The Christian Student and Commentaries

School days for Christian students begin with the day of salvation. Everything then is “new.” God’s school has no grade levels, nor are report cards provided to the Christian students. Another has remarked, “God never flunks His students, but sometimes they have to take a lesson over again.” It can be gratifying to look back on progress that has been made and recall what has been learned. Yet, as time passes, the student recognizes not only what he has learned but becomes aware of the vast amount of spiritual knowledge yet to be gained.

Graduation day comes after years of study and the completion of the prescribed subjects. Then comes Commencement. Commencement means “beginning,” not “end!” Does that not seem a strange title for the end of schooling? Not really, for it denotes the beginning of the career for which schooling has prepared the student. For Christian students, Commencement is the end of our school days here and the beginning of our eternal days in glory! Even there we will still be “learning” more of divine truth forever!

In a former article we looked at the value of word studies for Christian students and cited The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament for the study of Old Testament words and Mr. W. E. Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words for the New Testament.

Christian students will soon discover commentaries can also assist in personal Bible studies. Most commentaries cover only one book in the Bible and most books in the Bible have numerous different commentaries that differ in value. None are “inspired.” The Christian’s textbook is the Bible which is “inspired;” the Holy Spirit of God took up “holy men of God,” causing them to write what they did (2 Pet 1:21). In other words, what they wrote was the actual Word of God! That is not true regarding commentaries. Commentaries are useful supplements to personal study of the Bible. This writer can heartily recommend a series of commentaries published by John Ritchie, Ltd.

When using commentaries, it is best not to start the study of a passage with the commentary. Instead, first work through the passage carefully, seeking a personal understanding of it. Outline the passage and make personal notes and summaries for it. Afterward, compare what the commentary writer sees in that passage. Very likely this will enhance what the student has gleaned. The use of commentaries can be likened to participation in an assembly Bible reading where those who contribute share with the company what they have gleaned from the passage. It is when spiritual men compare spiritual things, (See 1 Cor 2:13), students gain breadth and balance. Without this interaction, students can become one-sided and too certain of their personal views. The practice of interacting with others (including commentators) results in “an approved workman, not an unworthy one, correctly setting out the doctrines of the truth” (Free translation of 2 Tim 2:15).

The purchase of many commentaries can become expensive. There is a good alternative for Bible students. This writer owns two different sets of two volume commentaries that cover the entire Bible. Each has both an Old Testament and a New Testament volume. The first set is The Believer’s Bible Commentary by William MacDonald. The second is The Bible Knowledge Commentary by John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck. The first is the work of Mr. MacDonald alone while Walvoord and Zuck are co-editors of the work of numerous other scholars. Both sets are very easy to use and both give background information for each book in the Bible and an adequate outline of the content of the book. Both are verse by verse commentaries and any particular verse is easily found.

The Believer’s Bible Commentary is the simpler and more straightforward of the two and will likely answer most of the questions young Christian students have. It will also confirm or correct the conclusions an individual student may have reached.

The Bible Knowledge Commentary is more scholarly and technical but is also very clear and easily understood. It is more thorough in the treatment of the material covered and frequently comments on individual Hebrew or Greek words in the text, explaining their meaning. In summary, both sets will assist students in their understanding of a passage they are studying, and in many instances, the two will supplement one another. Other commentaries will provide more detail, and link with other portions of Scripture taking up the same or similar passages but both sets are very adequate and helpful. Which should the student purchase? Both, if the budget will allow it.

Commentaries have their limitations. Mr. Hector Alves once remarked, “When I have a question I would like an answer for, I turn to commentaries and frequently discover they don’t have answers to those questions either!” Perhaps all of us have numerous questions for which we await answers from the Lord Himself in that soon coming day.