Learning from PaulPosted: April 5, 2011 Filed under: Bible Study | Tags: Eschatology, Intertextuality, Pauline Studies, Preaching, Richard Hays 2 Comments
(Guest Post by Ben. T)
This weekend I finally made my way through Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul by Richard Hays. As expected, the book was loaded with helpful insights from a seasoned Pauline scholar. Surprisingly, though, I found the book personally challenging on a number of practical levels.
Hays writes as both a scholar and a churchman, seeking to make accessible and practical his insights to the community of faith. He writes, “Paul’s readings characteristically treat Scripture as a living voice that speaks to the people of God. The Bible for Paul is not just a chronicle of revelation in the past; the words of Scripture sound from the page in the present moment and address the community of believers with authority.” 
The book ends with several points aimed at summarizing his proposal. His observations and trajectories are not new in the sense of being unique, but it is refreshing to read a scholar who is so candid regarding the functional role of Scripture in the formation and transformation of the church as God’s eschatological community.
If we learned from Paul how to read Scripture, we would read it in the service of proclamation. Christian biblical interpretation has its original and proper Sitz im Leben in preaching or (as in Paul’s letters) in pastoral counsel–that is to say, in acts of reading that construe Scripture as a word of direct address to the community. When Bonhoeffer read in 2 Tim. 4:21, ‘Do your best to come before winter,’ and took it as God’s word to him, he was operating with hermeneutical assumptions faithful to Paul’s example. This may not be good exegesis, but it was never proposed as exegesis of the text; rather, it was a charismatic, prophetic transference of the text’s sense. Indeed, Paul’s way of using Scripture suggests that homiletical and prophetic readings can sometimes be more faithful than rigorously exegetical ones. Exegesis gives us critical distance from the text; preaching thrusts the text’s word directly into our faces. The word is near us, and it demands a response. This strategy of reading is risky, because it strips away critical controls, exposing us to the danger of arbitrary or manipulative interpretations. On the other hand, unless we learn from Paul to read Scripture as a word addressed directly to us, we will never proclaim the word of God with power. 
I am constantly wrestling with the divide that exists between the academy and the church. How do we go about bridging the chasm between the two while moving towards synthesis over mere supplementation? Is it even possible?
Whatever the case, Hays presents a vital starting point—we must (re)capture the kerygmatic function of Scripture. It is God’s living and active word to us.
Richard Hays on “Why we need Eschatology
Richard Hays on “Reading the Bible with Eyes of Faith”
 Richard B. Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989), 165.
 Hays, Echoes, 185.
What is Rhetorical Criticism?Posted: March 30, 2011 Filed under: Bible Study | Tags: Hebrew Bible, Historiography, Ideology, Patricia Tull, Rhetorical Criticism Leave a comment
(Guest Post by Ben T.)
Rhetorical criticism, like many approaches to biblical interpretation, can be understood and applied in a number of ways to both Old Testament and New Testament studies. For our purposes, rhetoric among the ancient Greeks can be concisely understood as the “art of effective communication.”
Does this so-called rhetorical analysis provide a helpful framework in our interpretation and application of biblical texts? Arising from dissatisfaction with historical-critical analysis of the Bible, rhetorical criticism is an author-centered interpretive approach that generally regards the ‘final form’ of the text as the object of investigation. In this way, rhetorical criticism may provide a helpful and compelling way forward.
Patricia Tull writes:
…many have begun to direct attention to the hortatory nature of the much of the Bible—that is, its effort to persuade audiences not merely to appreciate the aesthetic power of its language but, even more importantly, to act and think according to its norms. Thus while rhetorical critics often begin with textual, literary questions reminiscent of the approaches of the Muilenberg school, many also inquire about the ways in which a text ‘establishes and manages its relations to its audience in order to achieve a particular effect.’ 
