Once a month, you’re going to hear from some of our authors or from our team on how we study the Bible, what resources we use, and what questions we ask. Submit your questions related to these topics by filling out the form here!
Trevin Wax is the Bible and Reference Publisher for Lifeway, General Editor for The Gospel Project, a pastor, a podcaster, and the author of This Is Our Time and Counterfeit Gospels. We thought he would be the perfect person to help us answer a few Reference Desk questions!
How important is a commentary to your study? Which commentaries do you recommend? How do we know when a commentary is sound?
Different commentaries serve different functions. There is no one-size-fits-all. Each commentary has its own strengths and weaknesses. There are some that are more pastoral, or devotional, while others lean more scholarly and academic.
When choosing a commentary, look for the author and the publisher. Some people like to collect a whole series of commentaries (like the New American Commentary set, for example), but that’s not what I would recommend. I would recommend looking for the best three or four on whatever book of the Bible you are studying. Choose commentaries based on the author and the commentary’s reputation, not simply because it’s in a certain set. Most commentary series have some duds in it; it’s better to look for the best individual volumes.
One way to find reputable commentaries is through commentary ratings. Many well-known professors will give you a rundown of the best commentaries. D. A. Carson has a New Testament Commentary Survey and Tremper Longman has an Old Testament Commentary Survey. Both are great resources, along with Danny Akin’s free guide to Building a Theological Library. Look to the scholars, pastors, and professors you trust to point you in the right direction.
I also prefer to vary the kind of commentaries I use in study. I look for at least one that’s more scholarly and gets into exegesis and word meaning. Then I look for one that’s more pastoral or devotional—what’s the main message of this passage? How does it get communicated? I look for those with a doxological element.
Bible study is incomplete if it doesn’t lead you to worship.
How can you be certain that what you teach is biblically sound?
It’s important to listen to the church throughout the ages and to scholars and people who have greater expertise in the original languages who can help you interpret the Bible. Finding a biblically sound commentary doesn’t mean you will agree with the interpretation in every instance. It simply means that the interpretations fall within the realm of orthodoxy. None of the interpretations are heretical. (This doesn’t mean multiple interpretations are all correct, only that the errors you may find don’t rise to the level of heresy.)
That said, if you have an interpretation of Scripture that no one has seen before, if it’s outside the realm of what the church has said for ages, if you are alone in your interpretation, or there are only a few people who agree with you, you are likely not interpreting Scripture correctly. Good commentaries will often give you multiple interpretations and will tell you which are within the realm of orthodoxy.
Should I study Greek? Is it okay to rely on commentaries and other resources for the original languages?
I don’t believe we can say that every Christian is called to study Greek. Neither must every Christian leader or Bible study author study the biblical languages.
Still, I highly recommend it. It is amazing to read the Bible in its original language. We are people of the Word who love to read the very words God inspired. I want to heartily recommend people do it if they are able. But I don’t want to add that burden onto anyone. You can faithfully study the Bible without knowing the original languages.
I’d like to know more about biblical culture and history so I can better understand context when reading the Bible. What resources do you recommend for that kind of study?
I use a Bible Dictionary, Ultimate Bible Guide, and little handbooks. Good study Bibles can also help. A good study Bible will take a good commentary and distill that into the study notes of the Bible.
Any final tips on studying and teaching the Bible?
Every time I teach, I try to do three things:
With exposition, I strive to show people what’s in the Bible. Help people to see, read, and understand the words of Scripture.
With exaltation, I want to lead people to worship based on what they see in the biblical text. I want to lead people to awe and worship. I want to help them see familiar truths in a fresh way and unfamiliar truths in a way that is understandable.
With exhortation, I hope to teach how we should live in light of what we’ve seen and read.
We hope that helped answer a few of your questions on extra-biblical resources. I know it helped us! Thank you, Trevin, for your expertise!