One of the most important things I learned in college history courses: the absolute importance of studying primary sources (thank you, Dr. Peake). But this is true not only for history, but for many areas of study, and especially for the Bible.
One of the main emphases of the Protestant Reformation was ad fontes (Latin for “to the sources”). For several centuries preceding the Reformation, the Bible was a mediated source for nearly all but the elite. People relied on the church leaders and church fathers of the past for their knowledge of the Bible. For the common person, it was all second hand knowledge. Perhaps “literary hearsay” could aptly describe the common acquaintance with Scripture.
In that era, the printing press made the Bible more available to people than ever before, and the major changes in church history encouraged them to take advantage of this blessing. In our own time, we have benefited from the invention and influence of the printing press and are able to access the Bible with many previously unimagined technologies, reading it on an electronic screen on our computers or our phones, and hearing it on recordings. There is no excuse for limiting ourselves to what other say about the Bible
Far better to read the Bible itself than to read a hundred commentaries on it and spend virtually no time directly with the text. What does IT (the text) say? What does IT mean? How does IT apply to me? are the main questions we seek to answer, rather than asking what someone else teaches about what it says, what it means, and how it applies.
Study tools comprise an important component of Bible study, but must never be allowed to substitute for one’s own direct study of the text. The right use of study tools is not as proxies for study, but as a means to study in community with others who have looked long and hard at the text, to help us with our blind spots and check our understanding of the text against other views. Let us hasten to the Source!