Tag Archive for: Bible

How To Do Bible Study Without Chapters and Verses

We’ve been making the case over the last few months for rediscovering the power of Bible reading. In many ways, simple and straightforward reading has been the forgotten practice in the modern era of the Bible. We contend that reading whole books remains the first and most natural thing to do with the Bible.

But what about all the other things we do with the Bible? What about Bible study? Should we still be taking closer looks at smaller parts of the Bible? And does this “read first” approach have any implications for how we preach and teach the Bible? We’ll start this new mini-series of articles by taking a closer look at what it means to study the Bible.

Reimagining Bible Study

Our approach to modern Bible study grew out of the form the Bible was given in modernity and the understanding it encouraged of what the Bible is. Often this has meant pursuing topical studies based on looking up a string of Bible references and then trying to add them together to find their meaning. The very real danger is that this approach doesn’t allow for due diligence to be done on the meaning of all these Bible verses in their full and natural literary context within the Bible’s various books.

Further, even when our Bible studies stay focused on a single book, the numbered verses still imply that each individual statement can stand alone as a self-sufficient unit of meaning. At the popular level, “study” in this case often means a closer look at a verse along with the question of how it applies to my life today. Even in the more serious approach of a preacher or professor, “study” can too easily devolve into the dissection of a verse to the microscopic level of isolated words and finer grammatical points.

Of course, such detailed study has its place. But too often the core point has been forgotten that the meaning of words is found in sentences, and that of sentences in larger units like prose paragraphs or poetic stanzas. These in turn are joined together to create bigger sections which build the messages of whole books.

The place to begin with the meaning of the Bible is at the top, with the overall messages of its biggest building blocks: books.

So read first, study second.

Our definition of “Bible study” should be: consider the parts of a biblical book closely and carefully to understand their place within the book as a whole.

By adopting this definition of study we commit to first reading the largest appropriate level — the letter, the song (psalm), the gospel, the collected prophecies, or the book. Then, within that context, we can now profitably focus in on smaller units to see how they contribute to the bigger overall meaning. We keep working down this way to the smallest units we want to or are qualified to examine (aleph, anyone?) But following this course will prevent us from taking little pieces of the Bible out of context.

Consider the analogy of how we typically engage a film. Is there a difference between watching a film and studying it? Yes, of course. We all begin by simply watching a complete film to take in its overall impression on us. Then, we (or some of us) will slow down and examine smaller parts of the film in a second or third viewing to consider the individual elements (transitions, lighting, dialogue, symbols, etc.) that contribute to the larger experience of meaning.

But nobody starts by dissecting the film before watching it. Same with the Bible. We should begin by taking in the overall story, song, gospel, or letter. What is it doing as a whole book? What’s the big message? How does it work? Only then are we in a good position to take a closer look at the individual parts that make up that whole.

Nobody starts by dissecting a film before watching it. Same with the Bible.Click To Tweet

This is why a fresh format of the Bible like Immerse: The Reading Bible is also a terrific study Bible. The best reader’s Bibles not only take out the modern reference numbers, they also display the natural literary forms of the Bible’s books. Our Bible study should be based on these literary units placed there by the Bible’s first authors and editors. These are the original units of meaning, the actual building blocks of the books. Studying the Bible means understanding how these natural units are doing their work in the whole book.

Also, beware an overreliance on “study helps.” Of course, none of us knows everything about the background, history, and culture of the Bible, not to mention all the fine points of the Bible’s original languages, Hebrew and Greek. So yes, getting help from the experts can greatly contribute to our understanding.

But consider this: consulting the “helps” too quickly can shut down our own reading and prayerful reflection on the text. Study notes and commentaries can be show-stoppers, ending conversation and further exploration. Reading them can tempt us to quit because we’ve just been told the right answer. When our communities gather around the Bible it’s crucial to give our own reading and dialogue ample time to marinate and mature.

So read first and read big. Feast on the sacred writings. Engage the Bible with others-reading, talking, and exploring together.

And by all means study! But study well, in context, in light of the whole, following the Bible’s own indications of its literary structure. Learn how the Bible’s books build their messages from these natural units. Examine closely how the meaning grows.

This is Bible study in the new paradigm.

Pray. Read. Study.

*Adapted from After Chapters & Verses: Engaging the Bible in the Coming Generations by Christopher R. Smith, InterVarsity Press, 2012. Rev. Dr. Smith is a Fellow at the Institute for Bible Reading. Our thanks to him for his genesis of these proposals for rethinking our use of the Bible today.

Colorado Springs Pastor Sees Immerse as a New Way of Doing Church

Josh Ellis is Executive Pastor at Springs Community Church in Colorado Springs and helped lead their congregation through Immerse: Messiah this past fall. It was déjà vu for Josh, who helped launch a similar initiative at Woodmen Valley Chapel in 2014. In my interview with Josh, we talked about both experiences, and why he thinks Immerse isn’t simply a church program, but represents a “new Reformation” for how the church should operate in the future.