Interacting with Meir Sternberg’s The Poetics of Biblical Narrative, Tull demonstrates the confluence of rhetorical criticism with a more literary approach:
To Sternberg, biblical narrative is regulated by three principles coexisting in ‘tense complementarity’ with one another: ideology, historiography, and aesthetics. Although one might conclude that these principles would drive the discourse in contradictory directions, Sternberg is convinced that the Bible’s ideology is reinforced and underscored by its aesthetic choices. In Sternberg’s view, the most important rhetorical goal of biblical narrative is to inculcate in its readers a divine system of norms: By appearing to serve the readers, the narrator seeks to readers’ subjugation to God and God’s ways. In intricate retellings of biblical stories in which every word and every silence counts, Sternberg shows how the reader is ineluctably drawn into the narrator’s ideological orbit—that is, if the reader first lays aside his or her own opinions to ‘play by the Bible’s rules of communication.’ 
What do you think? Does this approach/method represent a viable way forward? Are there any issues inherent in its application to biblical texts?
 Patricia K. Tull, “Rhetorical Criticism and Intertextuality,” in Steven L. McKenzie and Stephen R. Haynes, eds., To Each Its Own Meaning: An Introduction to Biblical Criticisms and their Application (Louisville: WJK Press, 1999), 160-61.
 Tull, “Rhetorical Criticism and Intertextuality,” 162. For a more comprehensive overview of Rhetorical Criticism and its application see Phyllis Trible, Rhetorical Criticism: Context, Method, and the Book of Jonah (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1994), 1-90.
What is Historiography?Posted: March 22, 2011 Filed under: Bible Study | Tags: Hermenetics, Historical Narrative, History Leave a comment
(Guest Post by Ben T.)
Historiography, properly understood, is the study of the way in which history is (and has been) written. The term “history” itself proves at times a confusing concept as it can refer to either the bare events of the past or the written (and oral) records of those events.
When studying history we rarely (if ever) have unmediated access to the bare facts of the past. The way in which these events—and the circumstances and motivations surrounding them—are preserved is always perspectival. That is, history is always codified through the ideologies and experiences of certain persons or groups. This does not make the history less valuable as historical artifact, but helps us realize that when we read history—especially biblical history—we are not encountering un-interpreted and un-mediated facts.
Following Huizenga and VanSeters we may helpfully define history as “the intellectual form in which a civilization renders account to itself of its past.” This definition highlights at least two important points:
1. History writing is purposeful, not accidental: When encountering and engaging narrative texts in the Bible, it is important that we attempt to discern the purpose(s) behind them. We should ask the same questions of these narrative accounts that we do of Pauline Epistles. Who wrote this? What may have occasioned its writing? What is its rhetorical function or strategy? The sweeping biblical narrative is more than just the mere accumulation of traditions and accounts over time. It is a deliberate re-telling of events. In this way, we may note that the biblical writers purposed much more than simply relating past events to future generations. They are purposeful documents, meant to give shape and substance to the Israelite identity as a people set apart to YHWH.
2. History writing uses the past to explain the present: It can be persuasively argued that some of the best history writing takes place far after the events it purports to record. It has long been assumed that an author’s close historical proximity to an event ensures the accuracy of the recounting. While this may be true to a certain degree, it is also true that historical distance allows for a more comprehensive perspective on the event, its importance, and its lasting significance. Take for instance the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan. While we can certainly document and write of the immediate impact caused by these destructive forces, it will take many years to fully understand the implications and significance of these events. In much the same way, assigning a later compositional date to biblical texts may in fact heighten their value as historical texts. Due to this historical distance between text and event, we also see that these narratives are not written to the same people that they are written about. Thus past recounting is meant to address present situations. For instance, the so-called historical narratives of the Hebrew Bible appear to be shaped in some capacity by the catastrophic experience of exile.
It is my suspicion that approaching narrative texts as compilations of bare historical facts has ultimately proven detrimental to the contemporary evangelical church and its understanding and appropriation of these texts. If Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Matthew, or Acts are “just bare history,” it is difficult to see their practical import. There are certainly things we can learn through the unfolding of history, but it is my contention that this approach tends to miss the rich contours of these historical narratives. More than simply “what happened?” perhaps we need to learn to ask questions like “why this story?” or “how does the narrator want people to respond to this account?” More pointedly for us as a contemporary audience, “what is this text trying to accomplish in the lives of its hearers/readers?”
