Commentaries don’t judge Scripture; Scripture judges commentaries. A commentator is simply a Bible teacher, and no commentator is infallible. The wise Bible student will carefully test everything the commentator says by comparing it to Scripture itself.
It is important for believers to be grounded in the teaching of God’s Word before they spend much time in commentaries other than those that are the most theologically sound.
In fact, as already mentioned in this report, I consider the equivalent of a Bible Institute education to be a starting point to have the foundation and discernment necessary to weigh commentaries effectively.
Beware of the presumption of commentators who try to change or add to the Word of God or who ignore the plain meaning of Scripture.
For example, Jamieson, Fausset, Brown comments on Genesis 4:3 “And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the LORD,” as follows: “Hebrew, ‘at the end of days,’ probably on the Sabbath.” In fact, there is nothing in the Hebrew to signify that it was the sabbath, and the KJV translation is perfectly fine.
In 1 Corinthians 1:16, Jamieson-Fausset-Brown comments: “It is likely that such ‘households’ included infants (Ac 16:33). The history of the Church favors this view, as infant baptism was the usage from the earliest ages.” In fact, this is unscriptural nonsense. Though Paul baptized “the household of Stephanas” (1 Cor. 1:16), there is no mention of infants. In fact, in 1 Corinthians 16:15 we are told that this household addicted themselves to the ministry. This could not be said of infants. It is not legitimate to build doctrine on the silence of Scripture. Doctrine can only be established legitimately upon a clear “thus saith the Lord.” And what did the Lord Jesus teach: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mk. 16:16). It is obvious that an infant is incapable of believing on Christ as his Lord and Saviour and is not therefore a proper candidate for baptism.
In his commentary on Noah’s flood, Matthew Henry claims that Noah sent out the raven and dove on the sabbath. He says, “This intimates that it was done on the sabbath day, which, it should seem, Noah religiously observed in the ark.” In fact, Henry, one of my favorite commentators, was letting his imagination run wild, for there is not even a hint of such a thing in Scripture.
In commenting on Psalm 24, Howard Hendricks says the context is David bringing the Ark to Jerusalem (Living by the Book, p. 242). But this is ridiculous in light of the actual words of the Psalm, which speak of the King of Glory, the LORD strong and mighty, everlasting doors, the LORD of hosts, the King of glory. This is not David. This is none other than Jesus Christ entering the Millennial Jerusalem. Then will be fulfilled literally the words of Psalm 24:1, “The earth is the LOD’s, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.”
In the comments on Malachi 4:2, “But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings,” the Bible Knowledge Commentary says, “The phrase ‘the sun of righteousness’ appears only here in Scripture. Though many commentators have taken these words to refer to Christ, the phrase seems to refer to the day of the Lord in general. In the kingdom, righteousness will pervade like the sun.” I see zero reason in the text itself or anywhere else in Scripture to accept this position. The Sun of righteousness can be none other than Christ. The pervading of righteousness in the kingdom will originate from Christ Himself sitting on His throne in Jerusalem. I will not accept comments like this that miss the point and try to explain away the plainest meaning of the text.
In the study of Jonah, the Bible Knowledge Commentary says, “The phrase three days and three nights need not be understood as a 72-hour period, but as one 24-hour day and parts of two other days (cf. Est 4:16 with Est 5:1 and comments on Mat 12:40, where Jesus said His burial would be the same length of time as Jonah’s interment in the fish’s stomach).” The truth is that the phrase three days and three nights can mean nothing other than three days and three nights! The situation in Esther has nothing to do with the matter. If Christ said that He would be in the heart of the earth for three days, that could mean one day and a portion of two others, but three days and three nights cannot mean “one 24-hour day and parts of two other days.” The Bible Knowledge Commentary has a lot of excellent comments, but we always have to test the commentaries by God’s Word!
