I’ve talked a lot about studying the bible here, because I think it’s vital to a growing Christian life. Not nice to have. Not unobtainable except to a few spiritual academics. It’s vital in the life of every Christian.
I’ve talked here about how not to read the bible, and the 3 posts before that formed a mini-series on the cast of characters, writing, and translation thoughts about the bible.
But today I’m here to partly let you in on the process, partly just a catalog of my own notes, on studying the Bible.
In church, we’re often taught in singular verses. If you’re a regular church-going person, you may be able to recite, or like basically recall pretty much thought-for-thought 1-4 verses, but rarely are you able to tell me what the point of the Book of Romans is, or what Mark was trying to do in his gospel.
That stuff is usually what seminary teaches you. Because on Sunday they’re focused on just having you READ the Bible, but in seminary they want you to STUDY the Bible.
Let’s pretend the Bible is just *any* book that you’re going to study in class -- what do you learn? Author, year, audience, some of the history (If you aren’t aware of the North Atlantic Slave Trade, Uncle Tom’s Cabin doesn’t make much sense.) Then you’re able to look at the symbolism, and say “I think the author’s trying to do __ and __ here.”
Let me tell you a quick story to illustrate my point. I was teaching British Lit to 12th graders at a Christian high school one year, which also happened to be my last year of grad school when I was studying British Literature. I crack open the book and was literally horrified. Their textbook was a collection of excerpts of great British works. 20 pages of Hamlet, 15 pages of Jane Eyre, literally not one single whole work except for the poetry. Because do you get the nuances of Hamlet from twenty pages? No. You barely know what’s going on and who all these people are. And while, for me, personally, 15 pages of Jane Eyre is enough because that book is insufferable, you don’t understand basically any of the book.
I gently put the book down, told the kids they wouldn’t need it and to leave it in their lockers, and bought them all copies of the Annotated Pride and Prejudice. For 6 weeks, we deep-dived into this book, learned *a lot* about the history of the time & what was considered proper (literally had a kid say “they didn’t have cell phones?!?!!?”), argued about whether Austen was focused more on class or gender commentary, cried laughing over Collins’ proposal to Lizzie, and fought vigorously over whether Darcy was even worth Lizzie’s time. Even the 3 boys in my class loved it.
When you’re studying the Bible, you want to have the second experience, not the first.
But since we’re trained by churches to think in verses (in excerpts,) not books, we have to retrain our brains on reading the Bible. And here’s the 1 step that will help:
THINK IN BOOKS NOT VERSES
And here’s your first step to studying the Bible. You’ll want to read the book and take notes while you’re reading so you can see the flow of the whole book. And just to show you how I do it, here’s my notes for the book of Matthew*:
Male focused birth narrative. No Mary story at all.
Magi, Egypt, Return -- how did I never realize that Nazareth is in Israel, not Judah????!! But were they still split after the exile? Probably not since they were controlled by Romans.
FINALLY we meet John the Baptist. It’s interesting that Mark, with his tight editing, still gives the very beginning of his gospel to John the Baptist, and clearly means him an integral part of the narrative (even more than most of Jesus’ teaching? Matthew says hold up, back up, I got 2 whole chapters of prophecy, even stuff from Jesus’ early life, that is crafting the narrative before the narrative. The point to every story in the 1st 2 chapters is how Jesus fulfills a prophecy. It presupposes you care about the prophecies and doesn’t explain them.
John the Baptist baptizes. John has the same reaction as peter in the Jesus washing feet. But that narrative isn’t in Matthew’s gospel.
Jesus 1st words.
Spirit of God like Dove, Son / Well pleased.
Devil / 40 days.
Jesus moves to Capernum
Begins to preach (vs 17 - word for preach is??)
Fish for men but no miracle attached.
1st miracles but there’s no narrative; they are summaries. They’re attached to his preaching ministry -- after it says he’s preaching, he also does miracles to big crowds.
1st big chunk of teaching
Sermon on the Mount - mountain setting.
More teaching, last verse wraps it up.
To kick it off, 1st miracle narrative.
Short teaching on difficult faith
Cost of following Jesus
Calming of the storm
Authority / Son of man / healing
Calling of Levi tax collector -- oof. Of the tribe of Levi, collecting taxes? He must be the black sheep of the family.
Tiny teaching on wineskins
Synagouge leader / dead girl / miracle
Woman issue blood / miracle
Blind men / miracle
Demon possessed man / miracle
Summary: Teaching / healing / sheep w/o a shepherd, harvest / workers are few
Jesus called his 12 disciples (only 1 of whom we met?) gave authority
Names of disciples
Instructions (Rest of the chapter; vs 5-42)
Summary: Galilee / preach / teach
John, prison, are you the one?
Teaching chunk: rest of the chapter (although it SEEMS to be connected to the chunk above, Matthew maybe just put in different audiences but the main focus is teaching, 1st disicples, 2nd John, then the crowd -- why the heck does he need to do this?)
Grain / David / Lord of the Sabbath (Son of Man)
Another Sabbath question, this time about healing / w miracle
Summary / withdrew / crowd followed / Jesus healed / Long prophecy fulfillment from Isaiah
Jesus heals demon possessed man / it’s by Satan he drives out Satan
Teaching / Blasphemy against the spirit
Pharisees and teachers of the law
Asks for a sign / Jonah
Mother & brothers
Big ol’ Teaching block
Any break is either scene change or to fulfill prophet
Prophet w/o honor
Solitary place / Feeds 5k
Walks on Water
That Which Defiles
Canaanite woman / dogs
Mountainside / Feeds 4k / remote location
Sign of the Times
Yeast of Pharisees and Sadducees
Peter Confesses Jesus is Messiah / Keys to kingdom
Jesus predicts death
Healing / Demon-possessed boy (Mustard seed quote)
Jesus predicts death #2
Temple tax/ fish/coin
Greatest in Kingdom of heaven / Big ol’ teaching
Two blind men receive sight (did he not also do this in Chpt 9?? Compare these versions!)
Jesus comes to Jerusalem / Donkey
Jesus @ the Temple / Den of robbers
Jesus goes to Bethany, then back to Jerusalem
Jesus curses the fig tree
Authority of Jesus
Big ol’ teaching section
Jesus talks about End times
Plot against Jesus
Jesus anointed at Bethany
Jesus predicts Peter’s denial
Jesus before the Sanhedrin
Peter disowns Jesus
Judas hangs himself
Jesus before Pilate
The soldiers mock Jesus
The Death of Jesus
The Burial of Jesus
The Guard at the Tomb
Jesus is Risen
The Guards’ Report
The Great Commission
And since I gotta go get my kids RN, I’ll withhold my comments and theories for later, but usually I would take a few seconds for comments, reflections, thoughts, etc.
*Your notes may look different than mine. My brain and interests highlight different things than yours. That’s a work of the Holy Spirit and that’s cool.