BIBLE STUDY PRINCIPLES AND PRACTICE
Late FR. LESLIE J. RATUS
Ministry of the Word
Archdiocese of Bombay
1. THE WORD OF GOD IN EVANGELIZATION
1. The Church exists for Evangelization
1.1. The Lord's mandate
1.1.1. The Great Commission
1.1.2. The Commission carried out
1.2. The Teaching of the Church
1.2.1. Vatican II: "Ad Gentes"
1.2.2. Pope Paul VI: "Evangelii Nuntiandi"
1.2.3. Pope John Paul II: "Redemptoris Missio"
1.3. The many ways or forms of Evangelization
1.3.1. In "Ad Gentes"
1.3.2. In "Evangelii Nuntiandi"
1.3.3. In "Redemptoris Missio"
1.4. The Word of God and Evangelization
2. Beginning of a crisis in the Catholic Church
2.1. Evidence of the crisis
2.1.1. Intra-Church factors
2.1.2. Extra-Church factors
2.2. Understanding the crisis
2.2.1. Two types of believers
2.2.2. Three stages in the process of faith
2.2.3. Pastoral problems in all three stages of faith
3. Ministry of the Word
3.1. A response to Church mission and crisis
3.2. Three forms of Word Ministry
3.2.1. Evangelical Word Ministry
3.2.2. Discipleship Word Ministry
3.2.3. Occasion-al Word Ministry
3.2.4. Summary Chart
3.3. No Word Ministry without Word Study
II. BIBLE STUDY
4. The Benefits of Bible Study
4.1. Study the Bible to embark on a spiritual journey
4.2. Study the Bible to know God
4.3. Study the Bible to grow in your prayer life
4.4. Study the Bible to nourish your spirit
4.5. Study the Bible to strengthen your faith
4.6. Study the Bible to learn how to live as a Christian in the world
5. Seven statements on the Bible
5.1. The Bible is one book, yet it is a library of books
5.2. The Bible has many human authors, yet it has one divine author: the Holy Spirit
5.3. The Bible speaks on many topics, yet it is concerned about only one topic: salvation
5.4. The Bible is God's Word addressed to one people, yet it is a Word meant for all peoples
5.5. The Bible contains God's eternal Word, yet that Word was communicated to Israel in time
5.6. The Bible presents many actors, yet its focus is on one actor: God in the Old Testament, God-in-Jesus in the New Testament
5.7. The Bible tells of many events, yet they lead to one climaxing event: the Passover event of Jesus Christ
6. Three Contexts of Bible Study
6.1. Teacher Bible Study
6.2. Personal Bible.Study
6.3. Group Bible Study
7. Four Principles of Bible Study
7.1. Have the right goal before you
7.2. Have the proper spirit and attitudes within you
7.2.1. The proper spirit
7.2.2. The proper attitudes
7.3. Have the necessary tools beside you
7.4. Have a disciplined method for you
7.4.1. Popular attitudes
7.4.2. A disciplined method
III, PERSONAL BIBLE STUDY
8. Four steps in Personal Bible Study
8.1.1. What does "retire" mean?
8.1.2. Why must we retire?
8.2.1. Why do we read the Bible?
8.2.2. What shall we read in the Bible?
8.3.1. What does "reflect" mean?
8.3.2. Why must we reflect?
8.4.1. What does "respond" mean?
8.4.2. Why must we respond?
9. The first step in personal Bible study: RETIRE
9.1. Three requirements for effective Quiet Time
9.1.1. Fix a Time
9.1.2. Choone a Place
9.1.3. Follow a simple Procedure
9.2. Express your commitment to daily Quiet Time for Bible study
10. The second step in personal Bible study: READ
10.0. Three introductory observations
10.0.1. Learn a practical method of reading
10.0.2. Read with a Workbook by your aide
10.0.3. Four stages in Book Study
10.1. Book Background
10.1.1. Why do a Book Background study?
10.1.2. How to do a Book Background -study?
10.2. Book Survey
10.2.1. Why do a book survey?
10.2.2. How to do a book survey?
10.3. Book Analysis
10.3.1. The Art of Observation
10.3.2. General observations
10.3.3. Observation through Charting
10.3.4. Observing prose/narrative passages
10.3.5. Observing poestic/doctrinal/discourse passages
10.4. Book Synthesis
10.4.1. What does "synthesis" mean?
10.4.2. Why synthesize a book?
10.4.3. How to synthesize a book
11. The third step in personal Bible study: REFLECT
11.1. To reflect: Use C-H-R-I-S-T
11.2. To reflect: Use S-P-A-C-E-P-E-T-S
12. The fourth step in personal Bible study: RESPOND
12.1. To do or not to do - that is the question!
12.2. Five basic decisions
12.2.1. Choose the truth you want to live
12.2.2. Change what needs to be changed in your life
12.2.3. Carry out the changes
12.2.4. Call on the Lord
12.2.5. Commit to memory a Bible verse
12.3. Obstacles to overcome
12.3.1. Mistaking head-knowledge for life-knowledge
12.3.3. Instant resulta
12.3.4. Emotional response
I. THEWORDOFGOD IN EVANGELIZATION
1. THE CRURCH EXISTS FOR EVANGELIZATION
The Church does not exist for itself. The disciples of Jesus Christ, who form the Church, have been called by the Lord-and sent forth by him on a mission. That mission is summed up in the word "evangelization" (read 1 Pet 2:9). In other words, the Church's whole purpose for being in the world is to proclaim to all the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ. In this way the Church promotes the Kingdom of God on earth. The Church must be intent on doing this until the Lord Jesus comes again in glory!
1.1. THE LORD'S MANDATE
1.1.1. The Great Commission
Before his Ascension, Jesus gave this great commission to his disciples (Mt 28:18-20):
"All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age."
This same commission is found in Mk 16:15-18; Lk 24:47-49; Acts 1:8; Jn 20:21-23.
1.1.2. The Commission carried out
(a) The following texts, all taken from the book of the Acts of the Apostles, bear witness to the fact that the first-century Christians faithfully carried out the mandate of the Lord Jesus.
Acts 2:11-41; 4:20; 4:31; 4:33; 8:4-8; 8:25; 8:35; 9:20; 9:28-29; 10:34-43; 11:19-21; 13:5; 13:16-41; 18:46-49; 14:1-3; 14:14-17; 14:21; 16:13-15; 16:30-34; 17:1-4; 17:10-12; 17:22-34; 18:5-11; 19:1-7; 19:8-12; 28:30-31.
(b) In each of the above texts, find out: (1) the evangelist,
(2) the People to whom he proclaimed the Good News, and
(3) the location where the evangelization took place.
1.2. THE TEACHING OF THE CHURCH
1.2.1. Vatican II: on the Church's Missionary Activity
("Ad Gentes," 1965)
"Having been divinely sent to the nations that she might be the universal sacrament of salvation," the Church, in obedience to the command of her founder (Mk 16:15) and because it is demanded by her own essential universality, strives to preach the Gospel
to all men" (AG:1).
"The Church on earth is by its very nature missionary since according to the plan of the Father, it has its origin in the mission of the Son and the Holy Spirit" (AG:2).
"What was once preached by the Lord, or fulfilled by him for the salvation of mankind, must be proclaimed and spread to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8) ... so that what was accomplished-for the salvation of all men may, in the course of time, achieve its universal effect" (AG:3).
1.2.2. Pope Paul VI: on Evangelization ("Evangelii Nuntiandi," 1975)
Gladly approving the Declaration of the Synod of Bishops of 1974 which affirmed: "We wish to confirm once more that the task of evangelizing all people constitutes the essential mission of the Church," Pope Paul VI wrote:
"Evangelizing is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize, that is to say in order to preach and teach, to be the channel of the gift of grace, to reconcile sinners with God, and to perpetuate Christ's sacrifice in the Mass, which is the memorial of his death and glorious resurrection" (EN:14).
1.2.3. Pope John Paul II: on the Permanent Validity of the Church's Missionary Mandate ("Redemptoris Missio," 1990)
"The Church offers mankind the Gospel, that prophetic message which responds to the needs and aspirations of the human heart and always remains 'Good News.' The Church cannot fail to proclaim that Jesus came to reveal the face of God and to merit salvation for all mankind by his Cross and Resurrection" (RM:11.2).
" ... the Church's mission derives not only from the Lord's mandate but also from the profound demands of God's life within us. Those who are incorporated in the Catholic Church ought to sense their privilege and for that very reason their greater obligation of bearing witness to the faith and to the Christian life as a service to their brothers and sisters and as a fitting response to God. They should be ever mindful that 'they owe their distinguished status not to their own merits but to Christ's special grace; and if they fail to respond to this grace in thought, word and deed, not only will they not be saved, they
will be Judged more severely' (LG):14)" (RH:11.5).
1.3. THE MANY WAYS OR FORMS OF EVANGELIZATION
The methods of evangelization vary according to the different circumstances of time, place and culture. Therefore, which methods, ways or forms of evangelization we choose present a certain challenge to our capacity for creativity and adaptation.
1.3.1. In AG, Vatican II listed the following:
(a) Christian witness (11-12).
(b) Preaching the Gospel and assembling the People of God (18-14)
(c) Forming the Christian commuity (15-18).
1.3.2. In EN, Pope Paul VI listed the following:
(a) The witness of life (41).
(b) A living preaching (42).
(c) Liturgy of the Word (43).
(d) Catechetics (44).
(e) The mass media (45).
(f) Personal contact (46).
(g) The sacraments (47).
(h) Popular piety (48).
1.3.3. In RM, Pope John Paul II listed the following:
(a) Witness of life: personal and community (42-43).
(b) Oral proclamation or preaching (44-45).
(c) Conversion and baptism (46-47).
(d) Forming local churches or christian communities which includes ecclesial basic communities (48-51).
(e) Inculturation (52-54).
(f) Dialogue (55-57).
(g) Promoting development by forming consciences (58-59).
(h) Charity (60).
1.4. THE WORD OF GOD AND EVANGELIZATION
(1) Of all the forms of evangelization listed above, in this Manual we limit ourselves to the practice of only one form of evangelization: namely, the explicit proclamation of the Gospel through preaching and teaching that salvation is offered to all through Jesus Christ. It is explicitly mentioned in 1.3.1.b, 1.3.2.b, and 1.3.3.b above. It is implicitly contained in all the other forms of evangelization.
"Proclamation is the permanent priority of mission. The Church cannot elude Christ's explicit mandate, nor deprive men and women of the 'Good News' about their being loved and saved by God. 'Evangelization will always contain - as the foundation, centre and at the same time the summit of its dynamism - a clear proclamation that, in Jesus Christ ...
salvation is offered to all men' (EN:27). All forms of missionary activity are directed to this proclamation ... mystery which lies at the heart of the Church's mission and life, as the hinge on which all evangelization turns" (RM:44.1).
(2) Knowledge of and obedience to God's Word is the basis for any form of evangelization. For none of the forms of evangelization mentioned in the three Church documents (AG, EN, RM) can be rightly carried out unless it is in accordance with God's will, which has been revealed in the Holy Scriptures.
2. BEGINNING OF A CRISIS TN THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
Bible study and the Ministry of the Word need to be seen and promoted within the life and mission of the Church. They must be situated within the wider situation in which the Catholic Church in India finds itself. This situation has the features of the beginning of a crisis; in some places the crisis is already in existence. The crisis is one of faith.
2.1. EVIDENCE OF THE CRISIS
2.1.1. Intra-Church factors
In general, we recognize the following factors at work in the majority of members of the Catholic Church.
(1) Ignorance of the fundamental truths of the Christian Faith. Hence confusion between the "primary" and he "secondary" truths of the Faith. Vatican II speaks of a "hierarchy of
(2) Indifference and apathy with regard to participation in Church life and mission.
(3) Dichotomy between the profession and the performance of faith.
(4) Practical atheism.
(5) Religious syncretism.
2.1.2. Extra-Church factors
The Church is presently and increasingly being challenged by three forces which are directed towards it from outside.
(1) Challenge from the New Religious Movements.
* We are living in a "religious market situation."
* We are witnessing an "exodus" from the Catholic Church.
(2) Challenge from a growing militant Hindu society.
(3) Challenge from a growing materialistic and hedonistic society.
(1) The combination of the above two sets of factors is giving rise, and in some places has already given rise, to what may be considered to be a crisis of faith within the Catholic Church in India. Diagnosing the present condition of the Catholic Church, some pronounce it already dead, others declare it to be lying in a coma, and still others Judge it to be seriously sick.
(2) Pope John Paul II referred to this condition when he wrote of the need for the "re-evangelization?" of Catholics.
" ... in other regions or nations many vital traditions of piety and popular forms of Christian religion are still conserved; but today this moral and spiritual patrimony runs the risk of being dispersed under the impact of a multiplicity of processes, including secularization and the spread of sects Only a re-evangelization can assure the growth of a clear and deep faith, and serve to make these traditions a force for authentic freedom" (On the Lay Faithful, CL:34.2).
" ... there is an intermediate situation, particularly in countries with ancient Christian roots, and occasionally in the younger Churches as well, where entire groups of the baptized have lost a living sense of the faith, or even no longer consider themselves members of the Church, and live a life far removed from Christ and his Gospel. In this case what to needed is a 'new evangelization' or a 're-evangelization'" (RM:33.4).
2.2. UNDERSTANDING THE CRISIS
In order to understand the dimensions of this developing crisis of faith it is helpful: (1) to distinguish between two types of believers (2.2.1), (2) to recognize three stages in the process of faith (2.2.2), and (3) to appreciate the pastoral problems that exist in each of the three stages (2.2.3).
2.2.1. Two types of believers
(1) We need to distinguish between two types of believers: believers by convention or nominal believers, and believers by conviction or real believers.
NOTE that this distinction between believers is between "types" of believers understood in the sociological sense. In other words, there is no "pure" believer by convention and no "pure" believer by conviction. In the life of faith, every believer is somewhere along the continuum between these two extremes; every believer is a mixture of a believer by convention and a believer by conviction.
(a) Believers by convention or nominal believers:
These are believers who believe in God on the authority and experience of others from whom they have received the Faith. They know truths about God - about the Father, about Jesus, about the Holy Spirit - because they have heard these truths from "significant others" in their life ("faith comes from what is heard," cf. Rom 10:14-17).
For various reasons nominal believers accept and profess/confess these truths "with their lips":
* because they respect, love and wish to maintain their relationship with the significant others in their life; or
* because they derive social benefits or advantages by belonging to a Church that believes in such truths (e.g. education, employment, good reputation, etc.);
* because it is too troublesome for them to seriously examine the truths they believe in.
Such believers KNOW truths ABOUT GOD, but they DO NOT KNOW GOD, do not know the Father, do not know Jesus, do not know the Holy Spirit - they lack a personal
experience of and relationship with the triune God.
(b) Believers by conviction or real believers:
These are believers who believe as a result of a personal experience of Jesus because of which they accept him as their personal Saviour and Lord. They live in a personal relationship with the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit (cf.1 Jn 1:1-2).
