Whenever I teach people how to study the Bible (this OIA stuff), the question usually arises: What about using commentaries or study Bibles?
It’s a great question, because we’re surrounded by great resources. But every blessing can become a curse when we rely on the blessing and not on the Lord, so here are some common mistakes regarding commentary usage.
Mistake #1: Ignore what others have said
We need to learn in community with others, and Study Bibles and commentaries (at least good ones) represent the best Christian thinking over thousands of years. We need to learn from the wisdom of others.
Mistake #2: Allow commentaries to do your Bible study for you
It’s tempting to read a portion of Scripture and then go right to the study notes or commentary. Once we’ve seen what the experts have said, we think we understand the passage.
This practice is not much different from what the Jewish rabbis used to do. They’d debate interpretation by quoting different schools of thought, referring to the relevant commentaries to support their position. When Jesus came along, he astonished his generation because he refused to teach this way (Matt 7:28-29). He went right back to the Scripture itself, and he observed, interpreted, and applied it for the people (Matt 21:16, 42; Mark 2:25).
Jesus passed his authority on to his followers, so they could interpret his Word for succeeding generations (Matt 28:18, 20; John 14:12, 25-26; 2 Cor 5:20). With the help of Jesus’ Spirit, you, too, can read and understand God’s knowable Word.
Mistake #3: Go to commentaries too quickly
When the meaning of a passage isn’t intuitively obvious, it’s tempting to grab a commentary right away. But I recommend that you carefully observe the Scripture and work to interpret it on your own. Spend time thinking about it. Learn how to ask questions and then answer them. Try to determine the author’s main point.
Then read some study notes or commentaries to “check your work.” See if others have already come to similar conclusions from the text. If they have, terrific. If they haven’t, then you may want to reconsider your own conclusions. Either way, you’ll get the help you need without short-circuiting the process of learning how to handle the Scripture yourself (2 Tim 2:15).
Mistake #4: Believe everything you read
Remember that paper doesn’t say “no” to ink. Cyberspace excludes no fools. Just because something has been published doesn’t mean it’s true.
The point of the OIA method of Bible study is to teach you how to think and how to draw near to the Lord. As you compare your study of Scripture to that of the experts, be humble but also be wise. Always ask if what you’re reading in the commentary is faithful to the text or not.
May we always let the word of Christ dwell in us richly, that we might teach and admonish one another in all wisdom (Col 3:16).