Thoughts on Commentators: William Barclay

Dan asks:

What are your thoughts on William Barclay? I am teaching through Hebrews, and I picked up one of his commentaries. Thank you.

Barclay’s pluses:

  • Good use of history
  • Good use of Greek

Barclay’s minuses:

  • Anti-supernatural
  • Moralistic

Remember some of the uses of a good Bible commentary:

  • To confirm what you have already learned from your study
  • To correct misunderstandings from your study
  • To show you things that you may have missed in the passage
  • To show you connections with other Bible passages you may have missed
  • To show you things from the historical context that you didn’t know
  • To show you things from the Biblical languages that you didn’t know
  • To show you how the passages has been understood through history
  • To give better words to what you have seen in the passage
  • To give good illustrations of what you have seen in the passage
  • To give good applications to what you have seen in the passage

Remember: Just because someone writes a Bible commentary, that doesn’t mean they are right, and you are wrong in understanding a passage. Read the commentary carefully and see if they “make their case” from the Bible text itself.

Acts 17:11, describing the believers in Berea:

These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.

How are works done in the meekness of wisdom as in James 3:13?

James 3:13 – Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom.

How are works done in the meekness of wisdom? Your question is good, because “the meekness of wisdom” is a phrasing we would probably find to be awkward. These two qualities of meekness and wisdom are very closely aligned. To use a cliche, meekness is not weakness; that’s not the idea behind it. Meekness isn’t the person cowering in the corner who doesn’t want to do anything, doesn’t want to raise their hand, or speak out. The idea behind meekness in the biblical languages of old is strength, but strength under control, which is a very important concept. It’s under control.

Wisdom is very much connected with the idea of having a spirit of self-control. So, when a person is properly wise, they won’t be rude or arrogant. They’ll be humble, they’ll have self-control, they will display meekness in many ways.

“The meekness of wisdom” connects these two ideas that are in some way very closely aligned. These biblical ideas of meekness are spoken about in the New Testament and even several times by Jesus. And wisdom is very strongly promoted in the Old Testament, especially in the book of Proverbs.

Is Psalm 22:16-18 strictly prophetic of Jesus, or did these things happen to David as well?

In Psalm 22:16-18, David spoke of his hands and feet being pierced and the throwing of dice for his garments. Was this strictly prophecy or did these things in some way happen to him as well?

Psalm 22:16-18 – For dogs have surrounded Me; the congregation of the wicked has enclosed Me. They pierced My hands and My feet; I can count all My bones. They look and stare at Me. They divide My garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots.

We don’t exactly know. In many of these messianic Psalms, there is a strong parallel between the life and experience of David the Psalmist and of the Messiah to come, prophetically speaking. Where it connects or overlaps, we can’t really tell. Sometimes David was speaking prophetically of an experience that didn’t belong to him, and other times he spoke of an experience that belonged to him in some minor way, but actually would belong to Jesus in a significant way.

I would suggest that normally, when we read the Psalms, these are things that David experienced. Yes, he probably experienced it in a lesser, minor way. Certainly, David was not crucified. But maybe he was in a fight and his hand was pierced. Maybe he was captured, and his clothes were taken from him. In a minor way, I would regard these things as fulfilled in the life of David. But in an ultimate and prophetic way, these things were perfectly fulfilled in Jesus.

I think we can’t give a certain and final answer to this question. My tendency is to think these were things which David had experienced in some lesser way, but they awaited ultimate fulfillment in Jesus the Messiah.

Where do the souls of animals go when their bodies die? Do all animals go to Heaven?

Where do the souls of animals go when their bodies die? Human souls go to Heaven or hell, but where do animals go? Do all animals go to Heaven?

This is a difficult question to answer. There are a few verses in Ecclesiastes which talk about the souls of animals ending up in the same place as the souls of humans. I’m not quoting the verse; I’m just referencing the idea. There are some verses in Ecclesiastes, but I would not regard them as really being determinative; they don’t completely settle the issue.

Let’s remember a very important principle given to us in 1 Timothy 1, that light and immortality came to life through Jesus Christ. The Old Testament has a shadowy understanding of the afterlife and the world beyond. Now, I’m not saying that the New Testament understanding is crystal clear. But in comparison to the Old Testament understanding, it has tremendous clarity.

Therefore, I am very careful to not build any understanding of the afterlife or the world beyond based on some Old Testament verses alone. I want to see what the New Testament says. The New Testament tells us that there are some depictions of animals in Heaven. Jesus Christ returns on a horse coming from heaven, so there’s a horse in heaven. The cherubim in heaven each have the faces of a lion, an eagle, and an ox, as well as the face of a man. So, we have some representation of animal life in Heaven.