(2) Growth in faith takes place as we increasingly mature and pass from being believers by convention to becoming believers by conviction.
Consider the growth in faith of the Samaritans in John 4:
(a) They first "believed in him (Jesus) because of the woman's testimony" (4:39); they became believers in Jesus on the basis of the woman's experience of Janus. They became believers by convention.
(b) Later on they said to the woman, "It is no longer because of your words that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Saviour of the world" (4:42). They became believers on the basis of their own personal experience of Jesus. They became believers by conviction.
2.2.2. Three stages in the process of faith
On the basis of the above distinction between two types of believers we may speak of three stages in the process of faith in the lives of the large majority of Catholics.
(1) First stage: infant baptism.
At this stage:
(a) There is no personal faith; the individual is baptised in "the faith of the Church" and more immediately into the faith of its parents (see the Baptism Liturgy).
(b) The baptized individual is a "child of God," but this is true from God's aide and not from the individual’s side. God has indeed embraced the baby as his child and has made it a temple of the Holy Spirit; but the baby itself has not personally accepted God as its Father.
(c) Infant baptism of itself only given rise to believers by convention. As the individual grows, s/he hears and learns about the faith from others: e.g. parents, teachers, preachers, etc. "Faith comes from what is heard ..." (Rom 10:17).
(2) Second stage: personal decision to be a disciple of Christ.
At this stage:
(a) The individual makes a personal decision for, commitment and surrender to Jesus as his/her personal Saviour and Lord.
(b) At this stage the individual becomes a believer by conviction. In other words such believers have accepted the life-death-resurrection of Jesus as the paradigm (model, exemplar) for their life, and they live by his Spirit. They are true disciples of Christ.
This experience is called the "born again" experience (cf. Jn 3:3-8; 1 Pet 1:23). It is the result of "metanoia" (conversion) and faith in Jesus (cf. Mk .1:15; Acts 2:38). It gives birth to new life, by which we rejoice in being children of God through a living faith in Jesus (cf. Jn 1:12), and we begin to consciously live in and by God's Holy Spirit (cf. Gal 5:25).
NOTE: There is no one model for this "born again" experience:
* It may be dramatic and sudden: as in the case of Paul (cf. Acts 9); or
* It may be non-dramatic and gradual: as in the case of Peter and the other apostles.
(3) Third stage: growth as disciples of Christ.
At this stage:
(a) Believers by conviction go on to make Jesus increasingly the Lord of every area and relationship in their lives.
(b) They are participants in a process of growth in which:
- they live in the Spirit, walk by the Spirit (Gal 5:25), and are filled by the Spirit (Eph 5:18);
- they put off the old nature which is "corrupt through deceitful lusts" and put on the new nature "created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (Eph 4:22-24),
- they grow in holiness by deepening their relationship with the Father, through the Son, and in the Spirit.
- they grow in the knowledge of the truths of their faith (creed), in prayer and worship (cult), in what it means to live as Christians in the world (code), in fellowship with members of the household of the faith (community), and in the mission of the Church (communication)
2.2.3. Pastoral problems in all three stages of faith
In each of the three stages of the process of faith, there are pastoral problems which need to be identified and faced.
(1) First stage: infant baptism.
* What faith concretely exists in the parents, godparents, family, the "community" into which the infant is baptised? Are they real believers, believers by conviction?
* How do we ensure that at least the parents are real believers before we baptize their children? and that they will lead their child to eventually make its own personal
decision for Jesus Christ?
(2) Second stage: personal decision to be a disciple of Christ.
* What evidence do we have that Catholics, baptised as infants, truly reach this faith-level? Rather, the evidence (see 2.1.1) points in the direction that a large number of Catholics seem to be believers by convention?
* In our pastoral practice the celebration of the sacrament of Confirmation is considered to be the moment when those who were once baptized make their personal decision for and commitment to Jesus Christ. Does this truly happen as a matter of fact: in the preparation for and the celebration of the sacrament?
* How do we help believers by convention become believers by conviction?
(3) Third stage: growth as Christian disciples.
* How do we ensure that Jn 8:31 becomes a reality in the life of Christian disciples at the various periods of their life?
* How effective are our programmes for them as children, as youth, as young married adults, as elders?
The crucial pastoral question therefore may be formulated as follows: How to lead Catholics - baptised as infants – to personally accept and commit themselves to Jesus as their Saviour and Lord, and how to equip and empower them to live as authentic disciples of the Lard Jesus Christ in the world?
3. MINISTRY OF THE WORD
3.1. A RESPONSE TO CHURCH MISSION AND CRISIS
There are several responses that can be adopted to meet the crisis of faith in the Catholic Church: for example, systematic pastoral visitation, promotion of small Christian communities, formation of lay leaders, youth and adult catechesis, revitalizing the celebration of the sacraments, and so on.
Here we are concentrating on a fundamental response which enters to some extent or the other into all other responses: the ministry of the Word of God and the different forma that such a ministry can take.
3.2. THREE FORMS OF WORD MINISTRY
We may distinguish three forms of the Ministry of the Word in relationship to the beginning and growth of Christian faith that we considered in 2.2.2 above.
3.2.1. Evangelicals Word Ministry (EWM): Kerygma
The objective of such ministry: to lead people into a personal, living faith relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
(1) EWM is directed to leading people to new life through a CONVERSION to God, by FAITH in Jesus Christ, and LIFE in the Holy Spirit. New life is the fruit of the proclamation of the Word of God (the Good News or the Gospel). Read Jn 20:30-31;
1 Pet 1:23-25; Eph 1:13; Rom 10:14-17.
(2) EWM is directed to NON-CHRISTIANS: to lead them to a personal decision for and commitment to Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord. Such a ministry is also called "Evangelism" by other Christian Churches.
How are we to measure the success of EWM?
(a) It is not measured by the fact that it must always immediately end with sacramental baptism. The minister of the Word prays and hopes that the process will end with sacramental baptism. But it may happen, and it sometimes does, that "a variety of historical and cultural factors" may impede that desired goal. That baptism does not always immediately occur does not render the ministry of the Word futile and fruitless.
"It is true that in some places sociological considerations associated with baptism obscure its genuine meaning as an act of faith. This is due to a variety of historical and cultural factors which must be removed where they still exist, so that sacrament of spiritual rebirth can be seen for what it truly is ... It is also true that many profess an interior commitment to Christ and his message yet do not wish to be committed sacramentally, since owing to prejudice or because of the failings of Christians, they find it difficult to grasp the true nature of the Church as a mystery of faith and love" (RM:47.3).
Without doubt, should non-Christians who are evangelized ask for sacramental baptism, it should not he denied to them, once their motives are correctly discerned, and they have been carefully prepared. Think of Philip's response to the request of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:36-38.
(b) Rather, the success of EWM is to be measured by the fact that it leads non-Christians to accept and commit themselves to Jesus Christ, and to live by the values of God's Kingdom as taught by Jesus Christ.
"The proclamation of the word of God has Christian conversion as its aim: a complete and sincere adherence to Christ and his Gospel through faith" (RM:46.1).
(c) While there is a real place in the Church's total mission for "dialogue" with believers in other religions, EWM cannot be discarded. For EWM is based on the conviction that salvation comes from Christ and that dialogue does not dispense from evangelization. It is rooted in the belief that Jesus brings to fulfillment all that is best in other religions. For Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life, and no one comes to the Father except through
him (Jn 14:6).
"The Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions. She has a high regard for the manner of life and conduct, the precepts and doctrines which, although differing in many ways from their own teaching, nevertheless often reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all men. Yet she proclaims and is in duty bound to proclaim without fail, Christ who is the Way, the Truth and the Life (Jn 14:6). In him, in whom God reconciled all things to himself (2 Cor 5:18-19), men find the fullness of their religious
life" (Vatican II, Declaration on the relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions," NA:2.2).
"Although the Church gladly acknowledges whatever is true and holy in the religious traditions of Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam as a reflection of that truth which enlightens all men, this does not lessen her duty and resolve to proclaim without fail Jesus Christ who is the way, the truth and the life ... The fact that the followers of other religions can receive God's grace and be saved by Christ apart from the ordinary means which he has established does not thereby cancel the call to faith and baptism which God wills for all people" (Pope John Paul II, Letter to the Fifth Plenary Assembly of Asian Bishops' Conferences, 23 June 1990, quoted in RM:55.3).
(3) EWM is also directed to CATHOLICS: to lead them to a personal decision for and commitment to Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord. Such a ministry may be called "re-evangelization" or "new evangelization" as desired by Pope John Paul II (see 2.1.3).
Consider Acts 2:42-47:
* In this post-Vatican II period, we in the Catholic Church are trying very hard to bring about renewal after the model presented in Acts 2:42-47: in catechesis, community life, liturgy, and prayer.
* But the results of our efforts have not been all that encouraging at the parish and diocesan levels.
* On the other hand, instead of Acts 2:47b taking place, we are witnessing just the opposite phenomenon: people are leaving the Catholic Church instead of entering it.
* One fundamental reason for our comparatively poor performance is that we have neglected what God's word is telling us in Acts 2:38: that we need to first have believers who have entered into a living faith relationship with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
- conversion (repentance) from fear to love of the Father,
- commitment to Jesus through a -personal decision,
- communion with the Holy Spirit through the exercise of his gifts.
* Acts 2:38 comes before Acts 2:42. We cannot build securely unless our foundation is first secure. We shall never have renewed catechesis, communities, liturgy, prayer, if we do not have renewed believers.
If the above is true then the first priority in the Church's ministry of the God's Word is to bring Catholics into a living, personal, faith relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy
3.2.2. Discipleship Word Ministry (DWM): Catechesis
The objective of such ministry: to lead believers into a progressively deeper knowledge of the demands of Christian discipleship.
(1) DWM is directed to growth in discipleship which takes place through God's Word. Read Jn 8:31-32.
(2) Growth through the Scriptures must be through a ministry that is planned, systematic and comprehensive. Such growth in God's Word cannot effectively take place if any of the following attitudes is in the Christian:
(a) The passive attitude: I’ll grow in the Word only whenever the Scriptures are read out to me in Church.
(b) The temperamental attitude: I'll grow in the Word whenever I feel like reading it.
(c) The cafeteria-like attitude: I'll grow in the Word by choosing only what is pleasing to me or makes sense to me; I'll skip the rest.
(d) The random attitude: I'll grow in the Word by "cutting the Bible," that is, by randomly opening the Bible and reading the passage that catches my eye.
3.2.3. OCCASION-AL WORD MMISTRY (OWM)
The objective of such ministry: to help believers and non-believers at peak or crisis moments in their life.
(1) Peak moments:
The Word of God plays an important role:
(a) in the preparation for the celebration of the Sacraments: baptism, confirmation, Eucharist (first communion), reconciliation, matrimony, anointing of the sick;
(b) in the actual celebration of the above sacraments.
(2) Crisis moments:
(a) Such crisis moments are death in the family, sickness, a crippling accident, unexpected unemployment, loss of property, rejection, and so on.
(b) During these critical periods of their life people need to be specially ministered to: they need understanding, fellowship, support, and the strength that comes from the Christian Faith.
(c) The sharing of the Word of God with such people can serve , as a powerful means to help them emerge victorious through the critical periods of their life.
3.2.4. SUMMARY CHART
1 Pet 1:23f
to lead people
to a personal,
living faith in the Trinity.
· group (LSS)
· printed word
· non- believers
· believers by convention
Tim 3:16-17 Acts 20:32
to lead believers into a progressively deeper knowledge of the demands of Christian discipleship.
· Whole parish
· group (Bible)
· individual(Home Study)
· believers by conviction
to help people at peak or crisis moments
· peak moments
· crisis moments
· non- Christians
* Homilies during the Eucharist.
* Sermons at Devotions and Novenas.
* Faith-formation programmes: Parish School, Sunday School, Vacation Bible Joy.
* During Liturgical seasons: Advent, Lent.
* Parish Programmes: e.g. Parish Feast, XIII Hours Adoration, Intercession Prayer, Vigil Services, Holy Hours, Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration, etc.
* Bible Weeks for the whole parish.
* Bible Courses organised for interested parishioners.
* Bible Home Study or Correspondence Courses.
* Bible study groups.
* Any other?
(c) List what can be done in your Church to begin/strengthen EWM in your parish.
3. Occasion-al Word Ministry
(a) Recall what is the objective of OWM.
(b) Peak moments: To what extent does the Word of God feature in the faith-formation programmes of the Parish on the occasion of the reception of the sacraments? (1) Baptism (2) Confirmation (3) First communion (4) Reconciliation (5) Matrimony (8) Anointing of the sick.
(c) Crisis moments: People in your parish experience critical moments in their individual and family life. Some of these critical moments are mentioned above [3.2.3(2)].
* Is the pastoral ministry in your parish so organized that those who are hurting are immediately known?
* How are they ministered to?
* What part does the Word of God play in such ministry?
4. The Lord is calling you to minister the Word in at least one of the above-mentioned areas of Word Ministry.
(a) Can you identify your special area of ministry?
(b) What steps will you take to equip yourself for such ministry?
3.3. NO WORD MINISTRY WITHOUT WORD STUDY
There can be no effective Word Ministry without prior Word Study. In my study of God's Word, the Lord has shown me that the Holy Spirit has put a certain order among truths, which I choose to call "divine sequence." We violate this order or sequence only to our loss or ruin.
One such scripture text is Ezra 7:10. Notice the three things that Ezra had set his heart upon, and the sequence in which they are stated. Teaching or ministering God's Word to others comes AFTER studying the Word and living the Word. This does not mean that you cannot teach until you have perfectly studied and lived God's Word. What it does mean is that you need to have a certain knowledge of God's Word and a definite experience of that Word in your life, so that you can teach it with inner power and conviction.
This leads us to the next part of this Manual on the Principles and Practice of Bible Study.
This exercise is to help you evaluate the forms of Word Ministry that are presently being carried out in your Parish. Do this exercise first individually and then share your reflection in groups of three.
1. Evangelical Word Ministry
(a) Recall what is the objective of EWM.
(b) Regarding EWM to non-Christians:
Are Catholics in your parish engaged in the following ways:
* person-to-person evangelism?
* group evangelism? e.g. through outreaches, plays, musicals.
* the media?
- through the printed word? e.g. tracts, contact cards, posters.
- through audio- and video-cassettes?
* any other way?
(c) Regarding EWM to Catholics:
Are Catholics encouraged -to participate in such programmes as: Retreats, Missions, Life in the Spirit Seminars, etc.
(d) List what can be done in your Church to begin/strengthen EWM in your parish.
2. Discipleship Word Ministry
(a) Recall what is the objective of DWM.
(b) The following are different ways in which DWM can be exercised in your parish. How many of them are actually taking place?
II BIBLE STUDY
4. THE BENEFITS OF BTBLE STUDY
Why study the Bible? What fruits can be ours from the study of God's Word? The following are six main benefits that flow from a diligent study of the Word of God. They are certainly not all the benefits that can be mentioned. Add more benefits to the list that you may learn either from your own reading and reflection, or from the teachings on the Bible that you may hear from others.
