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Thursday, June 23, 2016

Look It Up Your Own Self!

My biggest source of confidence in understanding and interpreting the scriptures has being looking in-depth for myself at the passages in which I’m interested before reading any commentaries or looking into any other educated opinions.

Sure, I’ll look at what others have written about the Bible — but only after I’ve spent a good long time establishing my own opinion about what the Holy Spirit was saying, trying to grasp the issues involved, and praying them through.

Other opinions are great, but they’re worth precisely what the commentator has invested in them. Which is often not quite as much as we think.

That’s not a complaint. It’s just math.

Let’s Do the Math

Take William MacDonald, for instance. I have great respect for MacDonald’s opinion, as laid out in his Believer’s Bible Commentary. But he wrote a commentary on the entire Bible. Did he know everything? You’ve got to be kidding!

Let’s just talk about the New Testament. There are 260 chapters in the NT. If MacDonald took five years full-time to write his NT commentary (and I’m fairly sure it was less), that works out to one chapter per week. One week of five days, eight hours a day (if we’re lucky) to examine, on average, thirty verses — at maximum, one and one-half hours per verse. That’s it, that’s all.

But common sense tells us MacDonald didn’t spend 1.5 hours on every verse. Not a chance.

First, there’s the fact that he was preaching and teaching and living life (and writing his 83 other books), which vastly reduced the amount of time he spent on his New Testament commentary. So it wasn’t even close to 40 hours a week for five years. I’d prefer not to even guess how much less.

Then there’s the fact that we tend to spend lots of time on the things that matter to us and much, much less time on the things that interest us not quite so much. Mr. MacDonald undoubtedly spent numerous hours on the passages he deemed to be particularly of relevance to his readers and perhaps only minutes on those he didn’t.

That’s not a complaint. It’s just math.

You and William

Now chances are that even if Bill MacDonald only spent a few minutes on the verse you’re thinking of this afternoon, it’s a few minutes more than you or I have done, and he had a lifetime of Bible study to apply to it that most of us don’t. Let’s not minimize the importance of that. But if you have a verse you care about, and spend more than an hour and a half praying about it and working on it, you have probably spent more time on it than William MacDonald did. Or any other renowned commentator of scripture.

If you care what the Lord said, and if you spend a couple of days working through something and committing it to him to help you understand it, you have as good a chance as any writer of any commentary of being right.

When I’ve struggled through a passage, prayed through it, read Vine’s and Wigram’s about it to make sure I’m not missing any Greek nuances, compared the language to other passages with Strong’s and written down my conclusions about it, and I now come to William MacDonald or some other wise, serious, respected expositor of scripture and find that I disagree with him, simple logic tells me that I have as good a chance of being right about it as the venerable saint whose commentary I am reading. And if, after spending all those hours working it through and familiarizing myself with the issues, I read MacDonald and his maturity, scholarship and ability to compare scripture with scripture brings to the table all manner of things I have not considered, I will surely recognize that too.

But now I’m in a position to make some sort of intelligent, spiritual evaluation of what he says, whereas before I simply wasn’t.

However it turns out — whether I’m right, wrong or simply in need of minor adjustments to my view — I can be very convinced about what I believe, and very invested indeed. I will not easily forget what I have learned.

That’s my theory anyway. And I think it’s a good one.

So look it up your own self!

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