Peter Krol

The First Commentator to Plead His Case

There is a sense in which commentaries are one form of New Testament prophecy, in that they proclaim the word of God. We ought to test them, every one. Hang on to whatever is good, helpful, and true in them. Reject whatever is false, misleading, or evil in them. But you’ll limit your ability to do that unless you consult a second, third, or fourth opinion on a matter. 

My fourth commandment for commentary usage is:
You shall not read only one commentary, but shall invite a plurality of voices into the conversation.
Is this because I think you have no limits on your time, or that you must become a professional researcher in order to study the Bible? No, it is simply because our Bible study is part of a conversation that has been going on for thousands of years. We were created to live and learn in community, and therefore, having a single influence on your study is counterproductive to your study.
Let me give two reasons.
The First to Plead His Case Seems Right, Until…
Consider Proverbs 18:17:
The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.
Unless you are among the most naturally skeptical of learners, if you read only one commentary on a passage, you will be inclined to presume the commentator you read is right. Especially if that commentator engages with other commentators and points out all the places where they are wrong. It is simply part of being a creature with limited knowledge that “the one who states his case first seems right.”
Nobody chooses to write a commentary—or gets a contract to write a commentary—because they believe they have all the wrong ideas about their subject matter. No, they write it because they believe they are right, and that they have something to add to the historic conversation that ought to be considered by others! So they are going to write with as much clarity and confidence as they can muster regarding their interpretive conclusions.
But if you read at least two commentaries, it will help you to recognize that there could be a variety of perspectives out there. And each of them could be argued cogently. And each of them is worth considering and discussing. In the process, it will help you to demystify the priesthood of experts that is so easy to presume.
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The Potter’s Right Over the Clay

Jeremiah uses the authority-of-the-potter-over-the-clay metaphor to explain that God himself may change course and treat his people differently than he had predicted if they either repent from, or turn toward, evil. This point is especially striking in the background of Romans 9, where, even after calling unbelieving Israelites “not my people” and “vessels of wrath prepared for destruction,” Paul goes on to express his heart’s desire and his prayer to God that they might still be saved (Rom 10:1). In other words, though the Lord has promised to uproot Israel and remove its branch from his tree (Rom 11:11-24), as soon as they repent and set their hope in Jesus the Messiah, he stands more than ready to smush their clay and begin again with them as a clean and holy vessel.

Earlier this week, I completed my 2022 Bible readthrough, which was nothing short of a delightful romp through the Scriptures. I always appreciate seeing what new connections the Lord may bring to my attention as I read rapidly.
And one thing that especially struck me this year was the potter metaphor used of the Lord throughout the prophets. This may have been on my mind because my church small group recently studied Romans 9 and discussed the potter metaphor in Rom 9:20-21. I had not fully considered before how Paul draws this imagery from the Old Testament.
When Paul says “Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’” (Rom 9:20), he appears to be drawing directly on Isaiah 29:16: “You turn things upside down! Shall the potter be regarded as the clay, that the thing made should say of its maker, ‘He did not make me’; or the thing formed say of him who formed it, ‘He has no understanding’?” The context of Isaiah 29 is that of God’s people drawing near to him in their rituals while their hearts remain far from him, attempting to hide from their maker their dark deeds. Paul uses it to support his larger point that not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel. Just because God made some people ethnically Jewish, but still exerts his wrath on their unbelief, does not make him unjust.
The connection I found even more interesting is that with Jeremiah 18:1-12, which I will quote in full:
The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: “Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel.
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Song of Songs: The Intoxication of True Love in its Time

Church history is filled with the debates over whether to read this book as an allegory of God’s love for his people or as a literal picture of human marriage. Frankly, I’m not convinced we have to choose only one of those options. If it’s not about human marriage, then the metaphors of God’s relationship with his people would make no sense at all. And if it’s not also about God’s relationship with his people, then Paul, Hosea, and Ezekiel (among others) wouldn’t have gone there. This book gives us much wisdom for dating, marriage, sex, and conflict. And in so doing, it shows us the paradise of knowing Christ and being known intimately by him.