4.1. READ THE BIBLE TO EMBARK ON A SPIRITUAL JOURNEY
The Bible is the incredible love story between God and us, of his search for us, of his desire to open his heart to and share his life with each of us personally. To read the Bible is to set out each day on a fresh adventure with God. You will find yourself:
(a) marvelling at the height and depth and breadth and length of God's love for you;
(b) being drawn into the embrace of God's love;
(c) exploring the fantastic network of loving relationships which form his Kingdom.
And you will be rewarded beyond all your imaginings!
4.2. READ THE BIBLE TO KNOW GOD
The Bible exists for the express purpose of revealing God. We therefore read the Bible, not to acquire a mere "head" knowledge of its contents, although that in itself is of inestimable value. We read the Bible in order to get to know its Author. The Bible is the road that leads us to the true God, the God of Jesus Christ; it is through the Bible that we come to know the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
If you read the Bible, crying to God to reveal himself, it will become the mirror in which you see his face. This will happen when you use both heart and mind in studying God's Word.
(a) Read the Bible with your heart: If you read it merely in an intellectual way, as a bare academic study, you cannot hope to find anything but sterility for your soul, for the mind by itself cannot reach God. If you read the Bible "as the deer longs for running streams," God will reveal himself to you and will satisfy the secret longings of your soul and spirit.
(b) Read the Bible with your mind. Be on guard against the opposite attitude, which is just as unfortunate - the attitude that refuses to bring to the study of the Word of God all of
the intellect and other resources which God himself has put at our disposal. Remember that it is God who created our mind, when he made us in his image. So we are to gladly use our mind and our intellectual faculties to understand the ways and thoughts of God as revealed in the Bible.
4.3. READ THE BIBLE TO GROW IN YOUR PRAYER LIFE
Prayer and the Word of God go together. They are like the two wires of a telephone conversation which make it possible for us both to listen to God and to speak to him. The spiritual life is a dialogue with God.
The more we listen to the voice of God and grasp the things he wants to reveal to us, the more our prayer becomes inspired and permeated with the Word of God. What better way to speak to God in prayer than with the words that he himself has spoken to us! Thus, our prayer becomes more pleasing to God because we pray according to his will.
On the contrary, if we neglect the study of the Bible, we will find that our prayer-life becomes feeble, boring, moving around in circles, and ineffective. Without being rooted and grounded in God's Word, our prayer in effect tells God: "May our will be done on earth." And this is an awful corruption of the model prayer that Jesus taught us in the "Our Father."
We need to listen most carefully to God's voice in his written word so that we may open our hearts to him in prayer.
4.4, READ THE BIBLE TO NOURISH YOUR SPIRIT
Your "outer person" (your material self) needs a regular and balanced diet in the form of food. This is good and necessary. It stands to reason that your "inner person" (spiritual self) also needs the same regular and balanced diet, and to an even greater degree. If you are poor eater, you inevitably become weak and vulnerable to all kinds of diseases. Just as the body needs three good meals a day - morning, noon and night - so does your spirit need spiritual food regularly.
For many Catholics the "bread from heaven" that God gives us is the Eucharistic body of Jesus and so they faithfully nourish themselves at the table of the Eucharist. But there is another "bread from heaven," namely, the Word of God. "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God" (Mt 4:4; also read Ezek 2:8-3:3; 1 Pet 2:2; Heb 5:14). Many Catholics, unfortunately, do not nourish themselves at the table of God's Word. It is not surprising, therefore, that they are spiritually "undernourished" and consequently become infected with values, principles and ideas of the world that are contrary to the Word of God.
It is not a question of either/or - nourish yourself either at the table of the Eucharist or at the table of the Bible, but both/and - nourish yourself both at the table of the Eucharist and at the table of the Bible. Then you will be profiting from both forms of nourishment that God is providing you.
4.5. READ THE BIBLE TO STRENGTHEN YOUR FAITH
The Christian Faith you now possess was created in you through the Word of God (1 Pet 2:23) which you received from others (cf. Rom 10:17). If you go back over your life you will be able to identify the "others" who communicated the Christian Faith to you.
If you want God to develop your Christian Faith, you will have to drink deeply from this spiritual well - the Bible which is the written Word of God. The more we know God's Word, the better we shall know his will, and the more closely shall we be able to live according to his will. We shall then be the "wise man" whom Jesus praised in Mt 7:24-25.
4.6. READ THE BIBLE TO LEARN HOW TO LIVE AS A CHRISTIAN IN THE WORLD
(a) The thoughts and ways of the world around us are in flagrant contrast to God's thoughts and ways (cf. Is 55:8-9). The false values of people around us invade us from every side like so many weeds, stunting our spiritual growth. It isn't easy to get rid of them. Everywhere, truth is adulterated with error and we take in the spiritual and moral pollution through our senses. We are contaminated, a lot of the time unconsciously, by the things we see and read and hear. Every single day we need to be cleansed afresh and set right.
(b) Our mere conscience is not enough to guide us. It is like the compass needle that does in fact point to the north, but never to the true north; there is always a magnetic variation, which needs to be corrected repeatedly by constant reference to the mariner's chart. So our conscience needs to be constantly corrected by the voice of God, by reference to his Word. God fully realises our problem: that is why he brought into existence, through his Holy Spirit, the Book which contains his Word and by means of which he gives us the spiritual compass for our life.
(c) Jesus said: "If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (Jn 8:31-32).
(d) If you are a person young in age, remember the words of the Book of Ecclesiastes says: "Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come ..." (12:1). If now, while you are still young, you come into a deep knowledge of God through his Word, then your whole life in the future will be set in a wholesome direction from the start.
Study two texts on God's written Word which summarize all that has been said above.
(1) 2 Tim 3;14-17. In this passage Paul mentions two major fruits from knowing the Scriptures:
(a) We come to know Jesus Christ and receive his salvation; and
(b) We grow spiritually so that we are complete and equipped for every good work that God wants no to do through us.
* "teaches" us the path is an which we are to walk as Christians;
* "reproves" or "rebukes" us when we have strayed off the path through sin;
* "corrects" us when our Christian walk is faulty and not completely true;
* "trains in righteousness" but equipping and strengthening us to live as Christians.
Thus, the Bible is the comprehensive guidebook for living the Christian life.
(2) Psalm 119 teaches the manifold benefits that comes from studying and living God's Word.
5. SEVEN STATEMENTS ON THE BTBLE
The Bible is a unique book. In a sense every book is unique, but the Bible is so because, more than any other book, it has had a greater life-changing and life-enrichening impact on more people down the centuries than any other book.
In order that we too may have this life-changing and life- enrichening experience, it is extremely important that we rightly read and understand God's Word as written in the pages of the Bible. This requires that we understand the manner in which God communicated his Word to the people of Israel and the way that Word was written down and, in turn, communicated to us.
I have formulated seven statements on the Bible which will help you correctly approach the Bible and rightly understand God's Word as contained in it. Note that:
(a) Each statement has two parts separated by a "yet." Each part is important and true. But to hold one part and neglect or deny the other part makes the statement false.
(b) For every statement there is a quotation from Vatican II's document on Divine Revelation ("Dei Verbum"). The quotations are printed in Italics.
(c) After each statement is explained there is a "hence," which shows how the truth contained in the statement will influence the way in which we read and understand the Bible.
5.1. THE BIBLE IS OE BOOK, YET IT IS A LIBRARY OF BOOKS.
(1) A Book that is a Library
The Bible is published and referred to as one book: the Book of the Bible, the Holy Bible. As one book it contains the revelation of God to the people of Israel (The OT) which reached its fulfillment in Jesus Christ (The NT).
But the Bible is more than one book, it is a library of books. Enter a library and you come across a whole variety of books
which fall under different categories. You find books that are histories, biographies, novels, dramas, poems, essays, books on science, and so on.
Such is also the Bible: it is a collection of a variety of books. Open the Bible and you enter a library. The Bible-Library comprises two main sections of books: the OT books (Catholic Bibles have 46 books; Protestant Bibles have 39 books), and the NT books (27 books). Within each section, there is a variety of books, and further there is a variety of literary forms within a book.
(a) The OLD TESTAMENT may be seen to comprise 8 sub-sections:
1. The books of the Torah or Pentateuch or Law (5):
Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. While these 5 books include predominantly legal material (hence they are referred to as "the Law"), they also contain historical, genealogical and other passages.
2. The Historical Books (13):
Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings, 1-2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, 1-2 Maccabees. This section of 13 books contain predominantly material on the history of the people of Israel after they entered the promised land of Canaan till the century or so before the birth of Jesus.
3. The Prophetical Books (17):
Isaiah, Jeremiah, The Lamentations of Jeremiah, Baruch, Ezekiel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi.
4. The Sapiential or Windom Books (5):
Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes, Sirach, Wisdom of Solomon
5. Inspirational Books (3): Tobit, Esther, Judith.
6. A Prayer Book (1): Psalms.
7. An Apocalyptic Book (1): Daniel.
8. A Love Song (1): Song of Solomon.
(b) The NEW TESTAMENT may be seen to comprise 4 sub-sections:
1. The Gospels (4): Matthew, Mark, Luke, John.
2. The Acts of the Apostles (1).
3. The Letters or Epistles (21):
Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1-2 Thessalonians, 1-2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, Jones, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude.
4. An Apocalyptic book: Revelation (1).
(2) Within the books of the OT and NT we shall find different "literary forms." Very simply put, a "literary form" is the form of writing that an author chooses to convey what he has to say to his reading audience. An author may choose to write an autobiography, a novel (historical or pure fiction), drama (comedy or tragedy), history, science, poetry.
Each literary form has its own rules by which what is written may be rightly interpreted and understood. For example: you cannot apply the same rules for understanding a poetic passage and a prose passage, a prophetic passage and an apocalyptic passage.
When we read the Bible we should be prepared to come across not only a great variety of books but also a great variety of literary forms within a book. This means that:
(a) BEFORE we begin the study of any book we shall pay attention to the type of book it is, for the type of book will determine our understanding of its contents (e.g. whether historical, prophetical, wisdom).
(b) WHILE we are studying the book we shall continue to pay attention to the different literary forms of writing within the book. For example in the Gospel according to Matthew there are a variety of literary forms: genealogy, parable, miracle story, pronouncement story, apocalyptic passage, etc.
(4) Listen to the teaching of Vatican II (12.1-2):
"Seeing that, in sacred Scripture, God speaks through man in human fashion, it follows that the interpreter of sacred Scriptures, if he is to ascertain what God has wished to communicate to us, should carefully search out the meaning which the sacred writers really had in mind ...
In determining the intention of the sacred writers, attention must be paid, inter alia, to literary forms for the fact is that truth is differently presented and expressed in the various types of historical writing, in prophetical and poetical texts, and in other forms of literary expression."
5.2. THE BIBLE HAS MARY HUMAN AUTHORS, YET IT HAS ONE DIVINE AUTHOR: THE HOLY SPIRIT.
(1) Innumerable human authors, both known and unknown , have contributed to the writing of the 73 books of the OT and the NT.
(2) But what makes the Bible unique in the final analysis is not the contribution of the human authors, but the fact that the human authors were inspired by the Holy Spirit. Ultimately, the Bible is the work of the Holy Spirit. "All Scripture is inspired by God ..." (2 Tim 3:16).
(a) We are to do as much background study of the human author of a Bible book as is possible. This background study is specially useful with regard to the authors of the NT books. The more we know of the human authors, the better we shall understand the books they wrote.
(b) We read the Bible with the fullest confidence and assurance, knowing that, unlike any other book, it is most trustworthy, reliable, and free from error.
This is what Vatican II teaches (DV:11.2):
"Since, therefore, all that the inspired authors ... affirm should be regarded as-affirmed by the Holy Spirit, we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture firmly, faithfully and without error, beach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the sacred Scriptures."
(c) Since the Bible was inspired by the Holy Spirit, we read the Bible asking for the assistance of the Holy Spirit to understand God's Word, and we read it with faith and
Again listen to Vatican II (DV:5):
"The obedience of faith (Rom 18:26; cf. Rom 1:5; 2 Cor 10:5-8) must be given to God as he reveals himself. By faith man freely commits his entire self to God ... Before this faith can be exercised, man must have the grace of God to move and assist him; he must have the interior helps of the Holy Spirit, who moves the heart and converts it to God, who opens the eyes of the mind and ‘makes it easy the all to accept and believe the truth.' The same Holy Spirit constantly perfects faith by his gifts, so that Revelation may be more and more profoundly understood."
5.3. THE BIBLE SPEAKS OF MARY TOPICS, YET IT IS CONCERNED ABOUT ONLY ONE TOPIC: OUR SALVATION.
(1) From what error is the Bible trustworthy, reliable and free from error? People have read the Bible to learn about many topics. They have gone to the Bible to obtain knowledge about scientific, historical, geographical, anthropological and other facts. But the Bible was not written to teach us about truths in these fields. To learn about these truths (called secular" as contrary to "religious" truths) we need to go to the natural and social sciences which are taught in the Institutes of Higher Learning (Colleges and Universities).
(2) While there are references to many topics in the Bible, the Bible was written to teach us about only one and ultimately the only important matter: our salvation. Regarding the truths concerning our salvation, the Bible does not err.
(a) The truths concerning our salvation form the golden thread that runs right through the Bible from the book of Genesis to the book-of-Revelation. Consider the wise words of Louis Pascal a Catholic scientist: "The Bible does not tell us how the heavens go, it tells us how to go to heaven."
Besides what Vatican IT teaches in DV:11.2 in 5.2 above, the Council also says (DV:6.1):
"By divine Revelation God wished to manifest and communicate both himself and the eternal decrees of his will concerning the salvation of mankind. He wished, in other words, 'to share with us divine benefits which entirely surpass the powers of the human mind to understand.'"
(b) The eternal and infallible truths about salvation lead to righteousness. In the Bible we learn of those great truths which teach us how to live in right relationship with God and with neighbour. Remember that- "All Scripture is ... profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work" (2 Tim 3:16-17).
(a) We read the Bible not to learn about "secular" truths. We should not be surprised if, with regard to scientific, historical, geographical and such matters, we find inconsistencies, contradictions, and even errors in the Bible. These are "secular" truths, and the Bible was not written to teach such truths. Think of the Galileo case.
(b) We read the Bible to learn about "religious" truths, namely truths about our salvation and righteous living before God and neighbour. Regarding these spiritual truths we have the supreme confidence and the assurance of the Holy Spirit that the Bible is free of all error.
5.4. THE BIBLE IS GOD'S WORD ADDRESSED TO ONE PEOPLE, YET IT IS MEANT FOR ALL PEOPLES.
(1) The Bible contains God's Word that was spoken to a definite group of people - namely, the people of Israel - who lived during a definite period of time and in a definite place on the face of the earth.