But the Bible just doesn’t say whether all animals go to Heaven. We can’t be firm or secure in saying that; it goes beyond what the Bible says. Someone once asked CS Lewis, “Will my dearly beloved dog be in Heaven with me?” CS Lewis famously replied, “Well, one of two things is going to happen: either your dog will be with you in Heaven, or the glory and greatness of God and the Heaven He provides will be so magnificent, that you will have no awareness or care that your dog isn’t with you.”

Basically, he said, “If Heaven wouldn’t be heaven without your dog, then God will provide it.” But we can probably surmise that Heaven would be just fine without our pets, even though we love our pets. Having pets is a beautiful thing, for which we are greatly appreciative. This is like a gift from God to have a wonderful, loving relationship with a pet, but they’re still their pets; they’re of a different category.

Since we can’t answer this question from the Scriptures, we must be careful and not go too far. The most we can say is that there is some representation of animal life in Heaven. But it would be going much too far to say that the Bible teaches that all animals go to Heaven.

Did Jesus go to see Mary, His mother, after His resurrection?

Jesus was present with His gathered disciples on a few occasions, but no specific mention is made of His mother. 1 Corinthians mentions that, after His resurrection but before He ascended to Heaven, Jesus appeared to more than 500 believers at one time. So, if you take that into consideration, it would be hard to think that Jesus did not make a resurrection appearance to his mother, either personally or in the context of a broader group of disciples.

We could surmise that He did, but just like in our previous question, the Scriptures don’t tell us, so we can’t say for certain. We can only speak with confidence where the Scriptures speak. Where the Scriptures don’t speak, we can only speculate. I can never put the same confidence in my speculations, as I would in the truth of what Scripture directly says. So, my answer would be “probably,” but the Scriptures don’t tell us for certain.

Are the Book of Life and the Lamb’s Book of Life the same book?

Are the Book of Life and the Lamb’s Book of Life the same book? Calvinists insists that they must be different because names are erased from the Book of Life.

I don’t see any compelling reason to say that the Book of Life and the Lamb’s Book of Life are two different books. As far as names being erased from the book, there are some people who say that, in some ancient towns or cities, there was a register of the living, and when somebody died, their name was erased. I don’t know; sometimes people say these things. We can’t tell from history whether it’s true or not. But no, I don’t see a compelling reason to say that they are different.

Could Moses enter the Holy Place or Most Holy Place?

I don’t believe there is a specific Biblical reference made to Moses going into the Most Holy Place, but I could be mistaken on that. If anybody knows of a passage where it says that Moses actually went into the Most Holy Place, it would be found in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, or conceivably Deuteronomy. I’d be I’d be very interested in that, but it doesn’t come to mind immediately.

I believe Moses could enter the Most Holy Place. The Bible does talk about Moses visiting with the Lord in the Tabernacle; that’s when his face shone so brightly. But I don’t think that was the Most Holy Place. That was the Holy Place.

In the days of Moses, there was something called the Tabernacle. I am holding a scale model of the Tabernacle which I have not yet built [see video at 33:29]. The tent part of the Tabernacle was divided into two compartments. The front compartment was called the Holy Place. The rear compartment was called the Most Holy Place, and it held the Ark of the Covenant, behind a thick curtain that was known as the veil.

According to normal Jewish law, the Law of Moses, one man entered that second compartment once a year: the High Priest on the Day of Atonement. Now Moses was a priest, but he was not the High Priest; his brother Aaron was the High Priest. We do believe that Moses went into the Holy Place, but I can’t think of a reference specifically saying that he went into the Most Holy Place. Even though he may have had the right to enter it, we have no mention of it specifically. But the Bible speaks of Moses going into the Tabernacle to meet with God, at least to my recollection.

What is the difference between a person’s soul and spirit?

This is an area of theological controversy. There are some people who believe that there is no proper distinction between the soul and the spirit. They believe these terms are just two different ways of referring to the same thing, the inner person, the non-material aspect of our being. Those people are called dichotomists, di- being a prefix meaning two.

Then there are people known as trichotomists. These are theological terms; I don’t expect you to care much about them. But the trichotomists believe that a human being is made up of at least three distinct aspects: the body, of course, which the dichotomists would agree with, and then the soul, and the spirit. They believe there is a distinction between the soul and spirit.

Here’s where it gets a little tricky, and I’ll be very straightforward with you. There are some passages in the Bible which treat the soul and the spirit as the same thing. But there are other passages in the Bible which make some clear distinction between the soul and the spirit.

Personally, I would be on the side of the trichotomist, though I think I can understand and appreciate something of the dichotomist perspective. In some places, the Bible uses the terms “soul” and “spirit” interchangeably. In other places, it makes a distinction.

Here’s the distinction as I would describe it. Again, we’re talking about non-material things, so these can be very difficult to describe with precision.