What were the big takeaways at Woodmen Valley and Springs Community Church?

In both settings, we underestimated people’s appetite for reading the Bible in this fresh way. At Springs Community Church this fall we sold-out of our inventory three weeks in a row.

At Woodmen Valley we had a group of about 1,000 people who we identified as regular attenders but with no interest in any other church activities. We’d tried everything to get them into the mainstream. Nothing worked. But when we invited the whole congregation to an 8-week, book club experience for the New Testament, over 800 of the 1,000 non-participants joined a group. We were shocked! It completely reoriented the way we thought about them. They weren’t lazy—they were more likely bored and under-challenged.

At Springs Community Church, we had a group of veteran Bible readers who were initially not excited about reading a new-fangled Bible without chapters and verses. But within a couple of weeks, reports filtered back to our staff—life-long Bible readers “surprised” and “wowed” by their reading. 95% of the congregation participated in Immerse, including many who had no history with the Bible. At the end the reluctant veterans confessed, “We were wrong.”

How has this front row seat to two pretty remarkable experiences impacted you?

In my heart of hearts, I’ve come to believe the church is poised for a new Reformation. I think of the emergence of jazz music in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Musical styles hadn’t changed much for hundreds of years. Then jazz came along with more freedom, the band working together to create harmonies, without a single conductor. Immerse in its unadulterated form allows the story to flow more freely from the text. When the church comes together to read, there’s a partnership between the pulpit and the pew. Theology isn’t just academic work. Immerse is really giving the Bible back to the people.

What are the challenges once a church finishes an eight-week Immerse experience?

At Springs Community we have work to do to keep people from falling back into their old Bible reading habits. I suspect that’s true of other churches as well. So between our Immerse campaigns, I’ve piloted a Sunday morning group that follows the Immerse DNA. We read larger sections, ask open-ended questions, and always seek to understand context.

Is there anything else you’d like to say?

In my mind I can imagine what might happen if this way of reading catches on. Think of what might happen in a city if churches came together to read this way. I don’t think a new Reformation is hyperbole.

Inspired by IFBR’s Work, A New Reading Bible Emerges in Spain

Last year our Content Director Glenn Paauw received a message through Facebook from Jose María De Rus Martínez, a headmaster at a public school in Linares, Spain. Jose told Glenn that he had read Glenn’s book Saving the Bible From Ourselves, and it had inspired him to create and publish an original Reading Bible in Spanish.

When Glenn passed along the news, we were excited and we all had questions. How did Jose find out about Glenn’s book? What does his new Reading Bible look like? How did people react to this new format?

I had the chance to talk with Jose this week via the magic of Skype and hear more about the new Reading Bible he’s created.

Tell me a little bit about your background

I’m the 3rd generation of born-again Christians in my family. I grew up in a Christian context, so my mom and dad taught me to love the Bible — there was always a necessity of reading the Bible and sharing it with other people. I became an elder in a Bible church here in my town, and I’m also a Bible teacher in my home church for many years. I also teach homiletics at a Bible institute online in Spain. So the Bible is a crucial book in my life and my study, and I consider that people need to read the Bible not just as a reference book but also as a narrative book. I’m also the headmaster of a public school here in town, married to Deborah for 19 years and I’m the father of 3 kids – so I stay busy!

How did you hear about Saving the Bible From Ourselves?

I was working together with the IberoAmerican Bible Society publishing a Bible that is based in the Masoretic text, in the Samaritan Penteteuch, Qumran manuscripts, and Septuagint. And for the New Testament it’s based on the 28th edition of the Novum Testamentum. And now this Bible is being sold here in Spain and around the world.

So while working on that, InterVarsity Press sent me a copy of Saving the Bible From Ourselves by Glenn Paauw, and I think the Lord guided me to read this book in that precise moment because together with the IberoAmerican Bible Society we felt the necessity of making a new, fresh, readable, narrative way of reading the New Covenant. So we decided to start working on this publication, which we finished last September. So the Lord used Glenn’s book to guide me in this work.

(Jose held up the New Testament on our Skype call and showed me the beautiful hardcover volume with single-column layout – no chapters or verses)

This is the result of reading Glenn Paauw’s book. It’s called Nuevo Pacto – De Regreso A La Fuente, which means “New Covenant – Back to the Source.” You can see we presented this new way of reading the Bible without numbers, without notes, without subtitles, nothing except a small reference at the top where people can know where they’re reading.

But also, this volume is arranged not in the standard order, but following the most reliable testimony of the primitive church (click here to see the book order in this edition.) We finished this publication in September and within a week it was sold out, so we were very happy about that. It’s a fresh way of reading the Bible, and I would dare to say it’s the first book published in this way because all of the publications for the Spanish-speaking people are arranged in two columns, the standard way.