This raises the question: Does God have favourites? Does he love the people of Israel more than he loves the other peoples on earth, for example, the people of India? Not at all! God had to start with one people in order to reach out to all peoples. The way God dealt with Israel serves as a model and an exemplar of the way he deals with all peoples, and with us. For God "desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth…” (1Tim 2:4)
Therefore God chose the people of Israel so that through them he could communicate his word and himself to all peoples. Israel was chosen by God not because they were a special
people; rather, Israel became a special people because God chose to communicate himself to them and through them to the other peoples of the earth.
(2) Given the fact that God chose to reveal himself and communicate his word to the people of Israel, we need always to bear in mind as we read and study the Bible that the people of Israel had their own particular culture, and, in many ways, shared and drew from the cultures of her neighbours: e.g. Babylon, Egypt, Syria, Assyria, Mari, etc. For example; Israel's three-tier world-view, the patriarchal system, customs, laws and so on.
(a) When we read the Bible we shall find many things which are remote from our own culture and experience, things which are strange to us, and sometimes even scandalous: e.g. Sarai offered her servant to Abraham so that he might bear a child for her (Gen 16:1-2). Such passages, instead of upsetting or scandalizing us, should lead us to do the
necessary background study in order to understand the culture of Israel and her neighbours.
Hear what Vatican II says on this point (DV:12.1-2):
"Hence the exegete must look for that meaning which the sacred writer, in a determined situation and given the circumstances of his time and culture, intended to express and did in fact express, through the medium of a contemporary literary form.
Rightly to understand what the sacred author wanted to affirm in his work, due attention must be paid both to the customary and characteristic patterns of perception, speech and narrative which prevailed at the age of the sacred writer, and to the conventions which the people of his time followed in their dealing with one another."
(b) We shall read the Bible not merely to learn how God dealt with the people of Israel in the past, but more importantly, to learn how God deals with us in the present. The way
God and Israel related to each other is a mirror of the way God relates to us and of the way we relate or are expected to relate to God today. The word of God that saved, sustained and strengthened the people of Israel in their history is able to save, sustain and strengthen us in our history.
5.5. THE BIBLE CONTAINS GOD'S ETERNAL WORD, YET THAT WORD WAS COMMUNICATED TO ISRAEL IN TIME
(1) God's Word is eternal. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (Jn 1:1). In order to draw us into communion with him, God communicated his eternal word to Israel and through Israel to us. We call this "divine revelation."
(2) But God's self-communication to Israel did not take place in a moment. Rather, it took place in a gradual and progressively unfolding way in the course of the history of Israel, which spread over more than 20 centuries. The OT spans about 20 centuries, and the NT covers a little more than a century.
In other words, God's revelation also has a history. The process of revelation could not be otherwise. This communication was conditioned by the religious receptivity of the people of Israel. Think of a mother who wishes to communicate her love to her child; or think of a teacher who wishes to communicate her knowledge to her student. They must necessarily adapt their communication to the level (receptivity) of her child/student, and deepen that communication as the child/student grows and matures. So it was with God, the divine mother and pedagogue. His eternal word was progressively revealed in the course of the long history of the people of Israel.
Vatican II says this (DV:13):
" ... In sacred Scripture, without prejudice to God’s truth and holiness, the marvellous 'condescension' of eternal wisdom is plain to be seen 'that we say come to know the ineffable loving-kindness of God and see for ourselves how far he has gone in adapting his language with thoughtful concern for our nature' (St. John Chrysostom). Indeed the word's of God, expressed in the words of men, are in every way like human language, Just as the Word of the eternal Father, when he book on himself the flesh of human weakness, became like men."
(a) We can expect to find in the Bible a development:
* in Israel's understanding of God, of his word, of its relationship to God;
* in Israel's understanding of the relationships that must characterize its members;
* in Israel's understanding of its relationship to the other nations of the earth.
For example: we see a development in Israel's understanding of God, of the signs of blessing and righteousness, of vengeance and forgiveness, of individual retribution, of
life after death, and so on.
(b) We are not to place the books of the Bible all at the same level. Christians are people of the New Testament and not of the Old Testament. While it is true that the New Testatment is contained in the Old and the Old Testament is fulfilled in the New, the OT books have less normative value for us Christians than the NT books. There is so much in the OT that is outdated and not binding any more on the disciples of Jesus.
* Jesus himself taught this. "You have heard that it was said ... but I say to you ..." (Mt 5:21-48). In this Matthean passage Jesus' teaching goes beyond that of the Law of Moses. Also read Jesus' words on unclean and clean food (Mk 7:1-23).
* Examples of outdated teaching in the OT which are no longer binding on the Christian are: circumcision, clean and unclean food, bloody and unbloody sacrifices, conditions of ritual purity and impurity, divorce, polgyny, vengeance (eye for an eye), holy war, the inferior status of women, the priesthood restricted to the tribe of Levi, and so on.
(c) While there is much that is outdated in the OT because of the fuller revelation that Jesus Christ has given us, there is much that remains valid and binding on Christians even today. My OT series UNLESS SOME MAN SHOWS ME has been written precisely to uncover the abiding truths contained in the OT.
"These books (of the OT), even though they contain matters imperfect and provisional, nevertheless show us the authentic divine teaching. Christians should accept with veneration these writings which give expression to a lively sense of God, which are a storehouse of sublime teaching on God and of sound wisdom on human life, as well as a wonderful treasury of prayers; in them, too, the mystery of our salvation is present in a hidden way" (DY:15).
(d) Who helps us to discern what, in the OT, is of continuing normative value for us Christians and what is not? Jesus Christ! We have to walk with Jesus through the Old
Testament and he will enable us, through the enlightenment of his Spirit, and under the guidance of the Magisterium (The teaching authority in the Church) to discern what he has abolished and what he has fulfilled.
5.6. THE BIBLE PRESENTS MANY ACTORS, YET ITS FOCUS IS ON ONE ACTOR:
GOD IN THE OLD TESTAMENT, AND GOD-IN-JESUS IN THE NEW TESTAHENT.
(1) The study of the Bible will introduce us to a host of personalities: the Patriarchs, Hoses, and Judges, the Kings, the Prophets, John the Baptizer, Mary, the Apostles, Paul, Barnabas, Timothy, and so on.
(2) But the Bible does not focus on them. Its focus and its "hero" is God: in the OT - God is called Yahweh ("the Lord"); in the RT - Yahweh revealed himself in the man Jesus, "God-with-us." Therefore, looking at the Bible as a whole, we need to recognize that Jesus is the climaxing focus of the entire Bible. Read Lk 24:44; Heb 1:1-2.
Vatican II teaches (DV:2):
"The most intimate truth which this revelation gives us about G'od and the salvation of man shines forth in Christ, who is himself both the mediator and the sum total of revelation" (cf.Mt 11:27; Jn .1:14-18; 17:1-3; 2 Cor 3:16; 4:6)."
(a) To focus our attention on any of the personalities of the Bible may at times disappoint and even scandalize us. For they were all imperfect and even sinful (except Mary), and they all needed to be saved (including Mary).
(b) Rather, we shall read the OT with our eyes focused on God. When we do so we shall see how God was at work in the events and in the persons of Israel's history, how he drew
good out of their evil, how he was the source of all their blessings, how he wrote straight on the crooked lines of their lives, and how he achieved his purpose in spite of Israel's countless defections and sins. We shall recognize and rejoice in the truth of Ex 34:6-7 which runs right through Israel's history.
(c) We shall also read the OT to learn how the various leaders of Israel were in some way "types" of Jesus: that is, they were forerunners of Jesus, they prepare us for Jesus, they help us to understand and appreciate Jesus.
Vatican II states this (DV:15):
"The economy of the Old Testament was deliberately so orientated that it should prepare for and declare in prophecy the coming of Christ, redeemer of all men, and of the messianic kingdom (cf. Lk 24:44; Jn 5:39; 1 Pet 1:10), and should indicate it by means of different types (cf.1 Cor .10:11)."
(d) We shall read the NT with our eyes fixed on Jesus: who is God-with-us, our Saviour and Lord. We shall read in order to know Jesus more fully, to love him more deeply, and to follow him more closely. We shall read "looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith ..." (Heb 12:2).
5.7. THE BIBLE TELLS OF MANY EVENTS. YET THEY LEAD TO ONE CLIMAXING EVENT THE-PASSOVER EVENT OF JESUS CHRIST.
(1) When we read the Bible we shall learn about many events in the history of God's chosen people. In my CHART ON THE HISTORY OF SALVATION IN THE OLD TESTAMENT I have identified the principal events of salvation history.
(2) Such knowledge, however, should not distract us from recognizing that all the events of the Bible lead up to and flow from the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Passover of Jesus from death to life is the central and culminating event of the entire Bible.
* Read Lk 24:27,44.
* God's plan is "to unite all things in him (Christ), things in heaven and things on earth" (Eph 1:10). God realized this plan through the various events of Israel's history.
Listen to Vatican II (DV:4.1):
"After God had spoken many times and in various ways through the prophets, 'in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son' (Heb 1:1-2). For he sent his Son, the eternal Word who
enlightens all men, to dwell among men and to tell them about the inner life of God ... As a result, he... completed and perfected revelation and confirmed it with divine guarantees ... He revealed that God was with us, to deliver us from the darkness of sin and death, and to raise us up to eternal life."
(a) We shall read the OT with our eyes focused on the Passover event of Jesus Christ. We shall read and relate every event in Israel's past to the future Passover event of Jesus. We
shall see how the wonderful plan of God for the salvation of the human race was realized through the various stages of Israel's history to reach its glorious culmination on the cross and in the empty tomb.
(b) We shall read the four Gospels and discover that all the events of the life and ministry of Jesus led up to Good Friday and Easter. Jesus was one man who was born to die, and by his death he brought life to the world!
(c) We shall read the other books of the NT and recognize that the Passover event was the core of the Gospel (the Good News) of salvation proclaimed by the disciples of Jesus (Acts 2:22-36; 3:13-16; 10:36-43; 13:17-41).
(d) We shall read the NT to discover how we, as disciples of the Lord Jesus, are to live the death-resurrection dynamic of Jesus for the salvation of the world (cf.Jn 12:24). We shall recognize that we will not be able to do this on our own, but only by abiding in Jesus (cf.Jn 15:1-11) and in his Spirit (Eph 1:14).
6. THREE CONTEXTS OF BIBLE STUDY
In order to effectively minister the Word of God to others in the three forms mentioned in section 3.2 above (Evangelical Word Ministry, Discipleship Word Ministry, and Occasion-al Word Ministry), we need to be diligent students of the Word of God. This diligent study of God's Word takes place in three contexts or situations of our life.
6.1. TEACHER BIBLE STUDY (TBS)
Such a study of the Bible is undertaken under the direction and guidance of a teacher. A teacher is invited to conduct a Bible Course to a group of students.
The Bible witnesses to such a study of God's Word. For example:
* The Jerusalem Christiana devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching (cf. Acts 2:42).
* Christians learned God's Word through Paul's teaching (Acts 20:20; Rom 1:11-13; 1 Cor 3:1-2; Gal 1:8; and many other texts).
Such Bible study is the traditionally preferred way adopted and promoted in the Catholic Church, whether at the diocesan or parish level.
6.2. PERSONAL BIBLE STUDY (PBS)
(1) Personal Bible Study is done under the direct guidance of the Holy Spirit, who dwells within the baptized. The Justification of PBS is based on such texts of the NT as 1 Jn 2:26-27. Note that these words of John were written to Christians in general, and not specifically to bishops and priests.
(2) IN PRINCIPLE, PBS is encouraged in the recent documents of the Catholic Church.
Listen to Vatican II (DV:25.1):
"Likewise, the sacred Synod forcefully and specifically exhorts all the Christian faithful, especially those who live the religious life, to learn 'the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ' (Phil 3:8) by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures. 'Ignorance of- the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ' (St. Jerome).
Therefore, let them gladly go to the sacred text itself, whether in the sacred liturgy, which is full of the divine words, or in devout reading, or in such suitable exercises and various other helps which, with the approval and guidance of the pastors of the Church, are happily spreading everywhere in our day.
Let them remember, however, that prayer should accompany the reading of sacred Scripture, so that a dialogue takes place between God and man. For 'we speak to him when we prays we listen to him when we read the divine oracles.'"
But, IN PRACTICE, we still notice a certain reluctance on the part of not only a section of the Catholic clergy but also a section of the Catholic lay faithful themselves to undertake PBS. Why? The reason probably lies in the fear in the hearts of both clergy and lay faithful that such a personal study of the Bible will lead the Catholic to a wrong understanding of the Scriptures.
6.3. GROUP BIBLE STUDY (GBS)
Group Bible Study takes place within a group where group members teach each other. GBS is based on such texts as Heb 10:24-25 and Col 3:16.
* Group meetings are useful "to stir up one another to love and good works" and to encourage one another to remain faithful to the Lord (Heb 10:24-25).
* At such meetings we are to "teach and admonish one another in all wisdom" as we allow the word of Christ to dwell in us richly (Col 3:16).
To share God's word in the group we must first make it possible for God's word to "dwell in us richly." Bible sharing will not be effective unless the members of the group have first done PBS at home!
Such study is something that Paul wishes all Christians (he is not writing to bishops, priests, or religious) to undertake.
(1) The Bible teaches that there are three contexts for the study of God's word. Such study can take place under a teacher, privately, and within a group.
(2) The three contexts are interdependent: each context complements and strengthens the others.
(a) A good teacher inspires the personal study of the Bible; the insights gained through personal study are shared and developed in group study.
(b) Group study sometimes raises questions regarding certain points of Scripture and this calls for the ministry of the teacher to help the individual and the group to grow in the Word.
(3) Full study of God's Word therefore takes place when all three contexts are recognized and promoted. In other words, we are not to neglect any one context. If we, in the Catholic Church, are to be obedient to the full Word of God, we need to promote all three contexts of Bible study.
(4) If forced to rank the three contexts of Bible study, I would say that Personal Bible Study (PBS) is the most important of the three. Firstly, the fruits of TBS are reinforced, interiorized and personalized in PBS. Secondly, GBS will be exciting and enrichening to the degree that every group member has done PBS.
7. FOUR PRINCIPLES OF BIBLE STUDY
Bible study can be exciting - it can be a Joyful experience. While all Christians agree that the Bible should be studied, many do not find joy in their study. They know very little about the Bible and feel that it is difficult to understand. To them it is a strange book, seemingly too hard or too dull, and they have little inclination to read or study it. This is truly unfortunate, because Bible study can be e most rewarding, exciting and joyful experience.
Reflect (and share in your group): What has been your experience in doing personal Bible study? (a) frustrating? (b) boring? (c) never really tried? (d) so-so? (e) rewarding?
In order that Bible study be a life-changing and life-enrichening experience for you, you need to observe the following four principles. These principles hold true whether you are engaged in Bible study in any of the three contexts mentioned in previous chapter.
(1) Have the right goal BEFORE you.
