What is the foundation of your life? And what do we want to be the foundation of the life and ministry of LakeView Church? Laying the proper foundation is a critical element of building anything, whether a home, a family, a life or a ministry. I had the privilege of delivering this message at LakeView Church on September 10, 2017.
Recently, I wrote about five great study Bibles I’ve used and recommend. A good study Bible is one of the most indispensable tools in a Christian’s Bible study tool belt. For those desiring a deeper level of study, perhaps those leading a small group Bible study or teaching a Sunday school class, or just wanting to better understand the Bible for their own living and worship, the next level of study is a good commentary. What is a commentary?
A commentary is essentially a study guide to a book of the Bible. It provides in-depth information about the context, historical background, and various ways the passage being studied has been interpreted throughout history.
Commentaries can be powerful study aids, but listing my favorites is difficult because there is a variety of academic levels and styles. Some commentaries are so technical that without knowing at least some basic Greek or Hebrew, they wouldn’t be of much use. Others are more devotional, designed for the lay Christian who is seeking a better understanding of God’s Word. And there are commentaries in the middle. One of my favorite websites is http://bestcommentaries.com, where pastors have ranked commentaries in all sorts of categories. So, for instance, you can go on that site and find which commentaries pastors have ranked the highest for the book of Philippians, or what the best devotional commentaries are. Below I will list some of my favorite commentary sets (although I’m still new enough in the study process that I haven’t used all that many commentaries… not to mention they tend to be rather pricey, so it can take a pastor decades to build his collection).
Devotional commentaries are great entry-level studies that bring a lot more depth to your study than a study Bible, but leave out the more technical (and often more boring) stuff. Here I have two recommendations:
- The Bible Speaks Today
- The BE Series
These are more in-depth that devotional commentaries, but still primarily English-based. They’re written in a slightly more academic style, but you don’t need to know Greek or Hebrew to get what they’re talking about. These commentaries also may have some practical application points, but not as many as devotional commentaries. This is because they’re focused on helping you understand what the Scripture is saying, and then they let you figure out how that applies to your life.
- The New American Commentary
- The IVP Bible Background Commentary
- The Word Biblical Commentary
This category of commentaries is focused more on the original language manuscripts than on the English translations. They often give you the passage in Greek or Hebrew and then give you their own English translation. In the commentary sections, they will give Greek or Hebrew clauses, often with no translation because they expect you to know the language. Because these commentaries are pretty academic in style, they tend to give a synopsis of all the various views and interpretations of a passage, in addition to the commentator’s own view. They can tend to be a little dry at times! Because I am a beginner at Greek and am only starting Hebrew this Fall, I haven’t used many technical commentaries. The two below I do use frequently, however.
- The New International Greek Testament Commentary
- The Expositor’s Bible Commentary
Although I haven’t used the following online commentary sites, they’ve been highly recommended to me by people I trust. In the digital age we live in, no blog post would be complete without at least a couple online options!
What study aids do you use?
In my humble opinion, the most helpful tool the everyday Christian can use to better understand and apply the Bible to his/her life is a good study Bible. Study Bibles offer basic commentary, usually in the form of footnotes, on the historical context, the background of the book, details about the author’s life, and information about the meaning of the language that is often lost in translation. Some study Bibles also offer helpful suggestions for how a verse or passage applies to our lives today.
There are a bunch of study Bibles out there. Here are a few that I’ve used and recommend.
Using the New International Version English translation, the NIV Study Bible is one of the best I’ve used. In fact, I used it almost exclusively before moving to digital Bible study software with electronic Bibles. You can get it in paper for less than $30, and it’s about the same price on Kindle.
This study Bible is a breakaway bestseller in recent years. It was compiled by a team of excellent scholars and offers an abundance of relevant and insightful commentary. It utilizes one of the most popular formal translations, the English Standard Version. $12 on Kindle, just under $30 in print.
Billed as today’s #1 best-selling study Bible, the Life Application Study Bible is one of the best. Not only does it offer great commentary on the meaning of the text, but it also offers helpful applicational insights showing how the Bible relates to everyday life. You can get it in a variety of English translations, including dynamic translations like the NIV and the NLT, and formal translations like the NKJV and the NASB. Pricing varies depending on what translation you want, and whether you go digital or paper, but you can pick it up for somewhere between $16 and $50.
