Better Bible Study Tip #60: Don’t Open a Commentary Until After You Have Studied

I love collecting good resources to help me in my Bible study. My collection of commentaries grows every year. It’s not uncommon for me to read something in a commentary that really helps me to gain additional clarity about a particular Scripture.

Commentaries are an important resource for serious Bible students, but they are also one of the most misused Bible study tools. Beware about using commentaries as a crutch for lazy Bible study. If you ever find yourself skipping the hard process of meditating on the text, and skipping straight to consulting your favorite commentary, you are doing it wrong. The Lord gave the church teachers for a reason (Eph. 4:11), but we should also follow the example of the Bereans who “examined the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11).

Maybe you’ve been led to believe that you’re not smart enough to understand Scripture on your own, without significant help from Bible teachers. Although it is true that there can be some things in scripture that are hard to understand (even Peter admitted this much! 2 Peter 3:16), we should also remember that God intended for Scripture to be studied by everyone, young and old. The key to good Bible study is meditating on the text day and night (Psalm 1:1-3).

My point is not that we shouldn’t consult commentaries in our study. But before pulling your favorite commentary off the shelf, force yourself to think hard about the text of Scripture alone. Consider your Bible study methods. Do you spend more time focusing on the text of the Bible, or on the words of uninspired writers? When we are overly dependent on commentaries, a subtle shift takes place from living on “every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Mt. 4:4) to living by the words of Bible teachers.

Once you have done the hard work of thinking seriously about the text itself, go ahead and open a commentary. You will be in a better position to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the author’s arguments. You may even come across some new observations have haven’t thought of before. There is no doubt that we can learn a lot from commentaries written by good Bible teachers. But remember that there is no substitute for thinking when it comes to Bible study.