The spirit is the part of us which lives or dies unto God. It’s the part of us that is inherited from Adam and lies dormant or dead until it is made alive by Jesus Christ.

The soul encompasses the mind, the will, and the emotions. These are very real, non-material parts of my being, which don’t necessarily have anything to do with the spiritual world. All humanity has a soul, but only those who are born again by God’s Spirit have a spirit which is alive to God. That is the main distinction.

I would describe the soul as being the mind, the will and the emotions, the non-material parts of our being that are common to every human being, whereas the spirit is something distinct, something which God makes alive to Himself. Before a person is born again, the spirit is, in some sense, dead. That’s the distinction I would make.

How long will Judgment Day last?

When the Bible talks about the Day of God’s judgment, or the Day of the Lord, it doesn’t refer to a 24-hour period. It refers to a period of God’s work. In the same way you could say that, for hundreds or thousands of years, it has been man’s day; and now comes the Day of the Lord. Now, you could say that it implies some kind of brevity, not being long, drawn out, or extended beyond measure. You could definitely say that, but it doesn’t have to refer to a 24-hour period.

So, how long will the Judgment Day be? It will be as long as necessary. Remember, these are things that happen in time and space, but they also happen in the heart and mind of the infinite God, who can do many things at once. I suppose it’s possible for God to judge the entire world in a nanosecond, even as God can interact with humanity, all collectively, in a nanosecond. We’re talking about the distance between the human and the divine, and we must pay attention to and be respectful of that distance.

How does one become a Bible commentator?

I have always wondered, how does one become a Bible commentator? Do you need a calling like a teacher, pastor, etc., to write a commentary since you’re basically teaching and interpreting the Bible?

Well, that’s kind of a funny question, because by objective standards, I’m probably not qualified to be a Bible commentator. I don’t have a sophisticated theological education. I don’t have a seminary education. I don’t have expertise in the biblical languages. My commentaries are not written on an academic level. But as for me, I never sat down and said, “Hey, I’m going to write a Bible commentary.”

I found out through some unusual circumstances that the Bible teaching notes I prepared for myself were helpful to other people as Bible commentary. I’m continually reworking it, whenever I can find the time; right now, I’m trying to rework my commentary on the book of Numbers, because it’s pretty old content. I think if I go through it again, I can do it better. I’m enjoying that process, when I have the time to get to it. But I’m really just writing it in the same way I would if I were going to teach through the passage in depth. These are my teaching notes.

So how did I get to be a Bible commentator? In a series of unusual circumstances, the good people from Blue Letter Bible put my teaching notes online as Bible commentary. Through that, I found out that what I prepared for myself as teaching notes was helpful to other people as Bible commentary. You could say at this point, I’m “qualified,” if that means anything, to be a Bible commentator because my work has been out there and has at least some measure of respect and trust after 25 years. That’s something, but certainly, in the beginning, I didn’t have the qualifications.

I would say that being a Bible commentator simply means being able to explain the Bible in a way that’s true, faithful, and accurate, but also in a way that connects with people, that people can understand, and that people can learn from.

There’s not a guild of Bible commentators out there, at least not one of which I am aware; if anybody knows of the National Association of Bible Commentators, please let me know, because maybe I would apply for membership to them. But as far as I know, there’s no guild or trade association requiring someone to pass a test to become qualified to be a Bible commentator. I shudder to think how nervous I might be in taking such a test.

I’m pleased with the ministry that God has given me to provide these Bible resources to people absolutely free. I pray that God would continue to use it to help everyday believers. I also pray that my Bible Commentary might prove helpful to people who have been reading, studying, teaching, and preaching the Bible for many decades.

Are people with tattoos in sin?

Do you believe people with tattoos have a heart issue and are sinning?

No, I don’t believe that a tattoo is necessarily evidence of sin and a sinful heart. It could be. Somebody could get a tattoo in defiance of God and any other rightful authority in their life. I’m certainly not going to say all tattoos are good, or all tattoos can bring honor and glory to God, not by any means. But I also know a lot of people who got a tattoo because they thought it looked pretty.

Now, I don’t think that this connects with the verse in Leviticus about the command against receiving tattoos or marks for the dead. That’s really speaking about the imitation of a Canaanite burial mourning practice. In other words, in their burying a person and in mourning the dead, they would get specific tattoos which would very much be associated with those pagan burial practices. I believe that that prohibition in Leviticus is a prohibition from imitating pagan burial practices and mourning practices mourning over the dead.

As with anything which somebody may have the liberty to do in Jesus Christ, a believer should pray about it and seek the Lord about. If there’s rightful authority, for example, if you are a minor, living in your parents’ home and under their care, you shouldn’t get a tattoo without the permission of your parents. To do so would be a flaunting of their authority. So, make sure it’s clear before God and your conscience, and clear before any rightful authority in your life and your conscience before them.

