Introduction to John Wesley's Explanatory Notes (Bible Commentary)
John Wesley's Explanatory Notes is a Bible commentary that explains verse by verse the chapters and books of the Bible
“A Man of One Book” Comparatively!
Read in isolation, this passage could suggest that Wesley was a biblicist, relying solely on the Bible for all matters. But Wesley elsewhere responded to the claim, “I read only the Bible,” with strong words: “This is rank enthusiasm. If you need no book but the Bible, you are got above St. Paul” (1766 Minutes, Q. 30). As he explained more carefully in Plain Account of Christian Perfection (§10), to be homo unius libri is to regard no book comparatively but the Bible.
While Wesley was stressing the preeminence of the Bible over other books, one might catch hints here that he read the one Book itself comparatively. Wesley did not limit himself to the translation currently standard in the Church of England (KJV). He conferred with other English translations, as well as versions in French and German. And he valued over all of these the Bible in its original languages of Hebrew and Greek.
Going a step further, Wesley owned at least four versions of the Greek New Testament, because he knew that there was no pristine copy handed down from the earliest church. Among the versions he owned was John Mill’s two-volume set, which gathered in footnotes the most complete list at the time of variant readings in various manuscripts. The English translation that Wesley provided for Explanatory Notes upon the New Testament often corrects the KJV, by conferring with these variant readings and with the arguments about which might be most reliable.
Finally, Wesley conferred as needed with scholarly tools like lexicons, concordances, and commentaries in reading the Bible. Perhaps most surprising is his use of the historical-critical resources that began to surface in the later seventeenth century. While he was uncomfortable with the reductive intent of some scholars who highlighted historical and literary parallels between the Bible and surrounding cultures, Wesley found that studies of the customs of the ancient Israelites and the early Christians enriched his reading of the Bible—so much so that he published an abridgment of one (by Claude Fleury) for his lay preachers.
Read Comparatively the Many Books in the One Book
Wesley recognized that readers often labor to understand particular scriptures, and that a central resource is consulting other parts (or books) of the one Book. He encouraged his followers to read a portion of both Testaments each morning and evening, rather than confining themselves to favored portions of Scripture. He also modeled conferring with the whole Bible. We have records of him preaching on texts from every book in the Protestant canon except Esther, Song of Songs, Obadiah, Nahum, Zephaniah, Philemon, and 3 John.
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