(2) Have the proper spirit and attitudes WITHIN you.
(3) Have the necessary tools BESIDE you.
(4) Have a disciplined method FOR you. -
7.1. HAVE THE RIGHT GOAL BEFORE YOU
The goal of Bible study is not interpretation but rather application, not merely hearing God's Word but more importantly living it. Our target is to have our daily life and ministry become more
conformed to the image and likeness of Jesus Christ.
We do Bible study not so much to know something, but to be someone. Our objective is not so much to master the Word, but to let the Word master us, so that we become more and more like Jesus. The ultimate goal of Bible study may be expressed in Paul's words:
"Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ ..." (Eph 4:15).
One day after the synagogue service, a young disciple told his old rabbi, "I've been through the Bible nine times!" When the rabbi made no response, the disciple repeated what he had said, "I've been through the Bible nine times!" The rabbi said softly, "My son, the important thing is not how often you've been through the Bible, but how often it's been through you!"
7.2. HAVE THE PROPER SPIRIT AND ATTITUDES WITHIN YOU
7.2.1. THE PROPER SPIRIT
The proper spirit is the spirit of a discoverer. Other terms similar to “discoverer” are “seeker”, “explorer," "navigator."
(1) Why become discoverers?
To "discover" is to obtain insight or knowledge for the time, to unearth, to explore. Further, a discoverer is one who finds out things for himself.
The pattern in many Bible study groups is for the leader to be the discoverer and share his discoveries with others. Since the participants are not helped to become discoverers themselves, the chances are that they will quickly forget what was taught.
But there is more joy in discovering for oneself a truth in the Bible than in simply accepting from another that the Bible teaches that truth. "It la only when truth is discovered that it is appropriated. When a man is simply told the truth, it remains external to him and he can quite easily forget it. When he is led to discover the truth himself it becomes an integral part of him and he never forgets" (W.Barclay in "Daily Celebration")..
The example of the Jews of Beroea may inspire you to want to be a discoverer. "Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with all eagerness, examining the scriptures daily to see if these things were so" (Acts 17:11). For which three reasons did Luke consider the Beroean Jews more noble than the Jews of Thessalonica?
(2) Four values of personal learning which contribute to the joy of discovery:
(a) It develops self-responsibility: you assume responsibility for your own learning.
(b) It requires self-commitment: commitment to invest time in individual study.
(c) It increases satisfaction in learning: satisfaction comes from discovering for yourself.
(d) It develops creative potential: like many persons you may have a low opinion of yourself as a student. By practicing the skills described in this Manual, you will find that you can discover for yourself many of the truths in Scripture.
(3) The Joy of discovering with others:
You can become a discoverer by yourself. But you can multiply the effectiveness of discovery by working together with others in a small group.
What are the values of group learning? The four values of personal learning mentioned above are reinforced and heightened by learning in a group. Effective group learning is
dependent on the willingness of all members to study, to share, to listen, to challenge and question each other. Through this process you will learn to clarify your own thinking, refine your insights, broaden your concepts, and correct faulty ones.
7.2.2. THE PROPER ATTITUDES
If you wish to become a discoverer one of your first needs is to consider the attitudes which will hinder or help you.
(1) Unhelpful attitudes
The following are unhelpful and unhealthy attitudes:
* Closed: "I don't believe everything the Bible teaches. Since it was written so many thousands of years ago, how can it have any value today?"
* Defeatist: "I won't be able to understand anything anyway, so why try?"
* Fear: "I'm afraid that what I discover may be wrong and I will make a fool of myself when I express it to others."
* Lazy: "I suppose if I tried I could understand more than I do, but what I read seems rather hard and dull. I don't know if I should put in the energy to learn how to study."
(2) Helpful attitudes
The following are helpful and healthy attitudes:
* Receptive: "God asks of me only an open heart and an open mind so that he can reveal himself and his truths to me. I don't have to understand everything."
* Hopeful: "I want to learn how to study the Bible. No doubt I’ll have trouble learning some of the Bible study skills. I'm sure there will be things in the Bible I'll not understand. But I believe that with the help of the Holy Spirit. I too can learn how to gain insight into God's Word."
* Confident: "I'm coming to God's Word to let him speak to me. As I study and pray, I believe that the message in any scripture passage will unfold itself to me."
* Faithful: "I cannot expect much from Bible study unless I'm willing to invest some energy and discipline in the study I realize that God has placed a price on his Word: faithfulness and diligence in study. If I only scratch the surface, my reward will be a few crumbs. But if I dig deeply into his Word, my reward will be rich treasures."
Therefore, come to Bible study:
(a) with eager desire to hear God speak to you: Mk 5:6; Ps 42:1-2; Ps 63:1;
(b) with reverence because it is God's word you are reading and it is God who will speak to you: Hab 2:20;· 1 Thes 2:13;
(c) with alertness (physical, mental) to hear when God does speak to you: 1 Sam 3:10;
(d) with readiness to obey whatever God tells you to do: Lk 1:38.
7.3. HAVE THE NECESSARY TOOLS BESIDE YOU
To dig, to discover, you need "tools" - that material or equipment which will enable you to experience the Joy of discovery. What tools or resources do you need to be a diligent discoverer of the treasures of God's written Word?
(1) Study Bible: Use a reliable standard version of the Bible for your study, i.e. a translation based on the original Hebrew and Greek manuscripts. While you must certainly possess one study Bible, have/consult other study Bibles. This will enrich your understanding of God's Word.
For example: The New American Bible, the New Revised Standard Version (the Catholic edition has all the 73 books), The Jerusalem Bible, The New English Bible, The Thompson Chain-Reference Bible (NIV), The Family Devotional Study Bible (NIV), The Open Bible (KJV), The Serendipity Bible for Groups (NIV).
(2) Paraphrased Bible: Besides one basic study Bible, you should have/consult some of the more "free" translations and para-phrased versions. All of these will give you further insight into the meaning of the text.
For example: Today's English Version (Good News Bible), The Living Bible, Phillips' New Testament, The Amplified Version, The Way.
(3) Bible Concordance: A Concordance is an alphabetical index of Bible words to help you find Bible passages on particular subjects. Under a given word, say "life" you will find references to all the Bible verses in which the word "life" appears. An exhaustive Concordance is obviously preferable to an abridged one.
For example: Crudens' Complete Concordance (KJV); Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (KJV); Young's Analytical Concordance to the Bible (KJV); Nelson's Complete Concordance (RSV); Thomas' Exhaustive Concordance to the Bible (NAB); Goodrick & Kohlenberger's Complete Concordance (NIV).
(4) Bible Dictionary: A Dictionary provides explanations of key words and supplies information on persons and places in the Bible and does so, like any dictionary, in an alphabetical order. Such dictionaries make available to you valuable background knowledge that will help you to better understand the text.
For example: Harper's Bible Dictionary (TPI), Xavier-Dufour's Dictionary of the Bible.
(5) Bible Commentary: Commentaries are very helpful both for introductions to Bible books and for detailed study of the contents of each Bible book, chapter by chapter, and sometimes verse by verse.
For example: New Jerome Biblical Commentary (TPI), Barclay's Commentary on the NT Books, and many others which are not mentioned here because this depends on their availability in your local Bookshop or Library.
(8) Bible Atlas: By providing maps on the places and lands of the Bible an Atlas helps to make the events narrated in the Bible come alive. For example: Aharoni and Avi-Yonah's "Macmillan Bible Atlas," "New Bible Atlas," "Student Map Manual" which presents the historical geography of the Bible lands.
(7) Bible Handbook: Such Handbooks are useful in providing back-ground to the geography, history and culture of the Bible times, as well as insight into some of the difficult passages.
For example: The Lion Handbook to the Bible.
7.4. HAVE A DISCIPLINED METHOD FOR YOU
7.4.1. Popular methods
People have followed several methods or approaches in their study of the Bible. Let us list a few.
(1) The random method: According to this method you skip from one passage to another in a random, haphazard manner. Today you take up one text to read, to reflect, to pray on. Tomorrow you go to another text chosen at random. You have no systematic plan or pattern that you follow.
(2) The application method: This is one of the most popular methods. According to this method you read a Bible passage, and then immediately devote your time thinking about ways how it might be applied to your life.
(3) The commentary method: According to this method you read a passage with a Bible Commentary by your side. As you read you immediately consult the commentary for understanding and insight.
(4) The Holy Spirit method: You read a Bible passage and then turn to the Holy Spirit to reveal to you the insights and truths in the passage without doing any personal serious study.
7.4.2. A disciplined method
But yours must be a disciplined and methodical approach. In such a method or approach, you follow an orderly and logical system as you study your Bible. Note that the disciplined method proposed to you in this Manual, far from ignoring or rejecting whatever is valid in the other methods/approaches mentioned above, rather incorporates and integrates them in a systematic and orderly manner.
(1) Why do you need a method to study the Bible?
Method is as important in Bible study as in any other enterprise in life. It is simply not enough to know what you want to do. You have to know the right way of doing it. If you have a goal but no plan or method for achieving it, you will probably never reach it. This is true for any undertaking in life. This is also true for Bible study. If you have a good method, you can get to where you want to go in your study, namely, conformity to the image of Christ. You will achieve your goal of Bible study (see 7.1). Method involves the Joy of discovery. We are conditioned to be taught about God's Word by others (in TBS), but not to dig out the many truths in God's Word for ourselves (in PBS and GBS). By having a disciplined method of Bible study you will have the Joy of finding out truths for yourself which will lead you to greater personal convictions.
(2) Focus on one method:
There are great variety of Bible study methods. In this Manual you will learn one method that you can profitably use for the rest of your life.
(3) The method involves a process:
It takes time for the seed to become a stalk and then to bear fruit. The best things of life take time to mature. Consider the long process involved in gaining excellence in the natural sciences and in the fine arts. The same is true if you wish to reap the fruits of Bible study.
Studying the Word of God is a steady, day-to-day growth. Consistency is what pays off. So often we come to the Bible and expect great truths to leap out at us from its pages. We want quick results.
But God doesn't work that way. He is as committed to the process as to the product. For he knows that the former (the process) guarantees the latter (the product). Consider the forty years of Moses in the wilderness of Midian, the one and a half years of Paul in the deserts of Arabia, the thirty years of Jesus in his home town of Nazareth.
Be warned against what I call "the American heresy" – the itch for instant results. This may be true for some things in life, but not for the best things.
(4) The method involves hard work:
Getting the fruits of Bible study involves not only a process but also practice. Your success with the study method presented in this Manual depends on your willingness to practice.
Practice is the means by which excellence in any skill is achieved.
Supposing we all possess the same version of the Bible, and we invoke the same Holy Spirit, and follow the same method of study. The only variables are time and effort. Excellence comes at a price! This is true in the field of athletics (think of the Olympic gold medalists), in that of scientific research (think of the Noble Prize winners), and in that of the fine arts (think of the flawless performance of Indian classical dancers and the Western ballet dancers). This is equally true in the matter of Bible study. I repeat: excellence comes at a price!
III. PERSONAL BIBLE STUDY
8. THE FOUR STEPS IN PERSONAL BIBLE STUDY
In school all education is based on the three R's of reading, 'riting, and 'rithmetic. Children must learn how to read, how to write, and how to count if they are to get anywhere in life. The practice of the three R's calls for a lot of hard work and discipline on the part of the child.
My experience in the school of God's Word has led me to formulate four R's which I have found to be essential to personal Bible study. They are RETIRE, READ, REFLECT and RESPOND. These four steps are to be followed in that order or sequence: first comes the step of retiring, then the steps of reading and reflecting, and finally the step of responding. You cannot hope to respond to God's Word - step four -- unless you have first observed the previous three R's.
Each of the four R's will demand a certain discipline from Christ's disciple. But it is a price worth paying if you wish to effectively wield the "sword of the Spirit" (Eph 6:17) in your own life and in the life of others.
This chapter will explain the purpose of each step and how each step contributes to the overall process of a disciplined discovery of God's Word. In the following chapters (9-12), we shall explain what is involved in practising each step. In other words, this chapter speaks of the "why" of each step, and the next four chapters on the "how" of each step.
8.1.1. What does "retire" mean?
The first step you need to take in carrying out your desire to study God's Word is to "retire." To "retire" is to withdraw from your regular daily occupations, however important and not necessary; it is to "go into your room and shut the door" (Mt 6:6); it is to schedule a definite "Quiet Time" for God's Word into your daily time-table.
Any person who is serious about committing himself/herself to personal Bible study will be one who has a regular quiet time. There are other names for this step such as "morning watch," "personal devotion," and "appointment with God." By whatever name you call it, quiet time is simply a daily time of personal fellowship with God through the Word and prayer.
8.1.2. Why must we retire?
Why must we retire to have a period of Quiet Time with the Lord?
Consider the following reasons.
(1) Because we need to fellowship with God
It is natural to want to communicate with someone you love, A true child of God has a deep desire to fellowship with his/her heavenly Father. True, God's love for us is not affected by our failure to return it: he continues to love us. But our human love diminishes and weakens without the nourishment of daily fellowship. A daily Quiet Time is important for a believer so that s/he and the Father may enjoy that close relationship made possible by Jesus' sacrifice.
* Read Phil 3:10-11. Check the benefits that Paul received from his relationship with God: knowledge, power, fellowship, and communion.
* Read 1 Jn 1:3. Our fellowship with other Christians is based on our fellowship with two others. Who are these two others?
(2) Because Jesus gave us an example
Although he was filled with God's Spirit, Jesus felt the need to maintain the practice of regular quiet time so that he could listen to his Father. Read Mk 1:35; 6:46; Lk 5:16;
6:12; 9:18; Mt 14:23. The regular quiet time he observed during his ministry was a source of Jesus' inner strength. Jesus was never too busy for it. If Jesus felt a need for regular communion with the Father, how much more should we feel such a need!
(3) Because of the example of every great man and woman of God
Every great man or woman of God throughout history spent time alone with God. Anyone who has been used mightily by the Lord was a man or woman of prayer and the Word.
What do you think about the following two statements?
* "I have so much to do today that I must spend at least three hours in prayer."
* If you are too busy to have quiet time, then you are too busy.
(4) Because we need to create the required environment to hear the Word of God
To become a diligent and fruit-bearing student of God's Word it is not enough to want or desire to study the Scriptures with all your heart. Many a Christian has done so after a heart-warming and spirit-inspiring Bible course, Retreat, Rally, Crusade, or Convention where the Word of God was preached with power and conviction by the minister. But, alas, the Christian did not progress one step beyond that s/he remained in the dream world of pious wishes. Why? Because s/he did not observe the first R.
Hence, the crucial importance of the first step - RETIRE - by which we take the concrete decision and actions to create for ourselves in the course of our day the required conditions in order to allow God to speak to us.
8.2.1. Why do we read the Bible?
(1) We read the Bible to hear and understand what God is saying through the text. "Blessed are those who hear the word of God ..." (Lk 11:28).
