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Entries in Bible Study (112)


We need Bible teachers

Last week, I had to read a commentary on Daniel 9 by Keil and Delitzsh. Not only was the language dense, but it was interspersed with the Hebrew characters, which were totally unrecognizable to me. I am a very visual reader, and when I see unfamiliar characters, it distracts me from the flow of thought. On my own, this was difficult.

Over the years, I have done a lot of learning on my own. When I was homeschooling, I liked to call myself an auto-didact because much of the learning I did was in preparation to teach my kids, and on my own, I learned a lot. But learning in a vacuum isn't always good. And there were things I definitely needed help with. During the years we homeschooled, when I began to have a desire to attend seminary, my husband reminded me that I could do a lot of learning on my own. Back in those days, Monergism had bundles of books one could buy if she was too busy for seminary. I did purchase one of those bundles, but there were still things I didn't understand.

The church is a body. We are a community. Learning in community is a valuable thing. Sometimes, just hearing how someone else has understood a principle helps others. It is possible for women to learn a lot about doctrine and theology just from reading books, and there are plenty of good books to contribute to that. But there is still a great value in learning from someone else. There is great value in a well-taught Bible study. And there is a need for good teachers.

The reason I am going to seminary is to be equipped so that I can become a better teacher. However, not every woman has the time or the desire to learn on her own. Think of the young mothers out there juggling diapers, carpools, laundry, and possibly a job. Or the woman who has both teenagers and an elderly parent; or teenagers and an ill husband. How about the single mother, who may be working more than one job? The freedom I have to study is a gift from God. I want to use that gift to encourage others.

I remember being a new Christian attending a college aged Sunday school class and hearing people who had been brought up in the church. They seemed to know everything. I knew nothing. I am glad I had people over the years who taught me. Aside from the reality that not everyone is at the same place spiritually, I can't help but think of those who are from other countries and have come to Canada or the United States. Learning is difficult when there is a language and culture barrier. We need good teachers who can preset biblical truths in manageable pieces without watering it down completely.

The need for children's Bible study is obvious. But so is adult biblical teaching. It is my prayer that women and men would grow in their understanding and pass it on to others.


Individualism and hermeneutics

Yesterday's hermeneutics lecture was really great. I am regularly copying down some of the interesting things my prof has to say. Last week, my favourite was when Dr. B. made a play on word with "hermeneutics." He said "Herman must be there. Make him your friend."

Yesterday, we got on the topic of how we interpret Scripture keeping in mind the community of the church. Not only do we give credence to interpreters of the past, but we don't isolate ourselves as we interpret, rather, we seek the interpretive voices of others. Dr. B. did not have much good to say about the approach that says that I just need to take myself and my Bible somewhere quiet and figure it out on my own. He believes this attitude arises from the individualistic bent of our society. He encouraged us not to make every application about us personally, but move beyond ourselves to look at what the implications are for the entire church. Yes, there is room for personal piety, but if we continually look to make everything a personal message for us, he belives we are missing out. He also is not entirely in favour of, as a preacher, making applications for others, but rather isolating principles and seeing what the implications are.

In light of the ensuing dicussion, which took us off on a few bunny trails, I think the other students were in agreement with him. Yesterday's comment of the day was: "Commentaries are your friend."

At one time, I viewed commentaries as a last resort. Somehow (probably from my own dimwittedness) I got the notion that there was some sort of failure involved if I had to consult a commentary, never mind more than one. I have since learned that while we definitely need to pursue a diligent study of the text, commentaries provide us with a way of watching someone else interpret the text.

Dr. B. suggested that disregarding what other scholars, past and present, have to say about a text is short-sighted. He pointed out that many of the scholars have spent years reading and studying the text, and we should not be unwillinging to consult their expertise. Studying the Scriptures in community is a valuable and necessary thing. We gather together on the Lord's Day to hear the word in a community. I think we sometimes get so focused on our individual life of faith, we neglect our part in the Body of Christ. Perhaps this individualism is where the "what does it mean to me" line of thinking originated.

I was really thankful for this perspective. It conformed some of my thoughts, and it is always good to know that we're on the right track.


Jesus is not my husband

One of the things I'm really hoping to learn this semester is how to approach metaphors, illusions, and types in Scripture. One of the reasons is that I get increasingly uncomfortable when people take too far the picture of the Church as the Bride of Christ.

I've been gettiing ready to teach from Hosea on Sunday, and it's been quite an adventure. I wish I had taken my prof aside on Tuesday to ask for guidance. My immediate reaction to some of the suggestions I have read can be only described as discomfort. I'm just not sure it needs to be taken that way.

God asks Hosea to marry an unfaithful woman, Gomer. God asks him to marry her in full knowledge that she is not going to be faithful. Hosea will have to buy her back from her wicked life (3:2) and take her back into his home. This is a vivid picture of God's relationship with Israel: God continues to love his covenant people despite the fact that they are unfaithful to him. Hosea's relationship with Gomer is a picture of God's love for his covenant people. We take this story into our present through Christ, who continues to love his people despite our unfaithfulness. Sitting here on the other side of the cross, we can see how that picture in Hosea pointed forward and found fulfillment in Christ. 

Hosea isn't a book about finding the "right" husband. I don't see the value in asking a student to engage her thoughts about this book by asking her to write a list of what her qualities for a good husband are.  Why not focus on Gomer? Isn't that who we ought to identify with in this book? Why not focus on the sins of Israel and see ourselves? When we do that, God's love and mercy are so clear to us. Rather than focusing on Jesus as my husband, how about asking how much like Gomer I am, and then say, "Wow, God continues to pursue his people, me included, despite our unfaithfulness"?

