer truth.

Thanks for your thoughts, they carry significant weight.