In the comment on Zechariah 13:7, the Zondervan King James Version Commentary says, “The Lord will smite the worthless shepherd who leads Israel astray (see 11:15-17). In the New Testament, this verse is applied to the death of Jesus and the scattering of the apostles (see Matt. 26:31; Mark 14:27, 49-50). The context of Zechariah 13, however, has in view the final judgment of Israel.” This interpretation of Zechariah 13:7 ignores the plain teaching of the New Testament and the words of the verse itself. Jehovah God calls the shepherd of this verse “my shepherd” and “my fellow.” It can be none other than Christ. As for the context of Zechariah 13, all through the concluding chapters of Zechariah, the prophesy jumps between near and far views. The gap of 2,000 years between Zechariah 13:7 and 13:8-9 is common in Bible prophecy. Again, the Zondervan King James Version Commentary is very helpful in many places, but no commentary is infallible.
In Ezekiel 34:23, the Zondervan King James Version Commentary says, “My servant David is a ruler like David and from his line.” In fact, David is David, and David himself will be a prince in the kingdom where his son will be King. See Jer. 30:9; Eze. 37:24-25; Hos. 3:5. When describing the Millennial Temple in chapters 40-48, Ezekiel mentions “the prince” 18 times. This prince eats bread before the LORD (Eze. 44:3), the LORD being the Messiah. See Eze. 43:2-3. The prince will offer a sin offering “for himself” (Eze. 45:22), which is not something that the sinless Messiah will do.
These are examples of presumption and error on the part of the commentator by failing to let the Bible speak for itself.
2. The Bible student should know the theological position of the commentator and should be aware of potential errors.
It is important to know the theological position of the commentator, as this will usually be reflected in his notes.
THERE IS THE PROBLEM OF THE ALLEGORICAL INTERPRETATION OF PROPHECY. Most of the most widely-used commentaries are written from an amillennial perspective. As a result, they interpret prophecy allegorically and therefore falsely. This is true of Matthew Henry, Jamieson-Fausset-Brown, John Wesley, John Calvin, Adam Clarke, Albert Barnes, Abbott, Matthew Poole, and a great many others. Consider some examples of the allegorical interpretation of Revelation 20:1-10:
“A prophecy of the binding of Satan for a certain term of time, in which he should have much less power and the church much more peace than before. The power of Satan was broken in part by the setting up of the gospel kingdom in the world; it was further reduced by the empire's becoming Christian...” (Matthew Henry).
“Thousand symbolizes that the world is perfectly leavened and pervaded by the divine; since thousand is ten, the number of the world, raised to the third power, three being the number of God” (Jamieson, Fausett, Brown).
“The millennium-vision is, like so many of the apostolic visions, an ideal picture; it exhibits a state of things which is possible to mankind at any time. The vision has its approximate fulfillment, as the Church, in the faith of the reality of her Lord’s victory, carries on her warfare against the prince of this world, and spiritual wickedness in high places. That this approximate fulfillment is not unreal may be seen in the fact that Christendom has replaced heathendom; Christ has taken the throne of the world; the prince of this world has been judged; the ascendency of Christian thought and Christian principles has marvellously humanised and purified the world. ... Here, therefore, as in Rev 7:4, "one thousand" signifies "completeness." Satan is bound "for a thousand years;" that is, Satan is completely bound. ... this sentence assures Christians that, for them, Satan has been completely bound, and they need not despair nor fear his might(cf. ‘loosed,’ infra). The chapter thus describes, not a millennium of the saints, but the overthrow of Satan” (Preacher’s Homiletical Commentary).
“[I]t is not likely that the number, a thousand years, is to be taken literally here. ... there is no doubt that the earth is in a state of progressive moral improvement; and that the light of true religion is shining more copiously everywhere, and will shine more and more to the perfect day. But when the religion of Christ will be at its meridian of light and heat, we know not” (Adam Clarke).
“Whether these thousand years signify that certain space of time, or a long time, I cannot say; only it is probable, that if it signifies an uncertain, indefinite time” (Matthew Poole).
“[W]hat is meant by ‘for a thousand years’? The best interpretation seems to be that this phrase expresses a quality, and does not express a period of time” (Pulpit Commentary).
