We are working on our ten-part series on How to Prepare a Sermon. We’ve already given you all ten steps of sermon preparation, and part 1, Praying about your Sermon; Part 2, Textual vs. Topical; Part 3, Study the Passage. Today, we will talk about using commentaries and other references well.
In part 3, Study the Passage, I warned all budding preachers not to run to the commentaries first. You must study the passage on your own, and let God speak to you first. I outlined a number of different exercises which you can do to study the passage. Now, once you have completed those studies on your own, you may certainly feel free to open up the commentaries and learn from those who have gone before.
What can Biblical commentaries give you that you can’t get on your own?
- Historical Information – to see where this passage fits in the flow of Biblical and world history
- Cultural Background – to understand the passage more thoroughly
- Original Language Insights – even if you already know Hebrew and Greek, the insights of a language scholar can be very helpful
- Linguistic & Grammatical Nuances – you may know the Hebrew or Greek word, but a good scholar can help you understand the unique nuances of the usage of said words in this particular passage
- Related Texts – where else in Scripture this passage or theme is addressed
How can you use this information in your sermon?
The big mistake is to turn an inspirational sermon into a college lecture. That is not the purpose of the information you gain from the commentary. This “hard data” which you learn in commentaries is likened to the bones of a body. Bones give a body structure; no bones, and you have a jelly fish. Yet bones are often covered in soft flesh. So too, the information you gain from commentaries is there to give structure, strength, and content to your message. It is there to support your Big Idea or Proposition, and your Main Points. It is supporting material to the message which God has already given you as you executed Part Three of Sermon Preparation: Study the Passage.
What else can be used to study the Bible?
There are lots of great tools out there besides Biblical commentaries. Here’s a few:
- International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
- Greek & Hebrew Interlinears – provides English translation above the Greek and Hebrew words for each passage
- Dictionary of NT Theology
- The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah by Alfred Edersheim
Check out the reference section of a Christian bookstore for lots more.
So get a few commentaries and references and make good use of them; not as a crutch, but as a supplement to your own work and and study.
If you would like to keep your sermons organized, be sure to check out our “SermonBase Message Planning Software“.
God’s best to you as your preach God’s Word!
Dr. Bill Miller