What do you think? Does our understanding of historical narrative require more nuance? Is this trajectory practically helpful or is it more trouble than it’s worth?
History, Narrative, and the Book of JudgesPosted: March 15, 2011 Filed under: Bible Study | Tags: Book of Judges, History, Narrative, Old Testament Leave a comment
(Guest Post by Ben T.)
Like many, I grew up with a steady diet of Old Testament Bible stories. David, Noah, Adam and Eve, Abraham, and even Samson were all quasi-familiar characters in what appeared at the time as a disorganized conglomeration of ancient events. How these individual stories related to one another, and what held them together appeared unimportant to my understanding of what it meant to “be like David.” It wasn’t until my undergraduate studies that I began to realize the serious deficiencies in my piecemeal understanding of the Old Testament. The realization that (a) Genesis-2 Chronicles tells essentially one story and (b) Jesus doesn’t come to us in a historical vacuum spurred me on to further study of this strange and wonderful collection of Old Testament books.
Recently, I have become deeply interested in the function and purpose of biblical narratives. In my current studies I have focused primarily on the Book of Judges and its role within the sweeping story of the Hebrew Bible. More broadly I have taken a keen interest in the writing of history (historiography) and the ways in which the Israelite storytellers shaped and crafted their narratives in order to communicate and impart to future generations their grand successes, epic failures, and unique identity as a people in covenant with YHWH.
I must admit that many of my conclusions remain provisional, as my thinking in this area continues to mature. Over the next several weeks and months I will post a variety of materials (bibliographies, summaries, quotes, etc.) related to the issues mentioned above. I would gladly welcome any and all feedback or thoughts!
By way of introduction I’ve provided three brief bibliographies. The first relates generally to the study of historiography and biblical narratives. I have been heavily influenced in this area by the work of Robert Alter and Adele Berlin. The second list is like the first, but aimed specifically at the study of Judges. I am persuaded that Judges is a late(ish) book, perhaps taking its final form in the exilic period. I have also included a selection of commentaries that I have found to be exceptionally useful. Most of these commentaries helpfully–and in my opinion rightly–treat the book of Judges as a literary whole.
Historiography and Narrative
:: General Introduction ::
Alter, Robert. The Art of Biblical Narrative. New York: Basic Books, 1983.
Amit, Yairah. “Narrative Art of Israel’s Historians.” Pages 708-15 in Dictionary of the Old Testament Historical Books. Edited by B. T. Arnold and H. G. M. Williamson. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2005.
Berlin, Adele. Poetics and the Interpretation of Biblical Narrative. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1994.
Kofoed, Jens Bruun. Text & History: Historiography and the Study of the Biblical Text. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2005.
Long, V. Philips. “The Art of Biblical History.” Pages 281-429 in Foundations of Contemporary Interpretation. Edited by M Silva. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996.
McConville, J. Gordon. “Faces of Exile in Old Testament Historiography.” Pages 519-34 in Israel’s Past in Present Research: Essays on Ancient Israelite Historiography. Edited by V. P. Long. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1999.
Merrill, Eugene H. “Old Testament History: A Theological Perspective.” Pages 65-82 in A Guide to Old Testament Theology and Exegesis. Edited by W. A. VanGemeren. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999.
Provan, Iaian, “Ideologies, Literary and Critical: Reflections on Recent Writing on the History of Israel.” Journal of Biblical Literature 114 (1995): 585-606.
Historiography and Narrative
:: Book of Judges ::
Brettler, Marc. “The Book of Judges: Literature as Politics.” Journal of Biblical Literature 108 (1989): 395-418.
Dumbrell, William. “‘In Those Days There Was No King in Israel; Every Man Did That Which Was Right in His Own Eyes’: The Purpose of the Book of Judges Reconsidered.” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 25 (1983): 23-33.