“In this book of symbols how long is a thousand years? All sorts of theories are proposed, none of which fully satisfy one. Perhaps Peter has given us the only solution open to us in 2 Peter 3:8 when he argues that ‘one day with the Lord is as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day’” (A.T. Robertson).
To help rectify this problem, we have published many of the old Pre-tribulational commentaries in the Treasury of Rare Dispensational Commentaries, available as part of the Fundamental Baptist Digital Library (www.wayoflife.org).
THERE IS THE PROBLEM OF PROTESTANT THEOLOGY. Most of the commentaries are written from a Protestant rather than a Baptist perspective and therefore err on the doctrine of the church, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. The Methodist Adam Clarke inserts infant baptism into his commentary on Matthew 28:19, even though there is no mention of such a thing in the Scripture: “But, certainly, no argument can be drawn from this concession against the baptism of children. When the Gentiles and Jews had received the faith and blessings of the gospel, it is natural enough to suppose they should wish to get their children incorporated with the visible Church of Christ; especially if, as many pious and learned men have believed, baptism succeeded to circumcision, which I think has never yet been disproved” (Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible). The Bible Knowledge Commentary, on 1 Timothy 3:15, says, “Paul was simply affirming the crucial role of the universal church as the support and bulwark--not the source--of God’s truth.” This is clearly false. Regardless of what position one takes on a “universal church,” it is obvious from the context that Paul is not referring to any such thing. The context is the church that has pastors and deacons, which can be nothing other than the “local” assembly. A “universal church” has no way of being the pillar and ground of the truth. What would it mean? How would it work? If the universal church is defined as all born again Christians, how do all born again Christians act as the pillar and ground of the truth, when they are scattered among many kinds of churches and hold to many different doctrines and have no practical association together? If the universal church is defined as all Christians and all denominations, as it frequently is, that makes it even more impossible that such a “church” could be the pillar and ground of the truth.
THERE IS THE PROBLEM OF MODERN TEXTUAL CRITICISM. Most commentaries err on the doctrine of the preservation of Scripture and accept the heresy of modern textual criticism and follow the critical Greek text. And in many cases, they don’t even acknowledge that there is a textual issue. For example, The Preacher’s Complete Homiletical Commentary has the following comment on 1 Timothy 1:1 - “Our translation changes both the order and the language of the Greek text, presumably to be consistent with common usage. The title ‘Lord’ is not in the original, and the order that Paul used both times in verse 1 Ti. 1:1 was Christ Jesus.” This is not true. The KJV follows the Greek Received Text which reads exactly as the KJV reads. It is the critical Greek text that removes “Lord” and changes the order of Jesus Christ. B.H. Carroll is typical in rejecting the Trinitarian statement in 1 John 5:7 “Now, as to the integrity of this book, there is one exception. In the King James Version, Joh 5:7-8 reads: ‘For there are three that bear witness in heaven, the Father, the Word and the Holy Ghost, and these three are one.’ Now look at verse 8, two words of the second line, ‘in earth’ — ‘there are three that bear witness in earth.’ Let us take out of the King James Version all verse 7 and the words, ‘in earth,’ of verse 8. They are unquestionably an interpolation.” Carroll was dead wrong on this. We will definitely not take out those words from the King James Bible and for very good theological reasons. (See “A Defense of 1 John 5:7” at www.wayoflife.org.) The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, edited by Frank E. Gaebelein, gives credence to the heresy that Mark’s Gospel ends at verse 8. It leans on the arguments and reasoning of heretics such as Bruce Metzger, Robert Bratcher, and Eugene Nida. It concludes, “External and especially internal evidence make it difficult to