Why Should the Bible and Qu’ran Need Commentaries?

I was recently reminded of this conversation that I had a few years back with Jayman, a Christian commenter who sometimes posts here:

Over on a thread about the challenges I have met in my claims of Islam, a Christian commentator asked this question:

I agree with you that Islam has problems. I have a quick question: do you read commentaries and theology books written by Muslims to offset your bias?

To which I said:

Great question. We all have biases. However, what I would say to this is that one should not need commentaries because that would render the revelation imperfect and dependent on prerequisite knowledge and education.

This is actually the same problem for Christianity and the Bible where theology can be so complex and contrived as to be self-refuting in that same manner.

I have listened to many podcasts, read several introductory texts to the Qu’ran and Islam (including the history of), but reading-wise I have read the Qu’ran, read online about Muhammad, but have not read any verse by verse commentaries.

Again, if I need to, then the immutable word of God is impotent and problematic before it gets off the ground.

and he, Jayman, replied:

However, what I would say to this is that one should not need commentaries because that would render the revelation imperfect and dependent on prerequisite knowledge and education.

But isn’t this one of your biases? Most Muslims I’ve spoken to stress that we need to understand Arabic and the context in which a passage was revealed.

I have listened to many podcasts, read several introductory texts to the Qu’ran and Islam (including the history of), but reading-wise I have read the Qu’ran, read online about Muhammad, but have not read any verse by verse commentaries.

It’s been my experience that Muslims are very skeptical of non-Muslim sources. Don’t you think your arguments would be greatly improved if you could cite texts written by Muslims? What if you could make your argument byonly citing Muslim sources?

Again, if I need to, then the immutable word of God is impotent and problematic before it gets off the ground.

Even though I don’t think the Qur’an is the word of God, I have to admit it seems quite potent.

and

Even if we grant that most Muslims have not read commentaries, they are still influenced by clergy who have.

The idea is that both holy books are divine revelations that should instruct humanity towards a certain behaviour. This is, apparently, God’s chosen way of delivering information to the world. One would assume that clarity and perhaps simplicity, in some way, might be the order of the day.

The Bible is a complex book replete with myriad different genres and styles. For most every reader, the understanding is at least hugely enhanced by commentaries, if not having the entire meaning delivered by them! Commentaries are produced by people with significant intellect and knowledge, and to even read them, let alone understand them, requires a significant level of knowledge, education and understanding.

In other words, they are elite texts for the privileged. There will be any number of people who are simply not able to access such texts and knowledge on account of geographical distribution, lack of education or lack of cognitive faculty in some way.

Of course, there is also the very real possibility that commentaries are wrong, as some offer one theological interpretation of a pericope whilst another will provide a mutually exclusive one, for example (or, indeed, both could be wrong).

As far as all those Christians and Muslims are concerned who lived in times before such erudite academia, and theprinting press, what can be said for them? it seems that the idea that commentaries are somehow necessary for good interpretation and understanding of revelation is problematic. And I fully recognise their usefulness!

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