In our last two articles, we talked about doing word studies, which can easily branch out into topical studies. How about studying a certain passage of scripture?
Events are much easier, so start with something in the gospels. Begin by setting the scene. Ask yourself who is there, where are they and what is happening? What happened immediately before this event? Was there a time lapse or is it the same day?
Obviously you should gather all accounts of the same event from the other gospels. But just reading them will not do you much good. I have found that listing all events and dialogue in columns next to one another makes the differences more obvious. Then make separate lists of things found only in one gospel, or of the differences, no matter how small, in similar accounts. Each gospel writer had a different audience in mind, and thus a different purpose. Often knowing those will make the differences more sensible to you.
Start out every study of a passage by reading it several times. As you read, note repeated phrases and words. Pay attention to lists. Sometimes they are hidden and you have to actively look for them. For example, when I studied John 8:12-59, reading it through about three times, I began to notice several things happening again and again. Finally I wrote down four headings: accusations Jesus made about the Jews; questions the Pharisees asked Jesus; accusations the Pharisees made about Jesus; personal claims Jesus made about himself. Then I went back and read the passage again making each list. Do not try to make all of these lists in one reading. Read through once, listing the first item, accusations Jesus made about the Jews. Then read through once more for each other list you are trying to make. If you try to do this in one reading instead of one for each list, you will miss some, guaranteed! When you have finished this task, you will know in detail what that passage says because you have probably read it 7 or 8 times, and you will have a much better grasp of the tension and danger surrounding Jesus at that time. It will also open your eyes to Jesus’ feelings about those people, which may surprise you.
You can do similar things to passages in the epistles. But you must be ready to spend some time at it. Sometimes it takes me five or six readings to pick out the lists I am looking for. Knowing the theme of each epistle will help. Repeated words and phrases may be your key. Another hint: go by paragraph, not chapter. Some chapter breaks are notoriously bad, but the paragraph breaks are usually well thought out. If you are using a Bible that is un-paragraphed, look for the paragraph sign (that two-legged backwards “P”). Many Bibles have them now. If you don’t have one, find one in a used bookstore. The 1901 ASV, the NASB, the ESV are all usually paragraphed the same way. Where they differ, the original paragraphing in the ASV is far superior to the others.
I am not a fan of typing this out on the computer until I am ready for my final product, like a lesson or an article, or maybe a notebook I am compiling my studies in. Actually writing things in longhand on a piece of paper helps my memory, just like taking notes in a class does. Your mind is saying the words again, and your hands are forming them. It could be that being brought up with a computer will make it work for you, but if you are having a difficult time retaining things, go back to pen and paper, and see if it doesn’t make a difference.
So your assignment this time is an expositional study. Read and read and read; then start writing. Don’t be afraid to alter the method, especially if the text you have chosen does not quite fit the plan. (But don’t do anything that will limit the number of times you read the passage!) At first it will be difficult to figure out what you should be writing, but it will get easier, and you will learn more than you ever have before.
A book my husband highly recommends is Independent Bible Study by Irving Jensen. However, this book is out of print and hard to find. Sometimes you can find used copies on the Amazon or Alibris websites. Next week, he will tell you himself how he studies passages of scripture using his own variation of Jensen’s method. I am not the scholar he is, but I have dabbled in the method a little and hope someday to become more adept at it. Perhaps you could start with my suggestions, then work your way into his method as well. A student never finishes learning to learn.
If you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God. Proverbs 2:4-5