From time to time, I am asked, “If you found yourself on a deserted island, and you could only have a handful of books with you, which books would you want?” I often respond similar to how Dr. R.C. Sproul used to respond, by saying that I would want a book on how to build a boat and a book on edible wildlife on a deserted island. My next response has often surprised folks. I tell them that I would want biblical commentaries. If I were actually on a deserted island, what would most comfort and encourage me, what would occupy my time the best, and what would help me more than anything else to love and glorify God and trust His sovereign will would be in-depth study of His sacred Word. By the power of the Holy Spirit, God speaks to us through the Scriptures, and if Christians want to hear God speak to them, all they need to do is read the Bible. Martin Luther declared, “The Bible is alive, it speaks to me; it has feet, it runs after me; it has hands, it lays hold of me.” The Bible is our only infallible rule for faith and life. Commentaries are unique in that they help us understand and interpret what the Bible actually says, not what we want it to say. Just as importantly, they help us know what the Bible doesn’t say. Like most pastors in these United States, I have numerous books, and many of my books line the shelves of my study in my church office. My commentaries, however—my most treasured companions—line the shelves of my study at home. Incidentally, I believe that one of the greatest needs for the church and her shepherds around the world—particularly in Africa and Latin America—is trusted, Reformed study Bibles and commentaries.
I don’t just use commentaries, nor do I simply read commentaries, I devour them and immerse myself in them, not simply for my own sake but for my wife and our children, as well as for the Bride of Christ. The Bible is a sacred book, and it is the only truly sacred book because it is the only book inspired by the one, true God, and it must be interpreted in light of the unique book that it is. Throughout history, many have read and interpreted the Bible without its uniqueness in mind, and the consequences are manifestly devastating. In order to rightly divide the Word of God, we need to learn to rightly interpret the Word of God, and in order to rightly interpret the Word of God, we need to study every verse in light of the whole of Scripture, using commentaries and trusted books on how to interpret Scripture so that we do not continue to believe and teach distorted views of Scripture according to our own presuppositions and passions but according to the whole counsel of God.
Dr. Burk Parsons (@BurkParsons) is editor of Tabletalk magazine, senior pastor of Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Fla., and a Ligonier Ministries teaching fellow. He is cotranslator and coeditor of A Little Book on the Christian Life by John Calvin.