Posted 20 September 2010 - 01:41 PM
9. "MAKING WISE THE SIMPLE”
It is a strange thing to have to say to those who pride themselves on being the People of the Book, but it needs to be said: In the Christadelphian body there is a desperate lack of good Bible study!
Here by "Bible study" is meant something more intensive and purposeful than Bible reading (which also is in shorter supply than it was). The daily Bible reading which covers from three to six chapters renews acquaintance with the general ideas of Holy Scripture and also, it is hoped, supplies new insights here and there, now and then. This needs also to be supplemented by a more careful and painstaking application to words, phrases, details, arguments, allusions.
This kind of approach to Scripture is something that is within the grasp of all who have the intention to learn more deeply what the Bible is about.
Gifts lying idle
It is not only (though of course it is specially) for those who are natural students. Alas, even about them - the people with higher I.Q.'s - it needs to be said that far too many who at college or university have brought to concert pitch their ability to master geology or economics or biology or literature or history have failed lamentably, and to their shame, to harness their proven powers to the vastly more important duty of developing a deeper insight into the Word of God.
How is such neglect to be explained? Is it due to the pressures of life or lack of self-confidence or laziness or downright indifference? Certainly all of these are covered by one phrase - lack of intention. To them the subject is just not important enough. If it were, there would be no lack of diligence. Every ecclesia has its capable brother who hardly ever thinks of settling down to a programme of good Bible study except when he has to prepare an address. How high an esteem for Scripture does such a practice betray?
No bent for it?
But there are far more in the other group who excuse and solace themselves with the reassurance: "That kind of thing is all right for those with the bent. I'm not one of that sort. I wouldn't have a clue how to start. " A big number of sisters mistakenly put themselves in that category, besides the many brethren who quail before the undoubted brilliance of some of our greater luminaries and who allow themselves to be put off from realising the best that is in them. "It is plainly impossible for me to achieve the kind of results produced by Brother A, so why should I bother to try?" Is this excuse-making, or laziness or both?
Let it be remembered that the greater a man's persona endowment, the greater also his responsibility. The apostle James calls it "heavier judgement" (3: 1 RV). And the Lord himself insisted on the same principle: "To whom men commit much, of him they will ask the more" - hence "few stripes... many stripes", whatever that means.
And here it needs to be added that the wife of many a brothel carries a heavy responsibility to encourage, incite, persuade, or goad her husband into applying himself to this best of all activities. Too many wives would rather see the spare bedroom re-decorated than rejoice in knowing that a deeper insight into the Sermon on the Mount is crystallizing out in the study or through the to-and-fro of man-and-wife discussion.
Learning to ask a question
It may come as a surprise to those who write themselves off as incompetent in this field to know that even the most ill-equipped among us are capable of Bible study of the best sort. For this is not a matter of erudite commentaries and lots of Greek and Hebrew. Quite simply, it calls for the developing of the faculty, which we all have more or less, of asking questions.
One of the finest mathematicians in Britain, a man with an international reputation, once said to me: "The way to make advances in mathematics is to find problems that need answering. Once you realise you are faced with a problem that no one else has yet dreamed of tackling, then you are on the way to extending the boundaries of the subject. "
He didn't know that he was, in effect, enunciating a wholesome principle for much rewarding Bible study. There is no block of three or four verses in the Bible which when read with care does not provoke questions. And often, though not always, the search for answer leads to wider understanding.
An hour or two before writing these observations I was busy reading and re-reading 1 John 2: 12—14:
12. I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name's sake.
13. I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the wicked one. I write unto you, little children, because ye have known the Father.
14. I have written unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I have written unto you young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one.
And here are the queries which arose in my mind:
1. Why the repetition (v. 13a = v. 14a)?
2. Why this order? Why not: "fathers... young men... children, "which is surely more natural?
3. Why do not these groups include "mothers... young women"?
4. "The wicked one.” What wicked one?
5. Why the change of tense? "I write... I have written (strictly: I wrote)."
6. Why three clauses in the second address to young men?
7. Why should these particular reasons apply to these particular groups?
I repeat, anyone capable of careful attention can read any block of verses in the Bible and come up with a list of specific enquiries like these. And if satisfying answers do not follow as readily, then they are still there as so many useful talking points when in Christadelphian company. And then there is hope that the disease may prove infectious.
Again, as a particularly easy form of Bible study, ask someone to recommend a helpful commentary on some part of the Bible you are specially interested in, and each evening before you settle down to the telly or light reading of some kind, read the commentary on (say) three or four verses, having a pencil in your fingers to mark points of interest. Persevere to the end. Then go through it again, transferring to the margin of your own Bible every useful suggestion.
Another not very exacting method is to equip yourself with a Bible which has a good set of central-column references (in this respect the Interlinear Bible is in a class by itself). Having decided which book you are going to study, read a chapter carefully (or, maybe, only half a chapter). Then go through it again chasing up all the references supplied. Do this slowly and carefully, always asking yourself: "What is the connection?" When you strike one that is particularly useful, put a pencilled ring round that little letter ⓟ (or whatever it is), and underline in your references column the passage it steers you to thus: p. Rev. 6:26.
"Exploring the Bible" (HAW) mentions all sorts of other methods which can be tried out; e. g. painstakingly following up every important word or phrase with the help of a good concordance. This is one of the most rewarding methods, but also one of the most wearisome.
The main thing is that you attempt something in this neglects field. Nurture in yourself a lively curiosity regarding Holy Scripture. And, whatever method you try out, be sure to persevere. The golden rule is: Little and often.