If you are a Christian and/or Catholic writer or blogger, whether you like it or not, your readers are going to be taking you for a knowledgable authority on Christianity and the Bible. And so it is your job to become more knowledgable— at least a little.
In earlier generations Protestant/Evangelical Christians often taught that good Christians were ones that read the Bible every single day. Good Catholics were seen as those who attended daily Mass every day, if possible, and would hear the assigned Bible readings for that day. But today people think they have so much less time for such activity, and in addition many listen to preachers like Joel Osteen who tend to be very ‘lite’ on actual Bible teaching.
Many Christians do read the Bible— but they find much of the Bible difficult. Some end up reading the same few Bible passages over and over, and others read, but without much comprehension. What can take your Bible reading to the next level is reading the Bible using a good Bible commentary.
I learned about Bible commentaries when I was in high school or just starting college. I was a Presbyterian at the time, but planning on becoming Lutheran. At that time, a Bible commentary series, the Tyndale commentary series, was available for sale in Christian bookstores and my college bookstore. Volumes were available for the New Testament and the Protestant books of the Old Testament. I wanted a full set of those commentaries! I know I got Romans, and Revelations. But I lost those volumes over the years.
Now that I’m Catholic, I want commentaries written by Catholics— but I like the format of the Protestant commentaries I read when younger. Luckily, there are commentaries for that: the Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture. So far I only have the one on the Gospel of Matthew.
These commentaries are nice because after every Bible passage it gives parts of the Catholic catechism that clear up points in the reading, and it also tells related passages from other books of the Bible, and if the Bible passage in question is part of the Church’s Mass readings, it tells the Church feast or occasion that the passage is used for.
There are also sections on ‘Reflection and Application—‘ which help prevent your Bible study from being a mere intellectual exercise. Very helpful. The only bad part of this series is that it is new, and only the New Testament books have been covered. Is an Old Testament series in the works? I don’t know, but I’m hoping one is forthcoming.
Both the Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture and the Tyndale Old Testament and New Testament commentaries were written by Bible scholars who teach at seminaries and colleges, or who at least have a comparable level of knowledge. They have deep knowledge of the Greek and Hebrew texts. This is the kind of commentary we need to build our knowledge.
I have a few other commentaries in my collection that don’t measure up to that standard. Some are slim volumes by J. Vernon McGee, an old-time radio Bible preacher. Now, I used to listen to McGee on the radio, but he was not a Bible scholar. And when you hear what he says about various Bible passages, you can wonder if what he was saying was based on knowledge, or just on a human opinion. For example, McGee believed that the Apostles did the wrong thing when they chose Matthias by lot to replace Judas Iscariot. McGee thought that St. Paul was the man God had chosen to replace Judas, but I don’t know if there is a single Bible passage that would confirm that.
Now, if I were stranded on a desert island with only my Bible and a complete set of McGee commentaries, I would read them, but I would not take McGee’s words as necessarily correct or wise. For that matter, even the best Bible scholars can have unwise or incorrect opinions. But I have more confidence in these two scholarly commentary series, and would prefer to use them since they are available.
Bible knowledge and your writing life: First thing to remember is that you don’t have to use everything you know. Even the most pious of Evangelical publishers does not like to publish books with long church-sermon-scenes and Bible-study-scenes. Such scenes slow down the action and make the work more dull for readers. You want to be planting seeds of faith, not dumping Bible and faith knowledge by the truckload.
- My reading plan: I am currently reading the Gospel of Matthew with the Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture series. After I finish, I’m planning to do an Old Testament book, probably Psalms, using the Tyndale series. (I have a lot of OT commentaries from that series since I found a bunch for sale on Ebay.) After I do that, I’m hoping to afford the Epistle to the Hebrews in the Catholic series.