Spronk, Klaas. “The Book of Judges as a Late Construct.” Pages 15-28 in Historiography and Identity (Re)Formulation in Second Temple Historiographical Literature. Edited by L. Jonker. Library of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies 534. London: T & T Clark International, 2010.
Tollington, Janet. “The Book of Judges: The Result of Post-Exilic Exegesis?” Pages 186-96 in Intertextuality in Ugarit and Israel. Edited by J. C. De Moor. Leiden: Brill, 1998.
Wenham, Gordon J. “The Rhetorical Function of Judges.” Pages 45-71 in Story as Torah: Reading Old Testament Narrative Ethically. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2000.
:: Book of Judges ::
Block, Daniel. Judges. New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1999.
Butler, Trent. Judges. Word Biblical Commentary. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009.
Niditch, Susan. Judges: A Commentary. Old Testament Library. Louisville: WJK Press, 2008.
Ryan, Roger. Judges. Readings. Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2007.
Schneider, Tammi. Judges. Berit Olam. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2000.
Webb, Barry. The Book of Judges: An Integrated Reading. Eugene: Wipf and Stock, 2008.
Jesus the “I AM” (Part 2)Posted: October 16, 2009 Filed under: Bible Study, Christ, God, Theology Leave a comment
[Posted by Benjamin Thocher]
So what is the point? What is our take away, as contemporary Christians, from Jesus calling himself the “true vine”? Jesus tells the disciples that they are branches of the “true vine” and that they are to “abide in him.” In verse 4 Jesus says “Abide in me, and I in you.” I would guess that at this point the disciples would have, at best, understood this as a reference to Jesus’ teaching – they were, therefore, to let the words of Jesus dwell or abide in their heads and hearts. While this is not necessarily an incorrect understanding, it is only one small dimension of what Jesus is communicating.
This discourse is sandwiched between the end of chapter 14 and the end of chapter 15, both of which contain statements about the Comforter that Jesus would send after his departure. This Comforter, we know, is the Holy Spirit. We see, then, that Jesus is looking forward to the day of Pentecost when he would pour out the Holy Spirit to empower and equip the church for her mission in the world. 1 Corinthians 15:45 says that Jesus, in his resurrection and ascension became to us and for us “life-giving Spirit.”
Therefore, the abiding activity that Jesus speaks of is accomplished by the indwelling presence and work of the Spirit of God. Jesus says that “fruit bearing” will not happen unless we abide in him. If we understand “fruit bearing” to be the primary aim of the Christian life – which it is – then what Jesus is saying is radical, he is saying that the Christian life, and fellowship with the God of the universe, does not happen apart from intimate relationship with him.
What I like about John is he uses heightened contrast to drive home his points. In 1 John we are either in the light or we are in the darkness. Not one or the other, not a little of both. Light. Darkness. Here, we are either abiding in Christ or we are not abiding in Christ. There is no middle ground. We either abide in Christ and are pruned in order that we bear more fruit or we do not abide in Christ and are thrown into the fire. No in between. No casual, take-it-or-leave-it attitude. There is no Christ-likeness apart from intimate relationship with Christ. There is no Christian faith that is not first and foremost focused on the person and work of Jesus. As branches of the true vine, all that is his is ours.
Two points of application from this passage:
As we “abide” in Christ…it redefines what we are…
Our Spirit-wrought union with Christ dramatically redefines what we are. In the Old Testament the division was between Jews and Gentiles. Basically, the haves and the have-nots. The Jews were the people of God while the Gentiles (everyone not a Jew) stood on the outside of that relationship looking in. Jesus, though, as he applies to himself the description of being the “true vine” reorients the way we think about ethnic distinctions. If Jesus is the one true Israelite then we, as we are in relationship with him, are constituted as God’s people on his behalf. There are no longer any distinctions between Jew and Gentile – we are now defined only with respect to whether or not we are “in Christ.” Paul says in Ephesians 2 that Jesus Christ has “brought near those who were far off” and that he has “broken down the dividing wall” between Jew and Gentile in order that God might create for himself a “new humanity.” We, as the body of Christ in all the world are that “new humanity.”
