Part 4: Consulting the Commentaries
- So I will know what the interpretation problems are and be better equipped to appreciate the proposed solutions by the commentators. If I read the commentaries first, I may not read them the most efficiently. Wrestling with the text (not “wresting”) alerts me to the interpretive problems that need to be solved. Then when I read the commentaries I have a greater capacity to appreciate their proposed solutions to those problems.
- So I will have already learned on my own most of what the text is about, without having to receive it second-hand from someone else who just did what I should have done anyway. There is benefit to having worked through the basic issues of the text yourself. Sure, it is easier to just read what some trusted commentator has said summarizing the meaning of the text, but when I discover the meaning myself the text percolates through my soul and becomes a part of me.
- So my interpretation of a text is not primarily shaped by someone else’s interpretation. If I have done my homework properly in studying the background and context of the text in question (as I will have done if I am preaching a series through a book, see here), then I should be in a good position to understand the meaning of the text myself. But if I read a certain commentator first who has a particular axe to grind, I might be swayed to see the text through his eyes rather than my own.
- So I will not unintentionally preach someone else’s sermon. This applies especially to the use of expositional commentaries like those of John MacArthur, James Boice, Kent Hughes, Warren Wiersbe, John Phillips, and Ray Stedman. These men are so gifted as homileticians that once you read their sermons (which their commentaries are basically a compilation of), you will have a difficult time not seeing the text through the prism of their outline , even if it isn’t the best way for you to communicate the meaning of the text to your congregation.
- To check my own interpretation of the passage. Although I don’t want to have my interpretation of a passage shaped by someone else, I also don’t want to assume that I alone have understood the true meaning of the passage. If my interpretation of a text has never been proposed by anyone else, then my interpretation is probably wrong and needs to be revised. I agree with the old adage which says: “If it’s new, it’s probably not true! If it’s true, it’s probably not new!”
- To be taught by the God-gifted men who themselves are God’s gifts to the church (Eph 4:11-13). I don’t think that what Paul said in Ephesians 4 applies only to those living in our generation with us today. Nor do I believe that it only applies to those in the same location. The church universal is much larger than our local congregation. It extends to all those saints, past and present, from east to west that have placed their hope in Christ and His sacrificial atonement alone! Therefore, the teachers, evangelists, and pastors from whom we have the privilege of learning stretch across the 2,000 years of church history (chronologically) and from pole to pole (geographically)! For more on this subject, see here.
In the next post, I will address finding and using illustrative material when I explain how I write my sermon manuscript. A final post will follow that one in which I summarize and give my thoughts on the actual preaching of the sermon.