Christianity 201

November 10, 2014

Bible is Open for Enspection

Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.
 ~Joshua 1:8 NIV

But his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night.
 ~Psalm 1:2 NASB

Often we tend to rush through the Bible like we’re in one of those free shopping sprees at the supermarket; trying to cover as much ground as possible in a short time; trying to stuff as many things as we can in our ‘cart.’ In the West, we place a huge value on information, accessing it, and then either digesting it, or in a manner that well describes our educational system, spitting it out in order to complete a Bible study objective or complete a reference form for Christian service with an organization.

But that’s not how the First Century Christians understood the scripture. Most of them probably didn’t have a copy of a scripture scroll at home, either; yet they understood the ways of God, the narratives, the truths, etc., in ways I think would amaze us who are so dependent on the Bible access we have through multiple copies at home, online services, and our smart phones.

The verse numbers probably don’t serve us well, either. We have relegated God’s Word to information bits.  As I wrote a few days ago at Thinking Out Loud, the number system can easily shift the emphasis or separate certain words from their context.

Texas Pastor B. J. Routledge is no stranger to us here at Christianity 201. Each week he blogs his key sermon texts to his church several days ahead, and then directs them to use the acronym ENSPEC to inspect the text!

E – Is there an EXAMPLE for me to follow?

N – Is there a NEW THOUGHT for me to consider about God?

S – Is there a SIN for me to confess and turn from?

P – Is there a PROMISE for me to claim?

E – Is there an ERROR for me to avoid?

C – Is there a COMMAND for me to obey?

His version of choice is the NASB, but he writes,

…I got so accustomed to reading the NASB, that years later I found myself skimming the Scripture at times because I’d read it so many times in that translation. Skimming the Scripture is never a wise choice.

I still default to the NASB, but I made a choice years ago to read the Scripture in a different translation every few years in my time alone with God.  This one choice has given new energy to my time in God’s Word because I have to SLOW DOWN as I read and really contemplate the passage again.  So, if you find yourself skimming the Scripture, intentionally slow down which may mean considering the idea of reading a different translation occasionally.

I am told that in ancient times, the Jews regarded Torah in the same way one would study a fine jewel. Imagine holding a valuable diamond in your hand — picture one perhaps slightly larger than usual — and turning it this way and that so that it reflects and refracts the light differently each time. Each slight turn brings new aspects and presents something not visible before.

In the past few years, we’ve seen people suggest different ways of slowing down for that study. Inductive Bible Study (see also below) is a method whereby you take time to use a series of markings to force yourself into a deep consideration of each word and phrase in a passage and how they relate to other words used in the translation of the same text.  Lectio Divina is a contemplative reading method that involves repetition of certain textual elements. Another is Gospel Contemplation or Ignatian (after Ignatius) Contemplation (see below for excerpt). Unfortunately, if people are not familiar with these methods, they are often viewed with suspicion.

At this point, it’s possible I’ve gone a bit further than Pastor Rutledge may have imagined, but I hope that this at least opens up your mind to other possibilities in your study of scripture.

I wanted to wrap up with one more Bible verse on the subject of needing to slow down, so I asked my wife for a suggestion. She responded, “I don’t know that hurry was a First Century sin; it’s one we’ve invented since.”


Inductive Bible Study

(from the last link above)

In order to grow in this faith knowledge, Ignatius invited the retreatant to engage in a prayer method called contemplation. This is not some kind of mystical prayer but a prayer form in which one uses his or her senses in an imaginative way to reflect on a Gospel passage. One uses the senses, seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, and smelling to make the Gospel scene real and alive.

Here is a way of engaging in this prayer form which is relaxing and rather easy.