Sometimes this truth does not hit us the way it should. We don’t live in a world where Jew/Gentile distinctions mean much. However, we do live in a world that values social and economic status. What we want to say as loud as possible to ourselves and to those around us is that right standing before God is not determined by what family you were born into, or what country you live in, or what ethnic background you share in. We are Christians by virtue of our faith in Christ and nothing else. Faith in Jesus, not ethnic background, has become the decisive characteristic and requirement for membership among God’s people.
What we sometimes miss is that for the Jewish people this was a difficult teaching. This seemed to go against everything that the Old Testament taught. The Old Testament struggles greatly with the issue of Jews and Gentiles. Those inside the covenant relationship with God and those on the outside looking in. When we get through the Gospel accounts and come to Acts we find that the Jews had a difficult time accepting that Gentiles could be included into the people of God as Gentiles (no circumcision necessary!). This is what the gospel has done for us: we Gentiles who were far off have now been brought near by the shed blood of Christ. What we are is no longer central – we have become branches of the one true Israelite on account of his righteousness and perfect obedience.
As we “abide” in Christ…it redefines who we are…
As it redefines what we are, it at the same time redefines who we are. We abide in Christ on account of his work. We abide in Christ on the basis of what he has done and we bring nothing to the table. It is all about who Christ is and has nothing to do with who we are as individuals. We are not central in this picture – we are branches! We are peripheral at best! Branches only have existence as they are connected to the vine. There are no lone ranger Christians who can do things on their own.
John has laid down the gauntlet and given us a choice: we are either abiding in Christ by trusting in him alone, or we are branches that get tossed into the fire. We desperately, desperately need Jesus Christ. Our lives and accomplishments mean nothing before the creator of the universe. All of our success, popularity, fame, and fortune will never be pleasing to God. There is one life that pleases God and that life is Christ’s. Only because his life is accepted can those who are “in him” be pleasing to God and filled with the Spirit, because every believer possesses everything of Christ’s.
Jesus the “I AM” (Part 1)Posted: October 15, 2009 Filed under: Bible Study, Christ, Eschatology, God, Theology Leave a comment
[Posted by Benjamin Thocher]
At the beginning of John 15 Jesus says to disciples “I AM the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.” The rest of the chapter revolves around this illustration and what it means first of all for who Jesus is and secondly for who we are, as believers, in relationship with him. As we move through John’s Gospel we find Jesus issuing seven “I AM” statements (cf. 6:35; 8:12 & 9:5; 10:7; 10:11; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1).
When Jesus says “I AM,” he is not making a simple statement about himself and tacking on some interesting imagery. The Greek construction utilized in these statements is one of emphasis and could be woodenly rendered “I Myself Am.” By including these seven statements in his Gospel, though, John is communicating something to us about who Jesus is. What is it that John wants to communicate?
In Exodus chapter 3, Moses encounters God at the burning bush. During this encounter God reveals his name to Moses – he tells Moses that his name is “I AM.” Fast forward a few thousand years to Jesus walking around making statements like “I AM the good shepherd” and “I AM the way, and the truth, and the life” and we see a much more profound intention. Jesus is invoking the personal name of God revealed to Moses and claiming to be equal with the God of the Old Testament. YHWH, the God of Israel.
We come then to John 15 and understand Jesus’ statement “I AM the true vine” to be a statement with respect to his deity. Jesus identifies himself as God. What then does he mean when he says that he is the “true vine”? My saying “I am a tree” is meaningless as there is no prior context for it to be significant. However, looking again to the Old Testament we receive assistance in discerning what Jesus is communicating about himself.
In Psalm 80 Israel is said to be a vine that God brought out of Egypt and “planted” in the Promised Land. Throughout the Old Testament – here in Psalm 80 and especially in Isaiah 5 – Israel is called God’s vine, or God’s vineyard. As God’s vine they were called to be obedient. Or, to utilize the language of John’s illustration, they were called to be “fruitful.” Israel, however, did not fulfill their calling.
