A commentary is defined as “an expression of opinions or offering of explanations about an event or situation.”  Of course, your question is in reference to Bible commentaries.  A few years ago, I visited the Billy Graham Library/Museum in Charlotte, NC.  At that time, they were displaying Mr. Graham’s private library.  I was amazed to see that he had thousands of commentaries in his library.  I was familiar with many of the authors.  Many I had never heard of, but I was impressed that Mr. Graham was such a voracious reader of commentaries and Bible help books. 

I do not find much difference between reading a commentary and listening to someone minister from the Word of God.  In each format, we are receiving what is being taught, and seeking to learn from it.  Even as we must be careful about what we read; we must be careful about who we listen to.  We read in Acts 17:10-11, “And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and SEARCHED THE SCRIPTURES daily, whether those things were so.”  The Apostle Paul commended the Berean saints because they listened to what he said to them and then compared his words to the words of scripture to make sure “those things were so.”  Whether we listen to a speaker or read a commentary, we should apply the same test to make sure that what we have heard or read is in accordance with the Word of God.

Man’s words, whether spoken or written, are not authoritative.  Only God’s holy and pure Word is authoritative.  Men can, and do, make mistakes in their interpretation of what the Bible says.  It is so important that we learn first from the Word so that we can discern whether the teachings of others are scriptural or not.  I greatly value commentaries for they can be great helps in the study of the Bible.  When we read good commentaries from credible writers, we can greatly benefit from their understanding of the Word.  We have this concept of passing along what we have learned shown in 2 Timothy 2:2, “And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.”  When we learn precious truths from God’s Word, we should pass that along to others so they also may pass it along to even more.  Writing a commentary can be an effective way of passing on what we have learned.  I have noticed that in each commentary I have read, the author references or quotes from commentaries he has read.  It seems to be a common realization that commentary writers are also commentary readers! 

With all that said, there is danger in reading commentaries. 

  • Some may contain false teachings.  That is why we need to ‘search the scriptures’ to make sure what we are reading is in agreement with the Bible.
  • We can become dependent upon commentaries and read them more than we read our Bibles.  In John 5:39 the Lord exhorts us to, “Search the scriptures…”  Commentaries can be a valuable help to us, but they should not replace our studies in God’s Word.
  • We can attribute more authority to a commentary than we should.  Just because we value and appreciate particularly gifted writers, we need to keep in mind that they are fallible and are not always necessary correct in what they write. 

Anticipating a cold winter, Paul wrote to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:13, “The cloke that I left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest, bring with thee, and the books, but especially the parchments.”  Along with his coat, Paul desired that Timothy would also bring him his books and the parchments.  Most agree that the parchments probably refer to the scriptures, but we see that Paul also valued his books and wanted to have them with him, also.  I do value the commentaries I have.  I use them often.  I try to read reliable authors who follow the scriptures and reference them often.  I benefit from these books because they often bring out thoughts that I may not have thought of for a long time.  I suppose we can even consider Answers From the Book to be a continuing commentary as we seek to answer the questions we receive.  As we answer each question, we painstakingly seek to make sure that what we write agrees with what the Word says.  Otherwise, this is just a collection of our individual opinions and that benefits no one.

I suppose above all else, we should realize that the scriptures are the best interpreter of the scriptures.  May we find ourselves in God’s Word every day…learning and growing as we spend time with the Lord in His Word.  As we avail ourselves of the many helps that are available for us to us, we may find that a good commentary can really be helpful to us in our Bible studies. (482.2)