(2) We are to read in a disciplined manner. Christians who have successfully taken the first step and do retire regularly for the study of the Scriptures naively believe that they will unearth the riches of God's Word by simply reading the Bible with devotion from cover to cover.
Undoubtedly something will remain in the mind and the heart of the Christian after such a simple or devotional reading of the Scriptures. But it is so meagre and superficial as compared to what can be discovered through a reading that is systematic and disciplined. Reading the Bible text involves applying diligently the principles of observation and interpretation.
8.2.2. What shall we read in the Bible?
We may choose to read/study a Book, a Character, a Topic or a Theme of the Bible.
(1) BOOK STUDY: We do Book Study when we take as our unit of study a book of the Bible.
(2) CHARACTER or BIOGRAPHICAL STUDY: We do such study when we take as our unit of study a character in the Bible, e.g. Abraham, or Moses, or Peter, or Barnabas, or Paul.
(3) TOPICAL or THEMATIC STUDY: We do such study when we take as our unit of study either a topic or a theme in the Bible.
* Topical Study is more extensive than thematic study: e.g. topics such as prayer, love, obedience, the word of God.
* Thematic Study is a sub-division of a topic. Thus, within the topic of prayer, we may read the Bible to study, "The Psalms," "Other Old Testament prayers," "The prayers of Jesus," "The Our Father," and so on.
For beginners, Bible Book study is the first and most manageable unit of study. In the next four chapters, therefore, we shall limit ourselves to only Bible Book study.
8.3.1. What does "reflect" mean?
By "reflecting" on a text we go beyond "reading" a text: we proceed from the stage of observation and interpretation of God's Word to the application of it in our lives. At the end of reading a Scripture passage I understand what God is saying through it. In this step, I want to hear what God is saying through his Word to ME, I seek to hear the message of God's Word as applied to MY life. It is the step at which I apply the Word of God to the special and unique conditions and relationships that make up my life.
8.3.2. Why must we reflect?
(1) Some Christians, who are avid Bible readers, think they are good students of the Word:
(a) when they are proficient in quoting Bible book, chapter and verse. But, then, even the devil can quote scripture (cf_Mt 4:6). And know where is it written in the Bible that one enters the Kingdom of God by one's literary knowledge of the Scriptures. Such knowledge may only puff up and thereby not lead to salvation!
(b) when they can so direct a Bible verse at others either to show off or to make others feel small or to condemn them. Such knowledge only destroys and is not unto salvation!
(2) But we have seen that the study of the Bible is aimed at growth in Christ (see 7.1), that this is the ultimate criterion of the fruitfulness of all Bible study. Now this third stage of Bible study, during which we reflect on God's Word, helps us to grow and to mature in Christ!
8.4.1. What does "respond" mean?
The whole process of the study of a Bible unit (whether a book, character, topic or theme) ends with our response to the Word of God. This is the "doing the Word" step; this is the "living the Word" step. In this step we pass from being mere "hearers" of the Word to becoming "doers" of the Word.
8.4.2. Why must we respond?
(1) We must remember that in our lives the "doing" of God's Word does not necessarily and automatically follow the "hearing" of his Word. Why? Because in between the hearing and the doing lies our human freedom and the exercise of our free-will. Because I am a free, I can answer negatively, with a "no" to what I have heard God say to me in the "reflect" step. I can find some good reason or reasons (good in my eyes) for: (a)* refusing to obey God's Word, or (b) putting off obeying it, and this practically amounts to rejecting it.
(2) Jesus consistently and uncompromisingly insisted that his disciples be bearers and doers of God's word (e.g. Mt 7:21-27; 21:28-32; Mk 10:17-22; Lk-10:37; 11:27-28).
This truth was learnt and taught by his disciples:
* Mary counselled: "Do whatever he tells you" (Jn 2:5).
* James warned: "Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves ..." (Jas 1:22-25);
* Heb 4:6-7 exhorted quoting Ps 95:7b-8: "O that today you would hearken to his voice! Harden not your hearts."
(3) The following example shows how this step is related to the previous steps and completes the process of Bible study.
(a) RETIRE: I retire to spend quiet time with God's Word.
(b) READ: The word of God that I read is Mt 5:21-26. At this second step I "hear" Jesus say that reconciliation comes before sacrifice. In the New Testament life in which I now live this means that reconciliation needs to be done before celebrating the Eucharist, that in the eyes of God reconciliation has priority and makes the celebration of the Eucharist truly a holy and not a hypocritical action.
(c) REFLECT: As I hear the word of Jesus, I realize that Jesus' word is convicting me of sin, because as I look into my life I see that I need to be reconciled with someone; in other words, that I need to put right my relationship with that person. The word of Jesus is saying to me that I cannot worthily celebrate the Eucharist while I am in that unreconciled situation. All this happens at the third step.
(d) RESPOND: At this final stage, I am still free to admit or reject the word of Jesus which I hear spoken to me.
* If I say "no" and cling on to my resentment, then what takes place is what I call "spiritual abortion": for there is no new life, no change, no transformation in my life; the whole process has ended in nothing new as far as my personal life is concerned.
* But if I say "yes," then what will take place is personal transformation and new life.. If I say "yes," and take the necessary steps to be reconciled with that person, I will experience for myself the saving, healing, and renewing power of God's word. The word of Jesus will make me a different and better Christian! When Mary said her "let it be to me according to your word" (Lk 1:38), she conceived new life and eventually gave birth to the Saviour!
(4) We need to respond positively, with a "Yes," to whatever we hear God speak to us during the reading and reflecting steps. Thereby, we shall experience for ourselves the transforming power of God's word in our lives.
Consider Ezra 7:10. To know God' word, then to obey it by living it and experiencing its saving power, are the indispensable requirements BEFORE communicating that word to others. Without this experience, we run the risk of being only "a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal" (1 Cor 13:1).
We truly communicate when we do so out of the depth of our own experience of the Word. We are authentic communicators of the Word only to the extent that the Word has made a personal impact on our own lives. "For it must not happen that anyone becomes an empty preacher of the Word of God to others, not being a hearer of the Word in his own heart" (St.Augustine).
When we carry out this step we have successfully completed the process involved in the fruitful study of God's Word. With this step we shall experience the saving and freeing power of God's Word which brings increasing measures of the abundant life that Jesus came to give us (cf .Jn 10:10).
9. THE FIRST STEP IN PERSONAL BIBLE STUDY: RETIRE
Recall what was said in 8.1.2 about the purpose (the why?) of this first step. You retire in order to spend quiet time with God's Word.
9.1. THREE REQUIREMENTS FOR EFFECTIVE QUIET TIME
How to have a meaningful Quiet Time for Bible study? Any person who wants to spend effective quiet time in Bible study must satisfy three requirements or conditions.
9.1.1. FIX A TIME
The first requirement is to schedule a regular time in the course of your day for Bible study. Two considerations regarding time need to be noted: when? and how long?
(a) Jesus had his quiet time. What do Mk 1:35 and Lk 6:12 tell us? Read the following verses and note the time of day indicated for prayer: Ps 5:3; Prov 8:17; and Gen 19:27.
* In the morning, quiet time provides you a right spiritual start for the day. It helps you to recognize your dependency on God and his all-sufficiency. It gives you an opportunity to yield your will to him and consciously to dedicate the day to his glory. It is the time of your spiritual breakfast.
* At night, quiet time provides an opportunity to review the day, to give thanks or repent, to petition the Lord for the morrow. It prepares you for a peaceful rest.
(b) Points to remember:
1. Choose the best time: Select a time to spend with God which best fits your schedule. The best time for God is when you are at your best.
2. Be regular: The time you choose must be kept daily so that it becomes a habit.
3. Be consistent: Aim for consistency rather than length of time spent. Whatever time you choose, be consistent in it. This means that it is better to have quiet time for a few minutes every day than to have long periods every other day. Remember that you are laying a foundation for a lifetime.
4. Be persistent: The quiet time period is one of the most difficult habits to maintain. If you are persistent, the quiet time will become meaningful and as normal as eating. Never deliberately allow an exception to occur till the new habit of quiet time for Bible study is securely rooted in your life. Psychologists tell us that it takes about three weeks to get familiar with a new task; and another three weeks before it becomes a habit. If you miss a day, don't worry. Start again. Remember Rom 8:1.
5. Reinforce the habit: Seize every opportunity and inclination during the day to practice your new habit of quiet time for Bible study.
6. Be strong in the Spirit: Remember that you are engaged in a spiritual battle. The Evil One will use all his deceitful ways to discourage and frustrate you. Rely always on the power of God within you! Read 1 Jn 4:4.
(2) How long?
How long will your quiet time with God's Word last? In deciding this keep in mind the following points:
1. Don't imitate others in the length of time they spend with God's Word. Determine the length of YOUR quiet/time according to YOUR OWN schedule of commitments.
2. Don't watch the clock. If you catch yourself repeatedly checking up whether your quiet time has come to an end, then this is an indication that the length of time you have chosen is too long. Reduce it.
3. Emphasize quality, not quantity. It is not how much time you spend with God's Word, but how much you get out of God's Word during your quiet time that ultimately matters.
9.1.2. CHOOSE A PLACE
The second requirement for effective Bible study is to choose a solitary place where you will do your study.
(1) What do we learn from Jesus?
(a) Where did Jesus spend his quiet time? See Mt 14:23; Mk 1:35; 6:46; Lk 5:16; Lk 6:12.
(b) In Mt 6:6 where did Jesus encourage his disciples to go to when they prayed? What is said about the place for prayer is also true of the place for Bible study.
(2) The place you choose must be one where you will be undisturbed, where you will be alone with the Lord. It is a fact of human experience that people concentrate best when they are away from noise, distraction, and any disturbance.
9.1.3. FOLLOW A SIMPLE PROCEDURE
As you enter your Quiet Time for Bible study follow these seven steps.
(1) Quieten your mind and heart.
(2) Put yourself in the presence of God.
(3) Pray tor illumination and guidance from the Spirit before you begin reading God's Word that the Spirit may lead you into the truth.
(4) Read (according to chapter 10).
(5) Reflect (according to chapter 11).
(6) Respond (according to chapter 12).
(7) Closing prayer.
To check whether you have understood the essentials of the three requirements described above, complete the following sentences that explain the value of each of the three requirements for effective Quiet Time in Bible study.
(1) A set time helps me . .. .
(2) A set place helps me to . . .
(3) A set procedure helps me to . . .
9.2. EXPRESS YOUR COMMITHENT TO DAILY QUIET TIME FOR BIBLE STUDY
(1) If you already have a Quiet Time for Bible study, evaluate the regularity with which you do the following (check the appropriate column).
Always Usually Sometimes Seldom Never
(a) a set time
(b) a set place
(c) a set procedure
Is there any of the above three areas in which you need to repent and make a new decision?
(2) If till today you have not had a daily quiet time for Bible study, make your commitment to the Lord to have one now. You must do it alone: it is a decision YOU make to the Lord; no one can make it for YOU!
10. THE SECOND STEP IN PERSONAL BIBLE STUDY: READ
Go back to chapter 8. There we considered why we read the Bible and what we may read in the Bible. There it was suggested (in 8.2.2) that the easiest and most profitable unit of study for a beginner is the study of a book of the Bible. In this chapter we want to get down to practical matters by considering what is involved in the reading and studying of a book of the Bible. In other words, we shall answer the question: HOW do we read and study a Bible book?
10.0. THREE INTRODUCTORY OBSERVATIONS
10.0.1. Learn a practical method of reading
Recall the fourth principle of Bible study stated in chapter 7 (7.4): you need to have a disciplined method in your study of God's written word. You are now going to learn not several methods, which may only confuse you, but one practical method in studying a Bible book which will help you for the rest of your life. You will be shown HOW to read and thereby become a disciplined discoverer of the riches of God's word as contained in any book of the Bible.
If you grasp and become skilled in using this method:
* you will never again read the Bible and not learn something;
* you will begin to discover things in familiar passages of the Bible that you never knew existed before;
* you will begin to apply what you have learned in all types of life situations;
* you will be able to turn a bogged-down or a boring group Bible study into an exciting experience.
10.0.2. Read with a WORKBOOK by your side
Don't be put off by the word "Workbook" which may sound strange to you. By "Workbook" I mean nothing else but a blank exercise book or, better, a file with blank sheets of paper. In the book or on the sheets of paper in the file, you will write all and everything that you will discover in your study of a Bible book. I suggest that you have a Workbook for each book of the Bible that you study.
What will you write in your Workbook?
(a) Your insights into the Word of God. As you read, using the method you will soon learn, you can expect the Holy Spirit to speak to you and to reveal to you the thoughts and the ways of God. These are precious insights! Given the limitations of our capacity to remember, you need to immediately write down the insights given you by the Holy Spirit. Otherwise they may be lost forever!
The method proposed below will require that you write all that you discover in the text through observation and interpretation.
(b) Write your doubts and difficulties concerning certain words, phrases or verses in the text you are studying. Don't immediately interrupt your study because of these doubts and difficulties. Rather, first write down what troubles you and later seek the clarifications and answers you wish.
10.0.3. Four stages in Book Study
There are four major stages in studying a Bible book: (1) BOOK BACKGROUND, (2) BOOK SURVEY, (3) BOOK ANALYSIS, and (4) BOOK SYNTHESIS. These are really four stages in one single process of Book study; the process moves:
* from first obtaining a general picture of the whole book (Book Background and Book Survey), then
* to studying the particulars or details of the book (Book Analysis), and finally
* to looking at the book once again as a whole (Book Synthesis).
We shall now move on to consider what is required in each of the four stages of Bible Book Study.
10.1. BOOK BACKGROUND
10.1.1. Why do a Book Background study?
Before you begin reading a book it is very helpful to obtain some background information about the book.
This background information deals with such points as:
(a) its setting: what is the historical and geographical setting of the book?
(b) its form: what kind of a book is it (e.g. narrative, poetic)? The literary form is the type of writing an author uses to express his message. The major types are:
- Discourse: as in Jesus' sermons and in the epistles, in which ideas are presented in logical and argumentative form.
- Prose narrative: as in the historical books and the gospels, where historical events are often described in chronological order.
- Poetry: as in the Psalms, in the books of the Prophets, and in the book of Job.
- Parable: brief fictitious stories used to bring out a specific truth.
- Apocalyptic: characterized by symbolism and descriptions of visions, as in the books of Daniel and Revelation.
(c) its purpose: why was the book written?
(d) its destination audience: who were the people for whom the book was written?
(e) its author: who wrote the book? what do we know about the author?
10.1.2. How to do Book Background study?
For this background study you will need to consult the New Jerome Biblical Commentary and Harper's Bible Dictionary (and other "Tools" for Bible study listed in chapter 7.3).
10.2. BOOK SURVEY
10.2.1. Why do a Book Survey?
We do a Book Survey to obtain a sweeping overview, a general impression, and an overall feel of a book.
* taking a trip over a city in a helicopter and obtaining a bird's eye view of the general lay of the land, before becoming acquainted with its different geographical and other features;
* looking through a wide-angle lens of a camera which takes in the whole scene, before zooming in to view its details;
* standing in front on a work of art (painting, sculpture, architecture) and obtaining a first impression of joy, sadness, fear, etc., before coming closer and studying its details.
