Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Good, Old-Fashioned Bible Study

In reading Gordon Fee’s “God’s Empowering Presence,” the 2nd chapter is entitled “Preliminary Observations on Usage.” Someone needs to give poor Gordon some assistance on sexy chapter titles, because this one is not going to draw a crowd. It is most definitely not seeker-sensitive. It’s just good, old-fashioned Bible study.

First of all, it is careful study. Fee goes through usage by usage and analyzes both the grammar and logical issues. He charts them out and categorizes them. In so doing, he is able to refute an earlier theory that the use of the article (“the”) in the Greek text denotes a reference to the divine spirit, whereas the absence of the article suggests a reference to the human spirit. No, that doesn’t work. And he carefully shows his work.

We all need to be involved in careful Bible study. There are many aspects of such study, but one is to carefully look at the words that are used, and how the words are used. Yes, there has been a lot of attention given to the “big picture” of the Biblical narrative – some rendition of “creation, fall, redemption, consummation.” But the superstructure rests on the individual pieces of words and arguments. While it is possible to lose sight of the big picture because of an atomistic approach to the Bible, it is also possible to drift along above the text with some kind of Big Picture that does not attend to careful study.

Second, Fee challenges me about letting the Bible speak for itself. As the careful student looks at the words, he also seeks to follow the argument that is being constructed. Of course, grammar provides many of the needed clues. I have found that it is relatively easy to spend hours in studying words and making lists, but much more difficult to trace and describe an argument. And, as in the next point, I need to be very careful not to insert my argument for the author’s. Fee gives a great example of enduring Bible study that arrives at definitions and conclusions, not just data.

It is so easy to come to the text with preconceived notions about what it says before we let it speak. My 3rd note is a caution against demanding that the text answer my questions. An example of this is found in most of the treatments that I have read seeking to state the Bible’s position of divorce and remarriage. One after another of us have pressed Jesus’ statements (and Paul’s, and Moses’) to fit our questions rather than to grasp the point being made in context and letting that material work us over. I must try to listen for the questions that the author is answering. And they most likely are not the questions that I had in my mind when I started the study. I was reminded to come to the text and to listen.

How long has it been since you spent a couple of hours in good, old-fashioned Bible study? Just you and your Bible. Maybe a concordance, but no commentaries or study notes. Just you and your Bible, wrestling with words and arguments, and you asking God what it is He has to say to you today?

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