escape the conclusion that vv. 9-20 were originally not a part of the Gospel of Mark. ... Thus the best solution seems to be that Mark did write an ending to his Gospel but that it was lost in the early transmission of the text. The endings we now possess represent attempts by the church to supply what was obviously lacking” (Expositor’s). This is a blatant and heretical denial of the divine preservation of Scripture. In contrast, Arno Gaebelein, Frank’s father and an earlier and fundamentalist leader, was wiser in his note on Mark 16 in The Annotated Bible of 1913: “Higher criticism declares that the proper ending of the Gospel of Mark is verse 8. They disputed the genuineness of verses 9-20. Another hand, they claim, added later these verses. That spurious translation, which goes under the name of ‘The Twentieth Century New Testament’ (wholly unsatisfactory) also gives this portion as ‘a late appendix.’ It is not. Mark wrote it and some of the best scholars have declared that it is genuine. How foolish to assume that the blessed document, which begins with the sublime statement ‘The Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God’ could end with ‘they were afraid!’ The trouble with these critics is that they approach the Word of God with doubt and reject its inspiration” (The Annotated Bible). Here, Arno Gaebelein identifies the chief problem with modern textual criticism, which is that it does not approach the biblical text on the basis of faith, but rather employs the tools of natural textual criticism for a supernatural book. Frank Gaebelein was corrupted by his rejection of Bible separation and his wrong associations, which included an extended liberal arts education that included a stint at Harvard, a bastion of skepticism. See 1 Corinthians 15:33.
Consider “keepers at home” in Titus 2:5, KJV. The modern versions and lexicons and commentaries that follow the critical Greek text have “working at home” (ASV, ESV, Vine, Wuest). The critical text has the Greek oikourgos (oikos - home and ergon - work). The KJV follows the Received Greek text which has oikouros (oikos - home and ouros - a keeper). oikourgos is a much weaker concept than oikouros. The mother is not merely a worker at home; she is the guardian of the home under the husband’s authority and supervision!
In order to properly weigh such things, the Bible student must be well grounded in his understanding of the issue of Bible texts and versions. We recommend Why We Hold to the King James Bible and Faith vs. the Modern Bible Versions, available from Way of Life Literature, www.wayoflife.org. We also recommend Touch Not the Unclean Things: The Bible Translation Controversy by David Sorenson (firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com).
THERE IS THE PROBLEM OF CALVINISM. For example, John Gill was a hyper-Calvinist who held to sovereign election and sovereign reprobation. Consider his attempt to explain away the plain meaning of 1 Timothy 2:4-6: “... wherefore the will of God, that all men should be saved, is not a conditional will, or what depends on the will of man, or on anything to be performed by him, for then none might be saved; and if any should, it would be of him that willeth, contrary to the express words of Scripture; but it is an absolute and unconditional will respecting their salvation, and which infallibly secures ... hence by all men, whom God would have saved, cannot be meant every individual of mankind, since it is not his will that all men, in this large sense, should be saved ... rather therefore all sorts of men, agreeably to the use of the phrase in 1Ti 2:1 are here intended, kings and peasants, rich and poor, bond and free, male and female, young and old, greater and lesser sinners ... the meaning [of ‘who gave himself a ransom for all’] is, either that he gave himself ransom for many ... or rather it intends that Christ gave himself a ransom for all sorts of men...” And consider Gill’s comment on John 3:16, “... not every man in the world is here meant, or all the individuals of human nature; for all are not the objects of God's special love, which is here designed, as appears from the instance and evidence of it, the gift of his Son: nor is Christ God's gift to every one ... yet rather the Gentiles particularly, and God's elect among them, are meant...”
THERE IS THE PROBLEM OF NEW EVANGELICALISM.