This is, in my opinion, the unsung hero of study Bibles! NET stands for New English Translation, and this Bible includes over 60,000 footnotes by world-renowned scholars to help you understand and apply Scripture. The NET Bible is always being updated as new scholarship uncovers new information and insight. You can buy it in print, or access it for FREE online!
This study Bible is a new contender in the study Bible arena. Produced by Logos Bible Software, hands down the best Bible study software in the world, Faithlife offers a wealth of information and application. Faithlife is also the first study Bible to be completely digital, there is no paper version. You can use Faithlife in any number of translations, including NIV, NLT, ESV, LEB, NASB, and more. There are smartphone apps, and Faithlife is paving the way for Bible studies to take advantage of online community. Their site not only offers the Bible and notes, but also functions as a sort of faith-based, Bible study-based Facebook. You can join the community and access the default translation (the Lexham English Bible, one of my favorites) for FREE. Alternate translations may cost a small fee.
Well, I hope this has been helpful! What is your favorite study Bible?
I grew up in a church that belonged to a denomination that was a little wacked. The doctrines of that movement are filled with errors, misinterpretations of Scripture, and legalism. Some of these errors are, admittedly, open-handed or secondary issues. But others are foundational to the Christian faith. For instance, the denomination I belonged to denied the existence of the Trinity! Instead, they embraced the ancient heresy of modalism. I don’t have time to go into that here (maybe someday).
The thing is, these false doctrines (even heresies) were the result of individualistic, isolated Bible study. When I say never study the Bible alone, I certainly don’t mean that you should never study by yourself. What I mean is that you should never study the Bible in isolation. You should always, always, always check your interpretation of a passage of Scripture with others you know and trust (i.e., a pastor, an elder, a deacon, a mature Christian friend). I would guess that much of the false teaching that exists today comes from isolated Bible study.
When I say never study the Bible alone, what I mean is that you should never study the Bible in isolation.
Here’s the deal, everyone comes to the Bible with certain ideas about life, God, truth, and spiritual matters already floating around in their head. When we read Scripture, we read it through these lenses and assume, oftentimes without even realizing it, that a verse or passage means something different than what it actually means. I know because I’ve done this many times! Most of the time, these differences are minor nuances of meaning, or perhaps we apply the message of the verse differently than it was intended to be applied in real life. Occasionally, these differences are major and can even approach heresy, such as denying the Trinity. If you are reading the Bible in isolation, you may never realize the cultural baggage and pre-understandings that you bring to Scripture when you study. If you read in isolation, you may come to a false conclusion, even heresy, and never be corrected in your view.
What you should always do is check your conclusions. Not every spirit is the Holy Spirit, and not every insight is from God. No single body of literature has been more scrutinized, studied, mulled over, discussed, debated, criticized, and taught than the Bible. There is no reason to study it in isolation and there is a wealth of knowledge and resources waiting to be tapped by seekers of truth and knowledge in God’s Word. How can you check your conclusions and insights? By avoiding isolation in your study. Study the Bible with a small group. Discuss your findings with your friends, your pastor(s), your elders, your deacons. Compare what you think the Bible is teaching with the footnotes in a good study Bible. Ask your pastor for a few good commentaries and compare your conclusions with what professionally trained biblical scholars who’ve devoted their entire lives to studying the history, cultural context, language, and meaning of Scripture have to say. In short, never study the Bible in isolation.
No single body of literature has been more scrutinized, studied, mulled over, discussed, debated, criticized, and taught than the Bible. There is no reason to study it in isolation.
Remember, the Bible wasn’t written to an individual (you), but to a people (us). It was meant to be read and discussed in the relational context of the community of God’s people. So, if you want to go out into the woods with nothing but your Bible and a notebook, by all means do so. But, when you come back, take what you wrote down and enter into dialogue with others about it. Be willing to submit your isolated opinions to the authority of your pastor(s) and/or elders. Be willing to admit you may have jumped to an incorrect conclusion after discovering more in a commentary or study Bible. In essence, have intellectual humility!
What are some things you’ve discovered as you studied the Bible for yourself? Have you ever thought something you later found out was incorrect? How do you involve community in your Bible study?