I don’t do Systematic Bible Studying. Not that I can’t but when I sit down, pray about what I want to do and then study a topic, deducing the conclusion based on the overall whole of those verses and commentators?it leaves me nervous. I find that it leads to way too much proof-texting. Instead, I make up my own heretical study method.
Okay, maybe not heretical just not topical (which might sound like heresy, I know). Like studying everything about angels or demons or the nature of God or His attributes. I’ve done that and will do more of that, in fact this site is divided like that?but that’s not how I personally study anymore. So, here’s how a heretic studies. Sometimes.
Study, for me, starts during quiet time. I wake up in the A.M. and start praying as I prepare for work, going over the parts of the list in my notebook which immediately presses upon my mind to be prayed for. If my son is up early, this time is abruptly interrupted. He is, after all, three.
Riding to work I either pray, listen to the Bible on mp3 or listen to a speaker teaching the Word. When I get into work I either sit down and read the Bible while having breakfast or go to the gym where I work out and read the Word for about an hour. Don’t applaud just yet, this is “working out” bit is day 3 of a New Year’s resolution.
On Sundays and Saturdays, I will read a shorter book in the A.M (like James or 1 John or 1 Peter) and in the afternoon, I’ll read something longer like the Minor Prophets. I make sure that if I’m going to read the Bible for any period of time, I read the entire book. This proves a bit more difficult on the longer books, so in those cases, I try to read the entire book by the end of the week) so that I don’t loose any of that continuity. This is tough when it comes to Job (hard), Psalms (very long), and Isaiah (very hard and very long).
My goal is to get the overall feel of the book. It has almost become a mantra for me. I find that being loud, opinionated (and sometimes overbearing) I may draw tight (incorrect) conclusions which will result in several intense hours of deprogramming to get back on track.
So it is that on my fourth or fifth reading of the book I can confidently start invisible pen markings throughout the text. If the points bear more than a passing interest, I’ll record a note on my trusty voice recorder. These notes may even lead to a study of a different book. It wouldn’t be the first time that my ADD has noticed OT allusions in the NT leading to a study of Numbers.
Late in my evenings, I’ll pop in my earphones and listen to my recorder, jotting down the notes on MS Word. If it grabs me, I’ll reread the book or the portion to start researching. With a multi-translation e-bible in hand, I’ll start dividing the book, showing the continuity of thought. It helps if there’s any verse in the text that explicitly states the reason for the writing of the book. It also helps to have milk and cookies nearby?I love my wife.
After this, I go through the book and write down any patterns I see and where in the book they occurred. I don’t bother with trying to understand the supposed patterns?not yet. I sprinkle this time with prayer as I work and sometimes outright awe if the pattern parallels something in another book of the Word.
I might just pull out my marked-up Bible and go through the text highlighting and underlining repeated words, names of God, descriptions of deity, time frames, and geographical descriptions. It sounds extremely dry, I know, but I bet some archaeologists have found some of the coolest stuff in the driest places on Earth.
Then it’s back to the e-bible and to see if the thought flow divisions are correct while weeding through the patterns separating imagination from reality. By this time I should already have seen the structural divisions of the book which is often as dry as highlighting repeated words but bears just as cool findings.
With the “main thought verse” I see how each argument, each illustration, each pattern, each structural division and each discussion aligns with the main purpose of the book. I organize the thoughts and create either an outline or a chart in Excel spelling out what is contained in each of these things. If they are sacrifices or offerings, I spell out the details of the sacrifices on single rows. If there’s a long list of names I put down the meanings. If I run out of cookies, I get my 12:04 AM snack.
Thankful for the Holy Spirit’s work I start to see immediate lessons and practical application to the recipients of the book. This is the springboard for any understanding I may attain. I remain open to the Holy Spirit’s guiding and illumination, but I try not to leap ahead drawing conclusions for fear of slipping into proof-text or systematic mode. When I have written what the recipients would’ve gotten out of the portion and the practical implications of it, then I start to apply to myself and what I am to do?often falling short of what the Lord is teaching.
If this is an Old Testament portion I run it through the filter of the New Testament. The filter will not use a systematic method either. For example, if the passage refers to the laver of the tabernacle and washing of the feet, I don’t immediately jump to the portion in John where the disciple’s feet were washed. I mark it as a consideration but first I prioritize my filter. Is this laver a practical thing or something dealing with the holiness of God? This helps in anchoring my occasionally ADD brain.
After many digital pages and notes, outlines and confidence that the Spirit was at work, I consult my Greek and Hebrew lexicons, scouring the meanings of words. I’ll research cultural distinctives on the web and library while making notes in my recorder or word document: revising as I work. This part of my studies proves the most distracting since I wind up jumping all over the place.
Now, with this full chart laid out before me, I consult the commentaries to see if they’re wrong or where I messed up.
I have a classic Christianity Commentary (mostly Reformed), a Dispensationalist Commentary, and commentaries by the Plymouth Brethren, and various other volumes. I check to see if they are lining up with what I found in Scripture. If I’m completely off from these Godly men, I go back to the text to see why or where I might have mis-stepped. On my second pass, I check to see if the Commentator’s opinion is set because of his theology. If it’s really confusing me, I’ll talk about it with the Elders and other brothers and sisters (likely for months). Sometimes I’ll make a note about what others believe just in case it results in a public beating.
As the Spirit opens a door to teach, I’ll organize my notes so that a person who hasn’t done all the study can follow along. I’ll highlight flow of thought (simple because it’s already in the text and extremely difficult since not everyone has read the whole book) and make sure to draw up some simple illustrations to make concepts and application stick. The Word speaks for itself and the Holy Spirit in us teaches us all things–I just find that the Spirit is also teaching me to divide the food in portions that all can chew on. The ones who are babes in Christ will enjoy the food and the more mature will eat their own meat.
After all this I file the work and when I restudy the portion, I’ll reference it but I pretty much start from scratch. This time around, the first commentaries that I put up to the light of Scripture are my own notes.