- When we read today of “top evangelical scholars,” we understand that this refers to New Evangelicalism. In the 1940s, evangelicalism renounced “separatism” and has since been corrupted to various degrees by unscriptural associations with error. Many evangelical commentaries entertain some liberal positions that can confuse and weaken the readers. For example, some evangelical commentaries and dictionaries give some credence to the view that there was a “natural” element in the destruction of Sodom, such as saying that the miracle pertained to the timing of a natural earthquake, or that the crossing of the Red Sea was through a lake or marsh, or that the backing up of the Jordan River when Israel crossed into the Promised Land was a natural event that has happened at other times, or that the judgments upon Egypt were party natural, or that Noah’s Flood was not global, or that Genesis 1 allows for evolutionary ages, or that the prophets were referring to pagan myths in passages such as Ezekiel 28:11-14. The Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds of the Old Testament is packed with liberal influences. For example, there is frequent attempt to find parallels to Biblical events in pagan sources. Consider this unbelieving comment on the pillar of the cloud of Exodus 14:20: “Records of the military exploits of the Hittite king Murshili report a similar phenomenon. ... It was not uncommon in military reports to speak of advantageous circumstances in terms of divine intervention and aid. If one group found itself on the successful end of a skirmish, it credited its own god or gods and often spoke of the deity as if he had arranged all aspects of the natural order to ensure a triumphant outcome. to what degree, then, the reference to a cloud is to be taken literally is difficult to determine, since the biblical text may be implementing this kind of stylized description of events. That the text intends to affirm the active participation of Yahweh on behalf of the Israelites, though, is certain.”
- Evangelical commentaries tend to quote heretics with no warning. For example, they frequently quote Augustine and C.S. Lewis. The Bible Knowledge Commentary often quotes C.H. Dodd. The BKC cites Dodd, for example, in claiming that the Greek present active tense in 1 John 3:4, 6, 8, 9 does not have the idea of habituality. But Dodd was a terrible heretic who should never be quoted favorably by a Bible believer. In his book The Authority of the Bible, Dodd claimed that God is not the author of the Bible, that it was written in “imperfect human words,” that it errs in “matters of science and history,” that Moses “left us no writings, and we know little of him with certainty,” that Moses was “a magician, a medicine man, whose magic wand wrought wonders of deliverance,” that Ezekiel was “a psychic medium’ with “symptoms of abnormality,” that Jehovah “is cruel, capricious, irritable, unjust, and untruthful,” that those who believe in the infallible inspiration of Scripture are “blinded by superstitious bibliolatry” (p. 127), “the prophets were sometimes mistaken” (p. 128), “there are sayings of Jesus ... which either simply are not true, in their plain meaning, or are unacceptable to the conscience or reason of Christian people” (p. 233), “Jesus was a man of his time” (p. 237), and “the idea of vicarious expiation [Christ’s substitutionary atonement] is not wholly rational” (p. 215). And in his book The Bible Today, Dodd called creation, the fall of man, the Deluge, the building of Babel, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and Jonah’s whale “myths” and “legends” (pp. 17, 112, 150), and said “the disciples’ post-resurrection meetings with our Lord may have been visionary” (p. 102). The Preacher’s Complete Homiletical Commentary in 2 Timothy 2:3 favorably cites M. Scott Peck’s book The Road Less Traveled. Peck is an exceedingly dangerous New Age universalist who believes in the divinity of man, and he should never be quoted favorably to God’s people. For example, Peck writes, “God wants us to become Himself (or Herself or Itself). We are growing toward God. God is the ultimate goal of evolution” (The Road Less Traveled, 1978, p. 270).
- Many evangelical commentaries also promote the unscriptural ecumenical movement. For example, The Preacher’s Complete Homiletical Commentary has this heretical note on Luke 6:38: “At the beginning of the ecumenical movement between Catholics and Protestants, I led a conference for a group of Catholic nuns. We had a marvelous week together, but at the final communion I was told that the priests had ruled I could not partake of the Eucharist because I was a Protestant. The nuns were incensed and delivered an ultimatum. ‘If our brother Bruce can't come to our Lord's table, we will not come.’ The priests were in a tizzy, but they reconsidered the matter and decided to break the rules for that one occasion. That was a long time ago, and it is unlikely such a situation would arise today. But it pointed out to me that God's law of love goes far beyond ‘keeping the rules.’”
- For more about what has happened to evangelical scholarship since the 1940s, see New Evangelicalism: Its History, Character, and Fruit, available as a free eBook from www.wayoflife.org.
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