So I thought that the work of the Institute for Bible Reading and Glenn Paauw’s book was an inspiration for us to do this work.

Is this New Testament still being sold in Spain? Has it expanded to any new areas?

The first edition was printed and sold here in Spain, and now it’s on Amazon. The same book is being used in Central America and South America for a movement called Reading Together where people connect via a platform called Fusi and read the Bible together.

Have you found yourself reading this new edition very much?

This has changed my way of reading the Bible because you can read it as a novel or as literature, and you don’t really know when to stop reading! We read some letters in my church using this book and people found that they understood the meaning of the whole letter, the whole book, because of the continuous reading – Galatians or Philippians, for example. So you can catch the whole meaning and whole concept – why Paul wrote that letter in that way.

People who bought this book told us they found that this edition let them read the Bible in a fresh new way, a continuous way, without the human additives. It was fresh way to read the New Testament, so now we’re working on making the whole Bible into this format, hopefully by next year.

Anything else you’d like to share?

Just to congratulate you and the Institute for Bible Reading. We want to start a similar association here in Spain for the purpose of guiding people to read the Bible in this “real” way. People are struggling to read the Bible here, so we want to make the reading easier for them. So we don’t necessarily want to start our own Institute for Bible Reading, but a similar way of guiding them to read their Bible.

Jose blogs about the Bible and other Christian books at blogdebiblias.wordpress.com

Communal Reading In the Time of Jesus: How Did the First Christians Learn the Bible?

How did early Christians learn and pass on their traditions about Jesus and his teachings? What did the first communities of Jesus followers do to maintain the authenticity of their understanding of the meaning of his work, and its continuity to new generations? Further, what place did the growing collection of apostolic writings to scattered churches have in first century Christian gatherings?

For some time the academic study of early Christianity has maintained an emphasis on the role of oral tradition and social memory in the initial spread and growth of the new Jesus movement. It was assumed that due to things like the scarcity of both writing materials and professional readers, actual communal reading from sacred texts must have been somewhat rare and limited especially to more urban areas, at least until later in the second century.

But now there is an increasing recognition that early Christianity, like the Judaism from which it was born, was a “bookish” religion through and through. (See our earlier article How the First Christians Challenge Us to Be Bible Readers.) Larry Hurtado, a New Testament scholar and historian of early Christianity, has been a key voice helping us explore the evidence for this more closely. His books Destroyer of the Gods (2016) and The Earliest Christian Artifacts (2006) have directly examined this theme. Brian Wright’s new book continues this effort to bring more clarity to our understanding of the place of reading in the earliest church.

Wright’s key point is that communal reading was geographically widespread and that such reading was a way of avoiding any serious alterations in the traditions and teachings of the first Christians.

There are two backgrounds to this: first, the fact that public reading was a common feature of life across much of the Roman Empire. Letters, proclamations, poetry, and the great literary sagas of the time were all frequently read in public places. These did have a kind of performance aspect to them, but the point is that they were not performed from memory, but rather read aloud from written texts.

The second key background is of course the Jewish matrix from which Christianity emerged. Just as the Jews met and read the Scriptures together regularly, so did the early Christians. (See the chapter “Sharing Our Synagogue Bible” in my book Saving the Bible from Ourselves.)

Wright’s book is an important piece of detailed, collected evidence from the first century, in both the broader Roman culture and in specifically Christian settings. He includes chapters on relevant social, economic, and political factors, arguing that all of these were actually conducive to the widespread practice of public reading, making it a familiar feature of life for everyone. In the case of the Christian communities, it’s more clear than we’ve realized that the New Testament documents themselves are filled with evidence that they were expected to be widely shared and then publicly read.

In short, a standard part of the experience of the first Christians was the public, out-loud reading of the founding documents of the faith.

Should We Recover Communal Reading Today?

Of course most of the first Christians didn’t have any opportunity to own a personal copy of the Scriptures, and the preponderance of evidence remains that most people could not even read or write. But they were experienced, focused listeners, and this served them well. Christian formation in the early church was centered on immersion in the story of God, Israel, and the world as found in the sacred writings, both old and new. This tangible, practical focus on the Scriptures also helped ensure the integrity of the message over time.

But what about us?

In the modern era we’ve largely turned away from the early Christian practice of communal immersion in the Scriptures. Reading and study of the Bible is largely done individually, surrounded by all manner of reference-type helps, commentary, and devotional aids. The research evidence is clear that this is not working as an overall strategy for Bible engagement. People report that reading alone in this way is complicated and overwhelming. In short, it’s hard. And as a result, folks admit they’re not doing it much.

What new kinds of communal encounters can we imagine? What new forms of public reading and dialogue around the text can we envision?

