Learning from intelligent dead men is highly profitable. In fact, a wise man once said,
The man who never reads will never be read; he who never quotes will never be quoted. He who will not use the thoughts of other men’s brains, proves that he has no brains of his own.
I completely agree. If we don’t understand what is being said and why it was important to the people in that place at that time, we will likely miss out on huge points. Read what wiser men than you have said.
However, there are great treasures I fear may never be found unless the only two people involved in interpretation are you and the Holy Spirit.
I have seen young, knowledge-hungry men with an iPad in hand and 4 commentaries at the ready, while in a communal study of the Word, that are quick to look up what men such as Calvin, Matthew Henry, or Luther have had to say about such and such a verse. I can only assume a similar thing happens in personal study.
Being quick to find an answer to questions stirred up by Scripture has merit; but what is infinitely more priceless is a truth of God that is truly taken to heart and not merely known as if it were a test answer.
What I fear is that if we use commentaries and study Bibles as our primary interpreters of Scripture and not the person of the Holy Spirit-the very Spirit of Jesus who alone knows the heart and mind of God (1 Cor 2:8-16)- we lose what counts: heart change which leads to repentance and a deeper love of God.
For knowing more of who God is is what brings us to love Him more. Not knowing facts about Him as though reading a biology textbook; but rather knowing more of Him as a man intimately knows his wife. We should be drawn in our attraction to God as we learn more of His works, glories, and attributes.
But I digress.
The point is this: knowing who God is is extremely important. For those who know me, you know how much I value theology. However, theology (truth about God) that doesn’t lead to doxology (praise for who God is as a person resulting from true heartfelt love) is nothing but drawing close to YHWH with our lips and not with our hearts.
Take time with Jesus to truly know Him (out of joy as you would feel when having a great conversation with an old friend or your spouse; not out of obligation as if doing assigned homework).
When you run into a difficult passage, don’t be too quick to look at a study Bible or commentary. Ask the Holy Spirit to be with you, and He will. Then read it again. If it hasn’t taken hold of your affections (old-school word for emotions) or if you haven’t comprehended it in fullness, read it again. Then again. Read it until you’ve memorized it if need be, but meditate with the assistance of the person of the Holy Spirit until it weighs on your mind and heart.
There is found great reward. There is found something far more valuable than the lottery. There is found the water and bread of life. That is where our hearts begin to change, and not merely our minds’ knowledge expanded. That is what honors Jesus and brings intimate, splendid joy to our dry bones.
Soli Deo Gloria