As we travel through the book of Galatians on Sunday mornings we continue to chant the Gospel and nothing but. “No Other Gospel.” Meanwhile, it is important to know that the Gospel didn’t come to us in a vacuum, nor did the Bible, which gives us the Gospel.
I recall when I was an older teen watching the Steve Martin hit movie, “The Jerk”, hilarious and yet crass. One of the few scenes I recall is where Martin’s character, sad and in a fight with his girlfriend, tells her he doesn’t need her in his life anymore. Then he begins to declare he doesn’t need anything and wipes his desk of all paperwork. After declaring he doesn’t need anything, he picks up an ashtray and repeats over and over, “…all I need is this ashtray… that’s all I need.” But then to the viewers delight and chuckle he picks up a paddle game, a remote, and matches while declaring “that’s all I need.” He is – after all – the jerk.
As Christians who are devoted to the Bible and who celebrate Sola Scriptura, we must avoid the error of believing the Bible is all we need. Most often, we hear well meaning believers say things such as “I don’t need other people’s opinions, just the Bible, that’s all I need.” It’s a soft way of shunning Bible commentary and theology in general. It is a mindset that believes a Christian and a Bible alone will unlock all the glories that are to be had in scripture. One must ask: is that even possible? While Christians are reading their Bibles they bring skills, thoughts, and assumptions to the scriptures, many we are not even aware of. For example: our knowledge of grammar, Middle Eastern geography, or ancient history (which may heighten the drama of a narrative or the clarity of what God is doing in particular time period). Further, we bring with us our worldview which has been shaped by: our parents, our pastors, our fallen nature, our emotional status, etc., all of which hinder or help our understanding of the text.
Many in fear of being misled (or driven to be pretentious) will contend they only need their Bibles and yet miss the glaring contradiction: their own commentary they impart on the text called their mind. While claiming “That’s all I need” like Steve Martin’s character, we ignorantly drag along many beliefs, interpretations, and knowledge. So for this reason, Christians should cautiously and thoughtfully engage with Bible helps and commentaries.
We stand on the shoulders of giants. Those who’ve labored hard in the text and provided brilliant insight into the context of the Bible. They are fallen yes, but they help us see the un-fallen (Scripture) more clearly and for that we are grateful and humble. Rather than shun, or more likely ignore, let’s glean from the men and women who have rightly labored over the text for our benefit. So meanwhile for 2017 please read the Bible, YES! Perhaps with a commentary, study-bible, or even audio sermon close by… Lest we be a Biblical jerk.
One last warning: one could just as easily mooch off of commentators and never actually reflect long on the scriptures themselves. This is equally a sham.
Not sure where to start with resources? Here are a few suggestions:
At the Table,