When the Lord God made the heavens and the earth, there was only one thing that he declared was not good: the man’s being alone. So God promptly invented romantic love, and his word is very clear about how such love works. It begins with the problem of loneliness, which is not a result of sin but simply a result of being a created being. It proceeds when boy meets girl, and things start to feel really awkward. And the only way to make progress is with poetry, song, and celebration. The World’s Greatest Song (aka The Song of Songs) is here to help.
Literary Markers
The poetry in the Song of Songs flits about from character to character, as the woman, the man, and the daughters of Jerusalem all lift their voices in an intricate back-and-forth befitting the subject matter. As a result, the poetry can appear quite mysterious and dense. Thankfully, the poet makes use of two refrains that serve, with minor variations, as paint blazes on the trail to help us follow his train of thought.
Each refrain occurs three times in the book. The first refrain is “I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, that you not stir up or awaken love until it pleases” (Song 2:7, 3:5, 8:4). The second refrain is “My beloved is mine, and I am his” (Song 2:16, 6:3, 7:10). These two refrains provide the chief applications to the unmarried (do not awaken) and the married (join in mutual possession). And in addition, they help us to mark many of the book’s divisions.
In addition, the flow of most of the poems moves from separation to union (or reunion). The arcs of each section follow this general pattern where the lovers begin apart from one another and move toward one another to be together.
Walkthrough
The chief audience for the Song of Songs is the virgin daughters of Jerusalem, who are addressed all throughout the book. In this way, this book is something of a complement to the book of Proverbs, whose chief audience is the young men of Israel. This doesn’t mean that men have nothing to gain from the Song, but it helps us to understand why the woman is in the spotlight for much of the book.
After the book’s title (Song 1:1), we’re immersed right into the intoxicating nature of love, which is better than wine (Song 1:2-4). Then in the first main poem, the couple delights in the playful back-and-forth of getting to know one another and finding ways to spend time together as their attraction develops (Song 1:5-2:3). As they draw close, however, and move into a place of profound intimacy (Song 2:4-6), the woman emerges from the chamber to warn the virgins of Jerusalem not to awaken such love in themselves until the time is right (Song 2:7).
The second poem (Song 2:8-3:5) focuses on the wooing and courtship, but completely from the woman’s perspective. She describes the man coming to see her (Song 2:8-9), before quoting what he says—or what she hopes he’ll say?—to win her heart for life (Song 2:10-15). She longs for them to achieve mutual possession of one another (Song 2:16) but must still say goodbye at the end of the evening and send him back to his home (Song 2:17). This leads her to dream of what life would be like without him—a reality she cannot bear to accept (Song 3:1-4).
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5 Reasons to Read Your Bible Beyond Practical Application

Reading your Bible saturates your mind and heart in the love of God for you, which will motivate you to even greater obedience in the future. Though you may not get a nugget of practical application right now, the good news will inflame your desire for such obedience in perpetuity.

I believe in practical application. Here are more than ten biblical reasons why you should do it. But the dangers are legion if you come to your Bible reading with nothing but practical application on your mind. You might rush—or even worse, skip!—your observation or interpretation for the sake of that practical nugget. Your application might come unmoored from the text and take you in exactly the wrong direction. You might fall into the well-worn path of failing to identify any applications beyond the Big Three.
And there is a major opportunity cost involved. Treat personal application as the only consistent outcome for your Bible reading, and you may simply miss out on these other benefits the Lord wishes for you.
1. Storing Up Now for the Coming Winter
A regular habit of Bible reading is worth maintaining, even when no urgent or timely application comes readily to mind, because you are depositing divine truth in the storehouses of your soul from which you can later make withdrawals. “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Ps 119:11). “My son, keep your father’s commandments … bind them on your heart always … When you walk, they will lead you … For the commandment is a lamp … to preserve you from the evil woman, from the the smooth tongue of the adulteress” (Prov 6:20-24).
We ought to consider the ant and be wise (Prov 6:6-11, 30:24-25), not only with respect to our work ethic but also with respect to our truth ethic. It is foolish to abstain from Bible reading because it’s not practical enough for today. When the time of temptation arrives, you will have an empty storehouse—an empty heart—with no stockpile of resources available to supply your resistance.
2. Receiving Comfort Amid Sorrow
It is true that suffering people need time and space to process. Yet may it never be that our “time and space” isolate us from the Lord, when they ought to bind us more tightly to him. The laments of the Bible are wonderful for giving us words when we don’t know what to say, and feelings when we don’t know what to feel. The Spirit who intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words (Rom 8:26) is the same Spirit who inspired the words of the prophets and apostles to give expression to such groanings (1 Pet 1:10-12).
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5 Reasons to Read Your Bible Beyond Practical Application

Reading your Bible saturates your mind and heart in the love of God for you, which will motivate you to even greater obedience in the future. Though you may not get a nugget of practical application right now, the good news will inflame your desire for such obedience in perpetuity.