Other than that, I think that it isn’t necessarily sin. It’s one of those things that could be sinful for somebody if they did it out of pride, or paganism, or some other strange practice, but not necessarily.

I say that as a person who has no tattoos whatsoever. I don’t know if that makes me cool or uncool. I don’t really care. But I don’t have any tattoos at all.

Is it a sin for women to lead worship or a worship song?

No, I do not believe so. I do know some people who think that the leading of God’s people in worship is a purely pastoral function, and only people who are ordained to ministry should have that role or function. I’ve read that perspective, and I’ve heard it discussed. I just disagree with it.

I do believe in male leadership of congregations; I have produced quite a bit of video on this topic. But I do not believe that that at all prohibits a woman leading worship under the guidance and direction of the God-ordained, and God-honoring, male leadership of a church.

So no, I don’t find that to be a prohibition. Full disclosure: In my time as a lead pastor of a church, I have had some wonderful women worship leaders, who really helped the congregation worship in spirit and in truth. So, I’m very grateful for that. But I always had the sense – rightly, I believe – that they were perfectly submitted to me in the leadership of the church. They weren’t trying to do their own thing, or trying to take over, or even a bit out of order.

Does Heaven know what happens on Earth? Do people in Heaven get to look at the Book of Life?

I don’t know if you mean that to be two questions or one. I don’t think the Book of Life has to do with life down here on this earth. We wouldn’t see what living people are doing down here on Earth if we read the Book of Life in Heaven. I would say that God alone gets to look at the Book of Life. That’s the kind of thing that He alone would have authority and dominion over.

So, I don’t believe the Book of Life is something open for anybody to thumb through in Heaven. I don’t really have a biblical reason for that. But the Bible doesn’t go into depth about it whether the Book of Life is something reserved for God’s eyes alone, or if He lets angels or redeemed men and women look at it. The Bible doesn’t say anything about that. All I can say is my speculation, that it seems to be something that would be honoring for God alone.

You also asked, “Do you think that Heaven knows what goes on down here?” Well, God certainly knows what goes down on here. He’s part of Heaven. The angels, at least in some regard, know what’s going on down here, and they’re part of Heaven. It may be that redeemed men and women, those who have already passed on to Heaven, are able to see what’s happening down on the earth. Again, we’re just not told specifically in the Scriptures.

There are some people who think through it like this: If your great-grandmother is in Heaven, and she could see what’s happening on Earth, it would cause her a lot of stress and anxiety. But we know those things aren’t present in Heaven; therefore, your great-grandmother who trusted in Christ isn’t able to see what’s going on. Some people think through it that way. Other people might disagree and say that your great-grandmother who trusted in Christ can see what’s going on. They would say that she is so filled with wisdom and understanding of the great plan of God and all its dimensions that she sees even the pain and the difficulty that happens on this earth, but it doesn’t stress her out in the slightest, because of her overwhelming confidence in God. That could be true as well.

What we do know is this: in Heaven, people are not looking down at what’s happening on Earth and being stressed or worried or anxious about it. We know that. Whether it’s because they can’t see it, or whether it’s because they see it and understand it in the bigger picture of God’s plan, we can’t exactly say, but we know that people aren’t stressed out or worried or anxious in Heaven.

What advice would you give to a young pastor?

First, if I to speak to a young pastor, I would say congratulations. I’m happy for you that you’re giving the young years of your life to serving God. That’s how it is for my own life and for the life of my dear wife, Inga-Lill. Give the young years of your life to serving God and you will not regret it. So, congratulations.

Because you’re giving these young years of your life to serving God, you have a marathon in front of you; you have a long race in front of you. Therefore, don’t be in a hurry. I look back on a younger David Guzik, as a younger pastor, and I certainly know that there were times when I was just too much in a hurry. I was excited about ministry. I love ministry. I wanted to do so much. But I should have slowed down and enjoyed it more, and enjoyed my family more, because the kids grow up and you have a limited amount of time to spend with them. But don’t be in as much of a hurry; play the long game. God will give you many years and decades of service to Him. So don’t be in a hurry, and enjoy the work that God is doing in you and with you right now.

Just keep taking steady steps in the right direction. Small steps, if they’re put in the right direction, add up over time. We don’t need to be in a hurry. We can just keep serving God and serving our families and enjoying the things that God gives us to do, and we can find a great deal of peace and contentment in those things.

I know that I am very grateful that God called me to ministry, and that my wife and I answered that call in our young years. I wish great blessing and happiness to others as they run their race in the ministry. A few weeks ago, my youngest son, Jonathan, ran a marathon he ran the LA Marathon. One of the things to think about when you run a marathon is: Don’t start out too fast. You’ll wear out at the end. You’ll enjoy it more if you keep a moderate pace at the beginning. It’s the same way in the marathon of ministry.