Should Pastors Use Commentaries?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere is a small debate that has been around for quite some time as to whether believers, and particularly pastors, should use only the Word for studying, or are able to use other resources such as commentaries, journals, or other writings from both our contemporaries, as well as those that have gone before us.

To be sure, the Word of God is far superior to any other word in discovering our God and what He expects from us. The Word of God is its own commentary, and its best. Those who will not submit to it, or who hold another’s opinions over it, do so at great peril. Man lives “by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

But does it follow then that those who read or study other men’s “words” are wrong or sinful? Can we not learn ABOUT Christ and FROM Christ as we read other works BASED on Christ? Can we not consider these works and the men that wrote them as teachers that God Himself has given to us?

Deut. 32:7 says, “Remember the days of old, consider the years of all generations. Ask your father, and he will inform you; your elders, and they will tell you.” David writes in Ps. 119:99, “I have more insight than all my teachers, for Your testimonies are my meditation.” David believed that God, along with His Word, was the supreme authority over his teachers–but he still had teachers. Solomon wrote that the fool who fell into immorality could say, “How I have hated instruction and my heart spurned reproof!” (Prov. 5:13)

Fathers, elders, and teachers, whether writing hundreds of years ago, or speaking to us from the same room, are extremely beneficial and necessary in unfolding for us the Awesomeness of our God. Jesus Himself, when announcing the 8 woes on the scribes and Pharisees, tells them that He was sending them prophets and wise men and scribes that they would kill and crucify and scourge and persecute. (Matt. 23:34)

Paul tells us that Jesus gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, all of whom were charged with the responsibility to equip the saints. One of the vital ways in which this was to be done was through constant teaching “until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and the knowledge of the Son of God.” (Eph. 4:11-13)

The author of Hebrews chastises his readers because, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you…” (Heb. 5:12). In Acts 8:30-31, the Spirit of God directs Philip to the Ethiopian eunuch. Philip listened as the eunuch read from Isaiah, and then asked if he understood what he was reading. The eunuch replied, “Well, how could I, unless someone guides me?”

Perhaps the most definitive Scripture regarding this use of other’s works comes from the opening words of Luke.  In clarifying the purpose for his writings, he explains, Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the Word, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.

Men have been passing down the Truths of the Living God from the very beginning, and we desperately need to learn about our God from the wisdom, discoveries, and experiences that they have gleaned, in order that we too may continue to pass on those same, and other, discoveries and experiences.

I’m a simple man. There’s not much to me. Even at that, I still must decrease while He must increase. He MUST increase in my life, in the lives of His people, and especially today in our culture. That is done primarily through God’s Word, but can be accomplished also through others. “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” So this issue is not a question of permissibility or right and wrong, but one of desire. Our desire for Christ needs to increase. Once that happens, HE WILL increase in our lives. The question is not, “SHOULD we only use the Bible or CAN we use other works?” The question is, “Do we have a consuming desire to know Christ?” If we do, then we MUST use EVERYTHING at our disposal to discover Him, as long as what man writes is in line with His Word and so long as we do not regard the clay over the Potter.

Then, let us pass that on to others. We cannot keep this to ourselves. Let us be the teachers that guide our contemporaries. Prov. 12:26 states, “The righteous is a guide to his neighbor.” Let us also become teachers to the next generations. In Ps. 45:17, the writer promises, “I will cause Your Name to be remembered in all generations; Therefore the peoples will give You thanks forever and ever.” Let that be the goal that we chase after, the pursuit that drives us throughout the rest of our lives.

Drew Karst is a devoted husband and father.  He pastored for 10 years in South Central Ohio and is currently an Elder at Grace Community Church, leading the Family Ministry.  He has a passion to see families glorifying God and serving together to advance the Kingdom.

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