Feel Free to Use A Commentary When Reading Your Bible
by J Warner Wallace
The famous atheist magician Penn Jillette (of Penn and Teller fame) once included the Bible in his list of favorite books. The inclusion was cynically sarcastic, as it provided him with the opportunity to make the following statement:
“If you’re considering becoming at atheist, read the Bible from cover to cover. No study guides, no spins, just read it. Sometime between when God tells Abraham to kill his son and when Jesus tells everyone to put him before their families, you’ll be an atheist.”
Jillette’s statement echoes the sentiment of many skeptics who argue that Biblical commentaries and study guides are little more than efforts to “spin” the ugly nature of the Biblical narrative. Now, much has been written about the alleged moral failings of God in the Old Testament, from Paul Copan’s work in “Is God a Moral Monster: Making Sense of the Old Testament God” to Clay Jones’ “Killing the Canaanites: A Response to the New Atheism’s ‘Divine Genocide’ Claims”. It’s not my intention to make a case for the “goodness” of God in this post. Instead, I want to address the claim that the Bible ought to be read without any assistance from commentaries or study guides. This assertion is silly, and in my opinion, dangerous.
The Bible is filled with propositional statements; claims about historical events, claims about the nature of God, and claims about the nature of man. Along the way, the authors use language that is specific to their own culture and time in history. Something similar happens in cold case trials. There are times when a witness makes a statement to the original investigators and this statement becomes part of the case. When the witness is called to the stand thirty years later, his or her statement is either read or played for the jury. There are times when a witness uses a figure of speech from the original era of the crime that is now confusing in the present cultural climate. The prosecutor or defense attorney will, therefore, ask the witness for clarification to make sure that the jury understands what was meant by the original “slang” terminology. In cold case trials, the attorneys often act as study guides to help jurors decode the language of the witnesses…
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