The consequences have been serious for both private and public expressions of the faith. Unfamiliarity with the Big Story has produced Christians who don’t really have a good chance of living into the story in our contemporary setting because they don’t know who they are or where they came from.

There is no shortcut to this biblical knowledge. It comes only from sustained attention to our founding narratives, letters, songs, and wisdom. It comes from reading big and reading whole, not piecemeal sampling.

So what if we were to reclaim the practice and simplicity of the early Christ-followers?

What if we were to rediscover the unique value of communal reading of the Bible?

There have been a number of shifts in the nature of congregational life in recent history. A new emphasis on small groups, a move toward contemporary music and worship styles, and others. Why couldn’t we commit to similarly shifting how and when and where we engage the Bible? What new kinds of communal encounters can we imagine? What new forms of public reading and dialogue around the text can we envision? There are lots of different kinds of churches, lots of different ways this might look.

A commitment to biblical fluency should be at the center of every church’s life.

We can all ask: What could my community do?

Small Group Loves “Fresh” Experience with Immerse

Barb and Glenn Martin have spent much of their lives in the education field — Barb as a faculty member at Bethel University, Glenn as a teacher, coach, and high-school principal. They both love the Word of God, faithfully participating in Bible studies and programs at their church in Roseville, MN.

When they heard about Immerse, Barb said, “It immediately captured our hearts and attention. so we thought, ‘let’s pilot it at church. If we can get a green light from our pastoral staff, we thought getting into the Word of God and doing it in the way that the Immerse program has been written would be a great way to get into the Bible with some folks from church and see where it goes.'”

Tell me about your experience with the Bible prior to Immerse.

Glenn: I’ve tried to be very diligent in the Word in many ways. For the last five years I’ve been doing the One Year Bible in various ways, most recently chronologically using the Bible app on my phone. I’ve really enjoyed that and have done it faithfully for many years. I have emails that come with topical ways to get in the Word. I’ve been in Men’s groups that have been in the Word doing leadership and discipleship studies. I love the Word of God…but I’ve been excited about Immerse. I’m thinking this really has possibilities for believers and seekers alike.

Barb: In my own study I’ve been slowly working my way from beginning to end in a Bible study program. Women’s studies at church, book studies, that type of thing. When we went to Israel in 2014 we read The Harmony of the Gospels in preparation. That was fun and different from anything I’d done before.

How would you describe your personal experience with Immerse?

Barb: I liked it a lot. The approach and way it was structured was fresh. We started out with Luke and Acts and then Paul’s Letters, and the sequencing of that was very interesting. I really liked the notes at the beginning that gave you an introduction to what you were going to be experiencing – I thought that was very helpful. I did like the format without the chapter and verse breaks and just reading it like a book! It was fresh. It was interesting.

I also liked the fact that we had a range of people who joined our group – some people with great Bible knowledge, some with very little. We read with the four questions in mind and what we’d like to share with the group. It was approachable and it wasn’t threatening. We had the freedom to go off on different tangents, and it was wonderful to see what people picked up on as they were answering those questions themselves. It made you say, “I never took it like that” or, “That’s an interesting thought.” It was really neat to see the Body of Christ at work in the Holy Spirit revealing things to all of us in different places.

Glenn: I echo a lot of that. Additionally, for me personally, I really appreciated the way it caused you to see the flow of Scripture. The flow of Luke to Acts to the letters of Paul – that type of thing. The idea of the Gentile track and the Hebrew track of the New Testament was something I knew about but I hadn’t really read it that way. It helped me see it in a new way—dots that got connected in ways I’d never really fully understood because for the most part I’d read the Bible chronologically every day, but it’s piecemeal, it’s smaller chunks. To have this more global, holistic, 10-thousand-foot view was refreshing and revealed things I hadn’t seen before.

How was your group’s experience?

Glenn: As Barb said, there was varied experience and differing depths of faith. So some of the questions that were raised were really eye-opening for me. One guy asked some questions that seemed obvious at first, but when you stop to really think about it, it’s a very foundational question. It really helped me see the potential of this kind of study with nonbelievers and seekers because it’s really non-threatening. Here’s a book, four questions, what do you think? You don’t have to be a Bible expert, experienced theologian, don’t need a degree, don’t need a concordance to really be blessed by it.

Barb: When we presented this to the group – the reading schedule and everything, there was an element of excitement that in eight weeks we could read the New Testament. It was a fun challenge, and for everyone to say, “Wow, the weeks flew by” and at the end it was really a nice celebration! We did the New Testament in eight weeks! I thought that was a really fun part of it – that we did it together.

What does your future with Immerse look like?

Glenn: A couple of us from the group are heading south for a few months, but the rest of them are continuing with Beginnings and we’re being encouraged to Skype in to the discussions. The group definitely wanted to continue and they actually had their first meeting last night.