I believe in practical application. Here are more than ten biblical reasons why you should do it. But the dangers are legion if you come to your Bible reading with nothing but practical application on your mind. You might rush—or even worse, skip!—your observation or interpretation for the sake of that practical nugget. Your application might come unmoored from the text and take you in exactly the wrong direction. You might fall into the well-worn path of failing to identify any applications beyond the Big Three.
And there is a major opportunity cost involved. Treat personal application as the only consistent outcome for your Bible reading, and you may simply miss out on these other benefits the Lord wishes for you.
1. Storing Up Now for the Coming Winter
A regular habit of Bible reading is worth maintaining, even when no urgent or timely application comes readily to mind, because you are depositing divine truth in the storehouses of your soul from which you can later make withdrawals. “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Ps 119:11). “My son, keep your father’s commandments … bind them on your heart always … When you walk, they will lead you … For the commandment is a lamp … to preserve you from the evil woman, from the the smooth tongue of the adulteress” (Prov 6:20-24).
We ought to consider the ant and be wise (Prov 6:6-11, 30:24-25), not only with respect to our work ethic but also with respect to our truth ethic. It is foolish to abstain from Bible reading because it’s not practical enough for today. When the time of temptation arrives, you will have an empty storehouse—an empty heart—with no stockpile of resources available to supply your resistance.
2. Receiving Comfort Amid Sorrow
It is true that suffering people need time and space to process. Yet may it never be that our “time and space” isolate us from the Lord, when they ought to bind us more tightly to him. The laments of the Bible are wonderful for giving us words when we don’t know what to say, and feelings when we don’t know what to feel. The Spirit who intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words (Rom 8:26) is the same Spirit who inspired the words of the prophets and apostles to give expression to such groanings (1 Pet 1:10-12).
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What Should We Make of Paul’s Shipwreck Narrative?

Observations of the primary narrative tension and its accompanying resolution gave us hope that we could sift through the flood of details to discern the author’s main point in this chapter.

When our church’s team of preachers decided to preach through Acts, I knew chapter 27 would be a doozy (notice how I cleverly ignored this chapter in my interpretive overview of Acts). I have always been confused by this chapter and its role within the book, and though I’m sure compelling sermons have been preached on this text, I have yet to hear one of them. I’m used to hearing otherwise fantastic preachers punt on this chapter, in the name of practicality, to talk about “weathering the storms of our spiritual lives.” So the extraordinarily detailed travelogue of Acts 27 is reduced to a parable and a few minor observations (typically surrounding verses 23-25) seeking to inspire us toward deeper trust in Christ—a wonderful thing to be inspired toward, of course!
Therefore, since I’m in charge of managing our sermon schedule, I made sure to assign Acts 27 to someone else. Pro tip: When you don’t know what to do with a text, require a friend or colleague to deal with it instead. This resulted in one of the most exciting “aha!” moments in my Bible study this year.
A Key Structural Observation
The sucker fortunate fellow to receive the assignment was a good man and marvelous student of the word named Tom Hallman. Tom eagerly set himself to observe the text inside and out, to give him the raw materials for a series of interpretive questions. Our practice is that our team of preachers gives feedback on every sermon before it is preached. We collaborate in two phases: the study of the passage and the delivery of the sermon. So in that first phase, Tom regularly laid before us the fruit of his study for comment and evaluation.
And Tom made a key structural observation that shed tremendous light on the passage for me. In following the narrative’s plot, Tom observed that the main conflict centers on the centurion’s failure to listen to Paul’s counsel in Acts 27:11. This led Tom to recognize a few arcs within the plot:

Acts 27:9-20: Paul speaks, and the centurion pays more attention to others. The result is that all hope of being saved is abandoned.
Acts 27:21-44: Paul speaks, and the Romans start listening to him. The result is that all are brought safely to land.

These observations of the primary narrative tension and its accompanying resolution gave us hope that we could sift through the flood of details to discern the author’s main point in this chapter.
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