10.2.2. How to do a book survey?
1. Read the Book rapidly through without stopping to look at details. Paying attention to details will come at the next stage of "Book Analysis."
2. Read the book at one sitting, if possible. A good number of the books of the Old Testament - especially the narrative ones - and all the books of the New Testament can be read rapidly through at one sitting. You may divide the longer ones over two or more sittings.
3. Read paying attention to three principal areas: (a) persons (b) events and (c) truths. While all the Bible books are structured around these three areas, each book gives importance to one area more than the others. For example:
* The books of Joshua, Judges, 1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings, Ezra, Nehemiah, 1-2 Maccabees, give more importance to persons and events;
* The letters in the NT give more importance to truths.
While you survey a book, ask yourself this question: to which area or areas does the book I am reading give more importance?
4. Write out a tentative summary in your Workbook. You know you have successfully accomplished a Book Survey when you are in a position to write out a summary of the book in as few words as possible. You should be able to complete the following sentence for each book you have surveyed:
The Book of ..... tells us about ........
Note that this is a "tentative" or first outline. When you have completed the analysis of the book (third stage) and arrived at its synthesis (fourth stage), you will feel the need to revise and re-write your tentative summary in the light of the more thorough understanding of the book you will have obtained.
With the writing of the Book Summary you have come to the end of your Book Survey.
10.3. BOOK ANALYSIS
10.3.1. The Art of Observation
After having surveyed the Bible book and obtained a general impression of what is contained in the book (the second stage of book study), we are ready to proceed to the third stage of book study. In this third stage we study the book in its details; we analyze the book. Book Analysis involves the art and skill of observation. The better we observe the details in the book, the better we shall be able to interpret and apply the message of the book to our lives.
What is observation?
(1) Observation can be defined in several ways:
* it is the power, the act or habit of seeing and noting;
* it is to take thorough and careful notice; to watch closely; to look intently; to give full attention to what one sees; to be mentally aware of what one seen;
* it is the art of seeing things as they are, impartially, intensely, fearlessly.
This skill trains your mind to see what you read in a passage, to observe carefully the words, to be on the alert for the details. Inaccurate and careless observation can lead to faulty interpretations and shallow applications.
(2) Observation demands concentration. Through observation you saturate yourself thoroughly with the content of a passage. Not everything you read will be of a equal value; therefore, in the process you also have to learn to discern what is noteworthy and what is not. All of these procedures require concentration.
Careful observation requires concentrated thinking, and few of us really want to learn how to think! Someone has said that 5% of the people think they think, and 80% would rather die than think! This may be an unfair judgment, but I challenge you to remember these words when you become frustrated in learning how to develop your powers of observation.
(3) Observation is not frustrating. One reason we do not "see" very much when we read is that we do not know what to look for. Most of us need "handles" or "clues," helps in knowing what specific things to look for. The specific things for which to look when trying to develop your powers of observation may overwhelm and frustrate you. But learning to observe is like any other skill. As you practice, you will gradually find that observing details will become second nature to you
10.3.2. General observations
Before you learn the methods that will develop your skill of observation, it is helpful to note that:
(1) The chapter and verse divisions in the Bible are not inspired by God. Rather, they have been inserted into the Bible text by scholars centuries after the Bible came into existence, * The chapter divisions in the OT and NT that we now have in the Bible are attributed to Stephen Langton (1214).
* The verse divisions in the OT are attributed to Sanctes Pagninus (1528) and those in the NT to Robert Stephen (1555).
With the chapter and verse divisions easy reference to the text of the Bible is possible.
(2) Every Bible book la made up of chapters, every chapter of paragraphs, every paragraph of verses, and every verse of words. Book Analysis therefore, involves: (1) chapter study (2) paragraph study (3) verse study and (4) word study.
10.3.3 Observation through Charting
Charting is the first practical step in reading and studying a Bible book in a methodical way. In charting you are already developing your skill of observation.
Charting a Bible book is a method tried and tested by diligent Bible students and found very effective because of the fruits it has yielded to them. Charting la a practical method of analyzing Bible passages whether they are predominantly doctrinal (concerning ideas, truths) or narrative (concerning events, persons).
(1) Why chart a book?
Charting a book helps you:
(a) to summarize the main ideas of a book, and therefore to see the contents of an entire book at a glance;
(b) to discover interrelationships of the different parts/sections of a book;
(c) to be aware of ideas that are repeated in the book;
(d) as a memory device to recall a chapter's content, and therefore it makes a lot easier to not only remember a book for yourself, but also to teach the message of the book to others.
(2) How to chart a book?
(a) Prepare a blank Chart
1. Take a normal foolscap sheet of paper (e.g. 8 1/2" x 13 1/2") and turn it horizontally.
2. At three-fourths its horizontal height, draw a line across the paper. Now divide this part of the paper into as many columns as there are chapters in the book.
* In the charting of many books of the Bible a single sheet of paper will suffice.
* In the charting of some books a single sheet will not suffice. Continue the charting on another sheet. Then Join the two sheets together.
3. Since chapter divisions are not inspired by God, do not feel obliged to stick to the divisions you find in your version of the Bible.
* Generally, the chapter divisions in your Bible are in the right places.
* Rut some chapter divisions are in unfortunate places. Sometimes, you may want to join the last verse(s) of one chapter to the first verse of the following chapter. Feel free to do so, if this leads you to a better understanding of the text.
(b) Create Paragraph Titles
1. Every chapter can be divided into two or more paragraphs. How to determine what makes up a paragraph? A paragraph is identified by its contents: every paragraph deals with only one idea.
2. Some Bible translations provide paragraph divisions.
Two comments are appropriate here:
a. Not all translations divide chapters into exactly the same paragraphs.
b. Feel free to make your own paragraph divisions if you don't agree with the ones given.
3. Give a title to each of the paragraphs within a chapter. In formulating the paragraph title, note that a good title must be:
a. Brief: the title must have as few words as possible. Use words taken directly from the text, if possible.
b. Comprehensive: the title must summarize all the contents in the paragraph.
c. Specific: the title should refer to one particular paragraph and to no other in the book.
* Use words not used in other titles.
* Use words which tell you where you have reached in the book.
d. Attractive: If possible, put a little humour into the title. Use picturesque words.
Some Bible translations have paragraph titles. They can help you. But they can also encourage mental laziness and prevent you from thinking out a title for yourself. If you can create a better title, do so.
4. Write out the paragraph titles on your Chart.
(c) Create Chapter Titles
1. Give a title to each chapter. This comes after having read and divided a chapter into paragraphs, and after having given titles to the paragraphs.
In giving titles to the chapters follow the same four characteristics of a good title mentioned for paragraph titles above.
a. Continuous paragraphs: Sometimes there is one idea or story running through the whole chapter. In such cases the paragraphs within a chapter are linked in a continuous narrative and it is fairly easy to give a title to the whole chapter. E.g. the title of Hebrews ch.11: "The witnesses of faith."
b. Discontinuous paragraphs: More often, however, within the same chapter there is no such continuity, but a change of ideas or stories, so that it becomes somewhat difficult to come up with a chapter title. E.g. the title of Jn ch-2: "Water changed and Temple cleansed."
2. Write out the chapter titles on your Chart.
10.3.4. Observing prose/narrative passages
Charting a book is the first method by which we exercise our skill of observation. The passages in the book that we chart are of two kinds: (1) prose or narrative passages, or (2) poetic or doctrinal or discourse passages. The method of observing details in prose/narrative passages is different from the method of observing details in poetic/doctrinal/discourse passages.
We consider here the method which develops our observation skills in studying a prose or narrative passage. This method is based on the little poem that Rudyard Kipling wrote entitled "My Six Honest Serving Men."
I keep six honest serving men
They taught me all I knew.
Their names are WHAT and WHY and WHEN
And HOW and WHERE and WHO. "
You can observe the details of a narrative by using the six words as your guides: where, when, who, what, how, why.
1. WHERE: what is the setting of a story? which are the places mentioned in the text? where is the action taking place? Locate them on the Map.
2. WHEN: when is the action taking place? what is the time of the day or night, or month, or year?
3. WHO: who are the characters in the story? how are they described?
4. WHAT: what is the action taking place in the story? In understanding the action:
(a) Be realistic:
* Note the exact order and details of the events, actions, and conversation of the characters;
* Note the way the characters respond to each other.
* As you study a bible story, try to view it in the context of the historical setting of that day. Beware of viewing it through 20th century glasses. For this reason it is important that you study about the laws, the religious teachings, the social customs and practices of those days.
(b) Be imaginative: Most Bible stories tell only the bare facts. As you read a story, give it "flesh and blood" in your imagination. Picture yourself as part of the scene. Try to see and hear not only the words and actions of Bible persons, but the tone of their voices, facial expressions, bodily responses.
(c) Be emphatic: Empathy means to identify with a person and his problems and his feelings. Try to place yourself in the skin of the Bible characters, identifying with them and their emotions, yearnings, hurts, concerns, difficulties, Joys, and sorrows.
5. HOW: note how the story unfolds and ends, how the events and actions of the characters shaped the ending.
6. WHY: ask such questions as:
* why did events happen as they did?
* why did the characters act and respond as they did?
* could they have responded differently?
Write out all your observations in response to the six key questions in your Workbook.
Exercise: Look for the above details in Mk 5:1-20; Lk 24:13-35; Jn 6:1-14.
10.3.5. Observing poetic/doctrinal/discourse passages
We now turn to passages that are poetic (such as the oracles of the prophets), or doctrinal (such as some parts of Paul’s letters), or contain a discourse (such as the discourses of
Jesus). When studying such passages the method of observation that is helpful is the following. Look for:
1. WORDS: is there a key word or are there key words that appear in the passage?
2. SAYINGS: does the passage contain emphatic statements ("Truly, truly"), or promises (these contain the word "will"), or advice ("if," "unless"), or blessings ("blessed"), or warnings ("woe")?
* do you find a repetition or progression of ideas?
* is there a cause-and-effect relationship between ideas?
4. QUESTIONS: are there rhetorical, provocative, or reflective questions?
* is truth communicated through comparisons and contrasts?
* are there any images, symbols, word-pictures?
Write out all your observations in response to the six key questions in your Workbook.
Exercise: Look for the above details in Mt 6:25-34; Mt 23:13-36; Lk 11:9-13; 1 Cor 13.
10.4. BOOK SYNTHESIS
In studying a book of the Bible, we begin with doing a BOOK BACKGROUND. At this stage we seek to get as much background information of the book as possible before we actually begin to read the book.
At the second stage we do BOOK SURVEY. We read the book as a whole to obtain an overall impression of the book and end with formulating a tentative summary of the book.
The third stage is BOOK ANALYSIS, when using the methods of observation (the method of Charting and others) we study the book carefully chapter by chapter, paragraph by paragraph, verse by verse. We tear the book apart, as it were.
At the BOOK SYNTHESIS stage, we put the book together again and see it once again as a whole. This is the fourth and last stage of book study.
10.4.1. What does "synthesis" mean?
The word "synthesis" is derived from the Greek preposition "syn," which means "together," and the Greek verbal root "the," which means "to put." Synthesis, therefore, means "to put together." Thus, it has the opposite meaning of "analysis," which means "to take apart."
10.4.2. Why synthesize a book?
This is the logical conclusion to an analytic study of a book. Synthesis enables you to see the book as a whole again after having looked at its parts in detail. You "put the book back together" so that:
(a) You can see all the details of the book in the proper perspective; thereby, you are prevented from falling into the error of giving more importance to one or another detail than it really deserves.
(b) You can appreciate the book in its totality: its purpose, theme, structure, and content.
(c) You can summarize the significant truths you have reflected upon and wish to live out in your life.
10.4.3. How to synthesize a book?
1. Re-read the book. Keep your Chart of the book by your side as you read.
2. Group the chapters of the book .into sections. Give a title to each of the sections and write them on your Chart, above the chapter titles. This exercise will enable you to grasp the structure of the book - the way in which the book unfolds itself, how its different parts are related to each other, the book's major divisions and themes.
3. Write out a detailed, final summary of the book. Recall that you formulated a tentative summary at the end of your Book Survey. Now after having done Book Analysis, your better grasp of the book will lead you to re-write that original summary in a neater and more comprehensive way.
4. Give a descriptive title to the book. Almost all the titles of Bible books are dull and uninspiring. Think of a new title that attractively describes the contents of the book.
5. Review the insights into spiritual truths you have discovered.
(1) Go through your Workbook and make a list of all the spiritual truths you have discovered as a result of your Book Analysis.
(2) When you have done this, look at the list once again, and identify:
(a) the old truths (i.e. the truths you already knew) in which you have been strengthened; and
(b) the new truths which the Lord through his Spirit has taught you.
(3) Group these truths into the following three categories:
(a) truths concerning God and your relationship to God;
(b) truths concerning yourself (values, priorities, etc);
(c) truths concerning others and your relationship to them.
(4) Write these three categories and their respective truths in your Workbook.
11. THE THIRD STEP IN PERSONAL BIBLE STUDY: REFLECT
Re-read what was written in chapter 8.3 regarding the purpose (the why?) of this step. We are here applying God's Word which we have heard to our personal life. Reading and understanding what God is saying through a particular text is not enough. I must hear what God is saying to ME - personally.
11.1. TO REFLECT: USE C-H-R I-S-T
How shall I reflect as I read? How shall I hear what God is saying to me - for the enrichment and transformation of my life? Since our goal as the disciples of Christ is to grow and mature more and more into Christ (cf. Eph 4:13-16), I find that each of the letters of the word "CHRIST" suggests how the Word of God will speak to us personally, in an intimate and challenging way.
C = THE WORD OF GOD WILL CONVICT US OF SIN
God's Word is a two-edged sword (Heb 4:12-13): it reveals the sin within us. Consider the sinful episode in David's life (2 Sam 11-12). The Word of God spoken by the prophet Nathan led David to confess: "I have sinned against the Lord."
When we read the Bible we can expect God's Word to reveal the bondages of sin within us in order that we may be set us free from them. Read Jn 8:31-36. Pray Ps 139:1-18.
H = THE WORD OF GOD WILL HEAL US IN OUR INNER PERSON
Daily living brings with it hurts, failures, defeats. As a result, we are crippled by fear, insecurity, resentment, guilt, guilt, and so on. As a result of such experiences we are in inner bondage and stand in need of inner healing.
When we read the Bible we can expect God's Word to lift up our drooping spirits, to heal us of life's hurts, failures, and defeats. Consider the prophet Elijah's encounter with queen Jezebel and king Ahab, and the inner healing that God's Word brought him (1 Kgs 19:13b-18). Read Mt 11:28-30. Pray Ps 6.
R = THE WORD OF GOD WILL REVEAL TO US GOD'S WILL FOR US
Through his Word, God reveals his will for us in two ways:
(1) God's Word will reveal to us the FUNDAMENTAL direction our life must take: this concerns our vocation, what are we going to do with our life.