Adam, as God’s son, failed in the garden to obey the Law of God and to rule over creation. So too Israel failed in the Promised Land, as God’s son, to obey the Law of God and to rule over her enemies. Jesus, in calling himself the “true vine” stands in opposition and stark contrast to that which is inherently counterfeit, or perhaps better put, that which is “less ultimate.” Jesus has in clear view here the disobedience of Israel as God’s faithless vine.
Jesus Christ, not Israel, is the “true vine” of God. Jesus here shows himself to fulfill Israel’s destiny – whereas Israel did not bear fruit, Jesus will bear the fruit of true obedience. This is what I like to think of as the punch-line of the whole Bible: Jesus defines himself as the one true Israelite. He represents in himself the faithful nation of Israel. “Faithful Israel” had been reduced to one man, and one man alone.
All that God had done for Israel looked forward to what he would do in and through his only son, Jesus Christ. Jesus as the true Israelite keeps the law perfectly, he worships God perfectly, and he succeeds in every place that Israel before him had failed. His obedience was a perfect obedience. In Philippians 3:8 Paul says that Jesus’ obedience was an obedience “unto death – even death on a cross.” His deliverance was not a deliverance from the hands of foreign oppressors, but a deliverance from the grip of sin itself.
Serious Bible StudyPosted: December 17, 2008 Filed under: Bible Study 3 Comments
(Posted by Dr. Jerry Bilkes)
Ps. 1:2. His delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.
Adolphe Monod, the godly French preacher (1802-1856), made a very sobering, yet beneficial comment on Bible study. He wrote: “We must acknowledge that in the beginning of the study of Scripture, there are many difficulties, and much obscurity. Some labour is necessary to dissipate them; and the mind of man is naturally slow and idle; and he easily loses courage, and is satisfied with reading over and over again, without penetrating further than the surface; and he learns nothing new; and the constant perusal of the same thing causeth weariness, as if the word of God was not interesting; as if we could not find some new instruction in it; as if it were not inexhaustible as God Himself. Let us ever beware of thinking these difficulties insurmountable. We must give ourselves trouble. For here, as in every part of the Christian life, God will have us to be labourers with Himself; and the knowledge of the Bible, and a relish for the Bible, are the fruit and recompense of this humble, sincere, and persevering study.”
Serious Bible study brings many benefits and blessings. The Word of God gives us a perspective that we do not hear around us in today’s world. Through the blessing of the Holy Spirit, the Word of God helps us understand ourselves. It provides security and stability. It enlightens our knowledge of God. It enflames our affections and renews our hope. It gives directions for our walk. It comforts us when afflicted. It goads us out of our complacency. It answers many of our questions. It reminds us that we live in a passing world and unveils to us a coming world. It sheds light upon our path. Many have regretted not spending more time in the Word; I’ve never heard anyone express regret for spending too much time in the Word.
Serious Bible study, however, does not come naturally and automatically. There are many hindrances around us. The world calls to our sinful hearts. Our vocations take much time and energy. Young parents are busy and tired. It can often be difficult to find a quiet time or place in our bustling homes and world. There are usually, however, even more hindrances within us. Our minds are easily distracted. Our hearts are hard and cold. The world attracts us. Complacency eats away at us. Even doubts can take hold of us and hinder profitable study. Furthermore, serious Bible study is not easy. The Bible is not easily read, like much of the literature around us. Its subject is loftier. It concerns spiritual realities, which our eyes can’t see, and which we may be unwilling to see. Many concepts are abstract; the language is sometimes difficult. There are verses and sometimes passages for which the meaning is not immediately clear. Serious Bible study is challenging.