Jesus is not my husband. Neil is my husband. I am part of the Church which is pictured in Scripture as a Bride. These images help us to understand what God is saying in his word. It's a vehicle used to make these written images understandable. Jesus is my Saviour. He is my Redeemer. He is my King. Of course my husband can't be those things because he's my husband. I know it's popular to make more out of the image of the Bride and Bridegroom, but I don't feel comfortable doing it.

Hopefully, as the semester goes on, and I learn more about principles of interpretation and look into how others interpret this, I will learn more. Perhaps one of my three hermeneutical papers will focus on some verses from Hosea.


The role of the Spirit in interpretation

I've been reading about the expectations of the interpreter in the process of Biblical interpretation. The truth is in the text, but the interpreter has to seek it.

There is the approach that the Spirit will tell us everything we need to know. Have you confronted that sentiment? I have. I have heard other Christians say that they don't need commentaries or a lot of study, because they are just going to let the text speak to them. That may sound like a rather noble idea, but it us misguided. The illumination from the Spirit works in conjunction with the work of the one doing the reading and interpreting. This comes from my textbook, Introduction to Biblical Interpretation:

Illumination means that a dynamic comprehension of the significance of the Scripture and its application to life belongs uniquely to those indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Though scholars posseses an arsenal of methods and techniques with which to decipher the meaning of the biblical texts, interpretation falls short of its true potential without the illumination of the Spirit. Neither methodology nor the Spirit operates in isolation from the other.

At the same time, there is work which needs to be done:

Being indwelt by the Spirit does not guarantee accurate interpretation. Though we have no desire to diminish the creative work of the Spirit, the Spirit does not work apart from hermeneutics and exegesis. Rather, he provides the sincere believer that indispensable comprehension of the text (that "Aha!") by working within and through methods and techniques.

Prayer is also essential for Bible interpretation, but again, one cannot simply pray for understanding of the Word without doing the work:

We do not substitute prayer for diligent exegetical work. We pray that we will do our work well, that we will be sensistive to the Spirit's direction, and that we will be obedient to the truth of what we discover.

I really appreciated this comment from my textbook:

. . . since the Bible comes to us as literature -- and in a variety of literary genres -- those who would understand its message must become competent readers of literature. We must apply methods that will unpack for us what each level of the text and each kind of genre requires for understanding -- whether historical narrative, epic, parable, prophetic denunciation, epistle, or apocalypse.

As a teacher, I can tell you that it's much easier to teach a class of students when each one has done work prior to the class. I happen to teach a class where there is a desire for no homework. Basically, I'm more of a lecturer. I do try to think of questions to direct them to a text, but teaching women who have already become very familiar with the text prior to the class makes things much easier. We all have to do the work. Yes, the teacher needs to do more, but the student, to get the most out of the class needs to do the work. The Spirit can't illumine what someone has not thought about. It's not as if merely touching the pages transmits the Holy Spirit into us. God chose to reveal Himself through words; words that would become a book. That means we need to read. The fact that we are reading a very old book means it will be work. And it's work that always gives back to us.


Tips for bible reading

I've noticed quite a few people sharing their favourite reads of 2015 as well as their plans for what they will read next year. Once New Year's gets closer, we will see many sharing about reading through the bible in a year.

Some folks don't enjoy reading through the bible in a year, because they can't stop and ponder long enough. I'm sort of that mindset. Having read through the bible in three months this fall, I think I'd rather read it at that pace, because then the rest of the year can be used to focus in more closely on particular parts of the bible. If someone didn't want to try reading in 90 days, one could draw up a schedule for reading the bible in six months. I read the bible for an hour a day, around 12-14 chapters, and I finished in three months. I think one could easily set a target of six to eight chapters a day and be finished in less than a year. If you're interested in a schedule for a 90 day reading one, I found this one. I began using it, but ended up using it only as a guideline.

One of the problems of reading through the bible, of course, is hitting the wall after Exodus. Personally, I hit the wall at II Chronicles. Leviticus was way more interesting. It can be daunting to think of reading the whole bible. I want to share some tips that helped me.

First, look for themes. I think it gives focus to our reading. I looked for the theme of covenant, God's holiness, and redemption. When I got to Leviticus, I looked for the theme of clean/uncleannesns. As I read through Psalms, I paid attention to the word "steadfast." Once I got to the New Testament, and I began to see repeated themes, it was even easier to concentrate. I used a pencil crayon and marked words in my bible. I wrote down favourite passages in my journal.

I found listening to the bible very enjoyable. I love Max Maclean's recording. I enjoyed listening to the Psalms, especially. They were, after all, written to be heard. I found much of the poetic literature easy to listen to. I listened to the entire books of Daniel, Ezekiel, Hosea, and Lamentations. I was surprised how quickly I was able to hear the repeated words and themes. We are such a visual culture; I think it's good to hone our listening skills.

I would also suggest having someone to read along with. I don't necessarily mean reading together (although you could do that), but keeping in touch with a friend for support and encouragement. I like accountability, and knowing that I had to give a report to my prof about my reading helped. Not everyone is a check list person, but some people really benefit from a tangible list to tick off things. And of course, there is always a cell phone app for that. 

I love reading. And I love reading about what books are coming out, and what books are good. I can't forget to read my bible, though. And more and more, I think I need to be thinking about what I read more. That's where memorization and meditation on the Word becomes helpful. But that's a post all its own.