* Consider the aged Abraham in Haran and how God's word revealed to him a new direction in his life: "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you" (Gen 12:1).
* Consider the teenager Mary in Nazareth and how God's word gave a new direction to the plans she had made with Joseph (Lk 1:30-35).
As we read and reflect upon the Scriptures, we too can expect to hear God speak to us such words as "COME," "GO," "DO" which can change the direction and orientation of our life. This means that we can expect that God's Word will challenge our present life-style, the quality of our relationship with God and with others.
While we have life, we shall experience that God is never ever finished with us: He constantly extends and expands the horizons of our life.
(2) God's Word will reveal to us his presence, his will, and his action in the DAILY course of our life. "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path" (Ps 119:105). Amidst the hustle and bustle of life, in the rush and push of events, we easily fail to recognize God's presence, to hear the promptings of his Holy Spirit, and to attend to Jesus' invitations to a more generous service of him and of neighbour.
When we read God's Word we can expect God to reveal himself and his will in the everyday events and affairs of our life, thereby leading us to newer paths and adventures of
the Spirit, to fresher and greener pastures. Read Acts 22:10-15; 26:16-18. Pray Ps 119.
I = THE WORD OF GOD WILL INSTRUCT US CONCERNING THE DEMANDS OF
We need such divine instruction:
(a) Because the Lord says that "my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways" (Is 55:8).
(b) Because Jesus seeks a righteousness from his disciples which goes beyond the righteousness of the "scribes and Pharisees" (Mt 5:20).
(c) Because Paul warns us that we need to discern the ways of the Spirit from the ways of the flesh (cf. Gal 5), so that we may inherit the Kingdom of God.
(d) Because we do not really know how to live as disciples of God's Kingdom in the world. Jesus' disciples did not know; neither do we. So Jesus had to teach them, even as he must teach us.
* Jesus' disciples did not understand the demands of the Kingdom of God (Mk 4:13;. 6:52; 7:18; 8:17)-
* Peter neither understood the extent of forgiveness (Mt 18:21-35), nor the futility of violence (Mt 26:50b-54; Jn 18:10-11).
* James and John did not understand true Kingdom greatness (Mk 10:35-45).
To grow in Christian discipleship is to "let the word of Christ dwell in you richly" (Col 1:28). And this is a life-long process. When we read the Bible we can expect God's Word to continually instruct us in the mind and heart and will of Jesus, so that we may be his true disciples in the world. Read 2 Tim 3:15-17; Acts 20:32. Pray Pa 19:7-13.
S = THE WORD OF GOD WILL STRENGTHEN US IN OUR WALK AS CHRISTIAN
In our efforts to live as faithful disciples of the Lord in the world we experience weakness, inadequacy, failure, frustration and even opposition.
(1) God's Word is food: God has provided us with the inner nourishment and strength we require that we may be faithful in our Christian walk.
How many days can you survive as a person without material food? How long do you imagine you can survive as a Christian without spiritual food? The Scriptures testify that our spiritual food is twofold:
(a) The sacraments, especially the Eucharist. God through Jesus has provided us with this "food from heaven" (cf_Jn 6:22-59).
(b) The Word of God (Mt 4:4; Ezek 2:8=3:3).
The behaviour of Catholics surely testify to the fact that they depend on their spiritual food from the Eucharist. Witness the large numbers who attend not only the Sunday Eucharist but also weekday Eucharists. And this is highly commendable. But how many Catholics can testify to a similar divine nourishment in the daily study of God's Word?
(2) God's Word is "the sword of the Spirit" (Eph 6:17). Knowledge of God's Word, as contained in the sacred scriptures, is the weapon God has given us to combat evil in the world. Consider Jesus: he emerged victorious against the temptations of the Evil One because he was strong in God's Word. Jesus countered every temptation of Satan with a quotation from Scripture (cf. Mt 4:1-11). Jesus was victorious over Satan because he was strong in the Scriptures.
God's Word strengthens us in our walk before the Lord, in our discipleship, in our ministry. When we read the Bible we can expect to experience God's Word as "food" and as "sword" which will strengthen us in our weakness, sustain us in our inadequacies, and empower us in the day of temptation and opposition. Read 2 Cor 12:7-10; Phil 4:13,19. Pray Ps 23.
T = THE WORD OF GOD WILL TRANSFORM US INTO CHRIST
As we allow God's Word to convict, heal, reveal, instruct, and strengthen us:
* we shall be increasingly transformed into Christ, "into his likeness from one degree of glory to another" (2 Cor 3:18).
* we shall become like Christ, God's "word made flesh";
* we shall become "the fifth gospel"; "a letter from Christ ...written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts" (2 Cor 3:3).
As you read/hear God's Word, you need to ask yourself: in which of the six ways explained above is God's Word ministering to you? Is God's Word:
* convicting you of sin?
* healing you of life's hurts and disappointments?
* revealing to you the direction your life must take?
* instructing you in his ways?
* strengthening you in your Christian walk?
* transforming you day by day?
11.2. TO REFLECT: USE S-P-A-C-E-P-E-T-S
In the previous section we have offered you the C-H-R-I-S-T acronym to help you in apply God's Word to your life.
In his book "12 Dynamic Bible Study Methods," Richard Warren has offered the SPACEPETS acronym which can be also be used when reflecting on a given passage of Scripture. Each letter in the acronym stands for a question that can help you apply the passage to your life.
* Sin to confess? Do I need to make any restitution?
* Promise to claim? Is it'a universal promise? Have I met the condition(s)?
* Attitude to change? Am I willing to work on a negative attitude and begin building towards a positive one?
* Command to obey? Am I willing to do it no matter how I feel?
* Example to follow? Is it a positive example for me to imitate or a negative one to avoid?
* Prayer to pray? Is there anything for which I need to pray to God?
* Error to avoid? Is there any problem that I should be alert to, or beware of?
* Truth to believe? What new things can I learn about God the Father, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, or other biblical teachings?
* Something to praise God for? Is there something for which I can be thankful?
Choose whichever acronym presented above that you find helpful. What is important la that you apply the Word of God to your life, for the goal of Bible study is not observation and interpretation, but application; not merely hearing what God is saying, but hearing what God is saying to you.
This step of reflection is concluded when you are able to write down in your Workbook the basic truths that God has taught you about yourself in the Scripture passage you have studied.
12. THE FOURTH STEP IN PERSONAL BIBLE STUDY: RESPOND
12:1. TO DO OR NOT TO DO - THAT IS THE QUESTION!
You have now have come to the fourth and last step in the process of Bible Book study. What have you done so far?
* First, you RETIRED in quiet time with God's Word to make it possible for God to speak to you;
* Next, you READ the tiext to hear what God is saying;
* Then, you REFLECTED on the text to hear what God is saying to you personally.
You have now arrived at the step when your free-will comes into play. Re-read what was written in chapter 8.4 regarding the purpose and elements of this step. This is the moment when you have to decide whether you will do (obey, carry out, keep, live, practice) God's word to you or not.
12.2. FIVE BASIC DECISTONS
How do you move from the "hearing" to the "doing" of God's Word?
How do you practice in your life what you have learned in the reading-reflecting steps? You have listed at the end of the "reflect" step (cf.11.3) the basic truths you have discovered which affect your personal life. What practical steps should you now take to live the truths you have discovered?
In order to do that you will need to make the following five decisions.
12.2.1. CHOOSE THE TRUTH YOU WANT TO LIVE
(1) "Doing" or "living" the word of God does not mean that we IMMEDIATELY put EVERYTHING we have learned in the "hearing" stages (reading-reflecting) into practice. Our God is a patient God; he does not want us to feel discouraged or frustrated because we cannot immediately put into practice everything we have learnt. We are to "do" and "live" as much as we sincerely and honestly can at the moment. Even if that be a small amount, the Lord will help us even if it means taking small steps, one at a time. Remember that he is as much concerned with the process as he is with the end product.
Therefore, from among the truths you have discovered which apply to your life (at the end of the "reflect" step), choose the one or two truths that you will immediately begin practising.
(2) What if you have discovered truths that do not apply to you at this particular time of your life? Let us say that you are studying a text that has to do with death and how you can
overcome grief and sorrow at the death of someone you love. But this is not your problem now. What do you do with such truths you have discovered in the text? Write them down
anyway, for two reasons:
(a) First, the truth may be needed in the future when you yourself will have to cope with death in your family, a situation which will affect you personally.
(b) Second, it may help you to minister to someone else who is in the situation of grief arising from death in the family.
12.2.2. CHANGE WHAT NEEDS TO BE CHANGED IN YOUR LIFE
In view of the truth you wish to live, decide on what changes you need to make in applying the truth to your life? List several changes, if possible. In listing these changes be SPECIFIC.
You need to remember four points in order to be specific. Your decision-statement should be:
(1) Personal: Use personal pronouns such as "I," "me," and "mine" in your decision-statement.
(2) Practical: Avoid vagueness and generalities. Be down-to- earth.
(3) Possible: The change must be something you can really do. Don't bite more than you chew: that will only discourage you.
(4) Provable: You must set up some sort of an objective test that will prove to you whether you succeeding in living the truth or not, whether you have lived it or what needs still to be done in that respect. One such objective test is to set yourself a time-limit within which you will live the truth.
Example: Ecclesiastes 6:7 reads "All man's efforts are for his mouth, yet his appetite le never satisfied." In reflecting upon this text I realize that I am overweight and that I must do something about it. Therefore, the four points in the written decision-statement for my life would look as follows:
(1) Personal: "I need to ..."
(2) Practical: "I need to lose weight."
(3) Possible: "I need to lose two kilos,"
(4) Provable: "I need to lose two kilos by the end of the month."
12.2.3. CARRY OUT THE CHANGES
Having determined what specific changes you will need to make in your life in living out a truth, you have now to decide how you propose to carry out those changes? Determine the concrete and definite steps you will take in implementing the changes you have decided to make in your life? Write them down.
In the case of the example Just given, the concrete steps may be: do exercise, or eliminate certain foods in my diet.
12.2.4. CALL ON THE LORD
In living out a truth that concerns our physical well-being, it may be that human resources are adequate. But this is not so when it comes to living out higher truths that concern our spirit. In such cases, ultimately human resources are inadequate. You need the resources which the Lord alone can provide. Remember Jn 15:5. You can draw upon the Lord's help and strength through prayer.
Therefore, you need to compose your personal prayer regarding this truth, Write out the prayer.
12.2.5. COMMIT 'IX) MEMORY A BIBLE VERSE
Finally, in order that the truth you want to live may be constantly in your mind and in your heart, you need:
(1) to select a verse of Scripture which refers to, illustrates, or summarizes the truth, and
(2) to memorize that Scripture verse.
By memorizing the verse you will be able to recall it several times a day and thereby the truth will be always before you.
Let me give you an example to show how the five decisions have worked in my own life. The text I studied back in 1987 was Ephesians 4:11--16.
(1) Choice of a truth: The passage taught me that every Christian has his/her spiritual gifts for the building up of the Body of Christ in love. Therefore, the Lord showed me that I should seek to motivate and equip the lay faithful in the Archdiocese of Bombay, to discover and develop their knowledge of the Scriptures for the up-building of the Church.
(2) Changes that needed to be made in my life: Instead of merely teaching lay people the Word of God as I had been doing since 1974, I now realised that I must teach them to learn and teach God's Word for themselves. I saw that I needed to apply my Bible knowledge and teaching skills to enable lay people in this new ministry.
(3) Carry out the changes: In order to carry the changes that need to be made in my life:
(a) I decided to increase my own reading and studying to include more books on Bible Study and Bible Communication.
(b) I decided to begin putting together my personal notes on Bible self-study.
(c) I decided to develop a formation programme for the lay faithful in order that they may become ministers of the Word in the Archdiocese.
(4) Calling on the Lord in prayer: I composed the following prayer for myself: "Lord, through your Holy Spirit, enable me to use the gifts you have given me of preaching and teaching your Word to enable the lay faithful to use the name gifts for the up-building of the Church."
(5) Committing to memory a Bible verse: I chose Col 3:16 as the verse which would help me to always have before my mind the truth I was seeking to live in my life.
12.3. OBSTACLES TO OVERCOME
In practising this "doing the Word" step there are several obstacles that we will need to avoid or overcome if we are to experience the saving power of God's Word in our life. Consider the following five common obstacles.
12.3.1. Mistaking head-knowledge for life-knowledge
We sometimes assume that because we have understood some truth, we will therefore live it. The fact that we know the truths about hospitality (Heb 13:2), forgiveness (Mt 18:35), humble service (Jn 13:14), does not necessarily lead to the practice of these truths.
Our reading of and reflecting on God's Word will reveal to us what we must do, and we agree to do it. But we say that we will get round to doing it - tomorrow. Consider the rich fool in the Bible (Lk 12:16-21). A Journey of a thousand miles begins with one single step. Taken today!
If I procrastinate it means that for all my talk I have still not got my priorities straight. It means that I profess with my life that I still consider something else to be more important than doing that which I confess with my lips.
As we attempt to learn and live the truths about ourselves that we discover in the study of God's Word, remember that we are fighting a battle with the "flesh" (Rom 7:14-23). But the Lord wants us to realize that the battle is already won (Rom 6:9-11; 8:31-39). We are conquerors through Christ and can do all things in him who strengthens us (Phil 4:13).
12.3.3. Instant results
This is the opposite of procrastination. We so often want to have those new areas of our life that need to be brought under control and under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, and we want this to happen - yesterday! We fail to realize that the Lord is just as interested in the process as he is in the product. Our God is a patient God.
Consider the parable of the seed growing silently but surely (Mk 4:26-29). There are some things you simply cannot accelerate: the growth of a seed in the ground and of the foetus in the womb, the growth of a person in the natural life and of a person in the supernatural life - the life of the Spirit.
12.3.4. Emotional response
Our response to some truth that the Lord has shown us may be one of intense enthusiasm, soothing comfort, or liberating consolation. We want to continue to live in that emotion, or to seek one emotional high experience after another. Unfortunately, that genuine emotion does not lead us into the area of action.
Consider the three disciples on the mount of the Transfiguration (Mk 9:5-6) or the eleven disciples on the mount of the Ascension (Acts 1:10-11). In both cases, the disciples were caught up in the emotion of the moment; they had to be brought down to real life.
We wonder, "Will this truth, if I live it, really make a difference in my life?" Yes, of course, it will. God promises that his Word is effective and brings about growth. There is no room for doubting that God's word will achieve this: for his word is powerful, it will bring about what it is meant to do (Is 55:10- 11).
God kept his word and his promises throughout the Old Testament; He kept his word and his promises by raising Jesus from the dead to new life. He is a faithful God: "He who calls you is faithful, and he will do it" (1 Thes 5:24; also 1 Cor 1:9;10:13; 2 Thes 3:3; Heb 10:23). He WILL raise you to new life!