- Marlin Sommers
Are commentaries cheating? Or do we need commentaries and study helps to understand and teach the scripture? I believe using commentaries and study helps is important. Even more important, though, is keeping our primary attention on scripture itself.
What I call the “inside-out sandwich” is a process for bible study intended to keep our primary attention on scripture, while incorporating genuinely helpful attention to commentaries and study helps. The goal is to engage directly and personally with the text of scripture. Study helps should enhance direct engagement with scripture, not substitute for personal study.
The inside-out out sandwich involves three stages.
- Stage one: Read and study the text without commentaries or other study helps.
- Stage two: Consult study helps.
- Stage three: Prepare final teaching notes directly from the biblical text.
A hamburger is flanked by two pieces of bread. The good stuff is in the middle surrounded by less valuable material. When studying scripture, the sandwich should be inside out. The meat of scripture comes first and last, while the less valuable, but still useful, human commentaries and study helps come in the middle.
The teacher must also study his audience as well as his own life and relationship to God. However, this essay focuses on the study of scripture passages. This simple process applies well to Sunday school lessons, sermons, and other bible teaching.
Stage One: Read and engage the text on your own
The first step is reading the passage without commentaries or study helps. Don’t stop with the first reading. The goal is an overall grasp of the passage, based on your own understanding. Create your own representation of the passage. If you are artistic, you might draw a picture, or sketch a diagram. Of course, jotting notes or making an outline works as well. The point is to put work into your own understanding or mental map of the text. One of my personal favorite methods is to copy and paste the text into a document and then break it into smaller units and rearrange them on the screen. You can see some examples at my website.