Today in the library I was working on updating our “Recommended Old Testament Commentaries list” and came across this helpful advice from Tremper Longman.
There is a right way and a wrong way to use a commentary. Actually, there are two wrong ways. The ﬁrst is to ignore completely the use of commentaries. Some people do not consult commentaries because they believe that, since all Christians are equal as they approach the Scriptures, scholars have no privileged insight into the biblical text. The second error is to become overly dependent on commentaries. “These people have devoted their whole lives to the study of the Bible. How can my opinion measure up to theirs?”
Those holding the ﬁrst position are wrong because they forget that God gives different gifts to different people in the church. Not all people are equally adept at understanding the Bible and teaching it to others (1 Cor. 12:12–31). Those holding the second position err in the opposite direction. They forget that God has given believers the Spirit by which they can discern spiritual things (1 Cor. 2:14–16).
The right way to use a commentary is as a help. We should ﬁrst study a passage without reference to any helps. Only after coming to an initial understanding of the passage should we consult commentaries.
Neither should we let commentaries bully us. Many times they will be of great help, but sometimes the reader will be right and the commentaries will be wrong.
Tremper Longman III, Old Testament Commentary Survey, 5th Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 17.