The Basic Posture
When studying the Bible, our basic posture should be that of Samuel: “Speak Lord, for thy servant heareth” (1 Sam. 3:9). The Puritans called this the practical reading of Scripture. Wilhelmus à Brakel says a Christian should place himself before the Lord “with a humble, hungry, and submissive spiritual frame … while reading slowly and thoughtfully as if hearing the voice of God, and subjecting himself to the Holy Spirit to operate upon the heart as he reads. … Whenever there is a passage which has a special power upon the heart, such a person pauses in order that this Scripture might have its effect in the heart. Then he prays, gives thanks, rejoices, and is filled with amazement—all of which revive the soul and stimulate it to obedience.”
It seems to me there should be four elements in our basic posture to the Word of God.
1. We should pore over the Word of God in the conviction that this isthe Word of the living God, who has made us and everything for Himself.
2. We should pray that the Lord would open our eyes and heart to His Word.
3. We should purpose in our heart to obey through grace all that God commands in His holy Word.
4. We should progress in understanding the meaning and claim of the Word.
For the Christian, Bible study is not optional. Just as we starve physically, when we don’t eat, we starve spiritually when we live from bread alone. The Christian will want to study God’s Word. Those who have been born again by the Word, will return to the Word for food. They will desire “its sincere milk.” They will find it an instrument for “growth” (1 Pet. 2:2), and who wants to stay small?
1. Plan a manageable routine. This routine will not be the same for everyone. Everyone should devise a routine that puts them in the Word, regularly and effectively. Consistency is key to success. Clearly, it is fruitless to make a plan that is impossible to keep up long-term. If you are single or older, you probably will have more time than a parent of young children would.
2. Have a back-up plan. Perhaps you plan to study the Bible in the morning before others get up. However, something gets in the way, try to make up for it later, for example at night or over lunch. If at the end of a busy week, you have fallen behind, try to use the Sabbath to catch up.
3. Exercise your understanding. Too often we are content to let our eyes glide over the words and if there is something that we recognize, we may pause and take it in, but otherwise we continue on. However, we should aim to understand the meaning of each verse and passage. We need to pay attention to the context. We need to think about the style and purpose of the text. We should stop often and ask the question: What does the gist of this verse or this passage? What are its implications? How can I be obedient to this?
4. Seek out a good Bible study with others. The obvious place to start is with your church. Often there are Bible studies for women, or men, or any an adult Bible class. Study the material beforehand so you can get more out of it. Such Bible studies can help you learn from others and keep you accountable. Sometimes there are also Bible studies in the community. Of course, you need to make sure the Bible study has a sound basis, and a solid leader. Look for a study that is not just feelings-based but where Reformed truth is recognized as truth. As fallen creatures whose understanding is flawed, we need more than just our feelings to guide us.
5. Use sound and faithful helps, when you need guidance. The Ethiopian eunuch needed Philip as a guide into the Scriptures. We live in a day when there are more good Bible study materials and commentaries than ever before in the history of the world. Have a few trusted sources like Matthew Henry, Matthew Poole, John Calvin, J. C. Ryle, and others to help guide you when you have questions.
6. Take notes. Consider keeping a spiritual journal with notes about the passage. Some of the things you could write down are the meaning of the chapter, any questions you may have, any specific verses you wish to memorize, or the lessons you are taking away. The next time you speak with a friend or minister, you could even ask him some of the questions for which you have not been able to find an answer. You can also expand this journal with other things that you wish to remember about your day. You could jot things God has brought you in His providence, the names of people for whom you wish to intercede, etc. The Puritans understood the idea of “counting our days” (Ps. 90:12) to imply that we should take stock of what God has taught us and brought to us each and every day. For that reason, many of them kept a kind of spiritual diary.
7. Continue meditating throughout the day. It is very fruitful to take a thought and verse and meditate on it for the rest of the day while you are driving, walking, or working. When Psalm 1 says that the godly man meditates day and night, it doesn’t mean he is reading the Bible every hour of the day and night. Rather, it means that he reads the Bible regularly, and then ruminates on the truth of it throughout the day and night, as often and as much as it is possible and profitable.
May God grant that our generation would be serious students of the Word of God.