  1. Select a passage from one of the Gospels in which Jesus is interacting with others.
  2. Recall what one is doing in engaging with the Word of God and what one desires from this encounter. God is present and because God is present one relies on God.
  3. Read the Gospel passage twice so that the story and the details of the story become familiar.
  4. Close one’s eyes and reconstruct the scene in one’s imagination. See what is going on and watch the men and women in the scene. What does Jesus look like? How do the others react to him? What are the people saying to one another? What emotions fill their words? Is Jesus touching someone? As one enters into the scene, sometimes there is the desire to be there. So a person can place oneself in the scene, perhaps as an observer, as one lining up for healing, or as one helping others to Jesus.
  5. Some people’s imaginations are very active so they construct a movie-like scenario with a Gospel passage. Others will enter the scene with verbal imagination, reflecting on the scene and mulling over the actions. Vividness is not a criteria for the effectiveness of this kind of prayer. Engagement is and the result is a more interior knowledge of Jesus.
  6. As one finishes this time of prayer, one should take a moment to speak person to person with Christ saying what comes from the heart.

From Finding God in All Things: A Marquette Prayer Book © 2009 Marquette University Press. Used with permission.





June 4, 2012

Scripture Under the Magnifying Glass

Blogger Brian Russell has been doing a series on how we read scripture.  This one appeared a couple of weeks ago under the title Suggestions for a Close Reading of Biblical Text.  I encourage you to click the link and then visit other articles in this series.

There are three core elements in learning to study a text closely:
  • observation,
  • asking questions, and
  • seeking answers
First, observe the details in the text and record observations. The wise interpreter continually captures insights and observations through careful note-taking. Read slowly. Take your time. This is particularly true for familiar passages. Don’t assume that you know the meaning of any text. Ponder the words and phrases found in the text. Savor the images and language used to convey the text’s message. Notice how the individual words are connected together into a tapestry. You may find it helpful to read a couple of different translations and record the differences as a means of reflecting on the text. Stay put within the confines of the passage you are studying. Resist the temptation to flip to another part of the Bible until after you have carefully engaged the text that you are studying. Describe it. Dissect it. Paraphrase it. Analyze it. Observe recurring words, phrases, ideas, and themes. Establish an outline or create a chart to organize its content. Above all, don’t give up. Persist in the process of collecting your own observations and insights. This process will prove generative in terms of the insights and new questions that will emerge.
Second, while making observations, be sure to write out questions that your observations lead you to ask. Engaged reading requires this. The best interpreters of the Scripture are those who ask the most penetrating questions. This process of reading the text carefully and recording a series of observations and questions is the secret to engaging the Bible at a deep level. Observations lead to questions, and questions guide the interpreter to new insights. Ask questions that engage the text at two levels: defining questions and questions about function. Defining questions attempt to gain a full description of the content of the text (“What’s here?” “What is the precise and specific meaning of each element that is present?”). Functional questions focus on the “So what?” and attempt to probe beneath the surface to look for the deep meaning and implications.
Let me offer an example. If we are studying Exodus 19:4-6, we will encounter a phrase that is unique in the Old Testament. In verse 6, we find, “You will be a kingdom of priests for me and a holy nation.” The twin noun phrases “kingdom of priests” and “a holy nation” are critical for the interpretation of this text. Regarding the phrases, we may ask the following defining questions: What is the precise and specific meaning of the phrases “kingdom of priests” and “a holy nation”? What is the relationship between these two phrases? Definitional questions are followed by functional ones: Why are these particular phrases being used here? What is their significance?
Third, answer key questions. In many ways, biblical interpretation is nothing more and nothing less than the answering of interpretive questions that the reader asks about the text. Review your observations and questions. Select the handful of questions whose answers are essential for making sense of the text. Begin answering your questions by looking at the observations that you have already made. What evidence have you already found through your close reading to begin to develop possible answers? If you need additional help in answering your questions, you may find it helpful to read other commentaries, look up subjects in a bible dictionary, or use a concordance to study key words as they are used elsewhere in Scripture. 
Summarize your answers along with the key evidence that supports them. When summarizing, attempt to answer a question such as this: If this were the only part of Scripture that I had, what would I know?

by Brian Russell