Sunday, August 12, 2007

Mastering the Bible

Fred Sanders at Scriptorium and Joe Carter at Evangelical Outpost, have both recently re-posted some older posts about an approach to the Bible that they have found helpful. It is based on a book written in 1904 by James M. Gray, How to Master the English Bible. An excerpt from Sanders:
One thing Gray is careful to emphasize in the following pages is that he does not recommend reading the whole Bible cover to cover in course, at least not if you're attempting to achieve mastery. Reading all 66 books is just too much. Your mind cant retain it all, and even if you read cover to cover twenty times in a row, you will not master that bulk of material. Pick one book and devote yourself to it until it belongs to you. The plan was to read and reread each book by itself and in its order, as though there were no other in existence, until it had become a part of the very being. ....

Gray provides a set of pointers in a chapter entitled “The Plan at Work.”

1. Begin at the Beginning. Here he does recommend working through the Bible from Genesis on.

2. Read the Book. That is, don’t study it minutely, but read through it at a natural reading pace.

3. Read it Continuously. “The adjective may not be the most lucid, but the idea is this: It stands for two things – the reading of the book uninfluenced by its divisions into chapters and verses, and the reading of the book in this way at a single sitting.” (p. 45)

4. Read it Repeatedly. Over and over and over and over and over.

5. Read it Independently. Commentaries are great, but your bad outline is better than an expert’s good one. Why is that the case? Because the goal of mastery is not to produce the best possible summary of the book itself, but to develop your own skills. “The independent reading of a book in this sense is urged because of its development of one’s own intellectual powers. To be ever leaning on help from others is like walking on stilts all one’s life and never attempting to place one’s feet on the ground. Who can ever come to know the most direct and highest type of the teaching of the Holy Spirit in this way?” (p. 49)

6. Read it Prayerfully. This is the great note that Gray ends his book with, and it is a welcome note in a book with a cheeky title that promises “mastery of the Bible.” ....
Carter lists some "practical suggestions" that differ in a few respects from the advice offered by Gray, but that do seem eminently practical:
1. Choose shorter books and work up to longer ones. Since you'll be reading an entire book of the Bible and not just a chapter or two, you'll want to work your way up to more extensive readings. When beginning this program you may want to start with a short book that has only a few chapters that can be read several times in one sitting. This will not only give you a sense of accomplishment but will give you an idea of how quickly you can “master” the material. ....

2. Read at your normal pace. Treating the material reverently does not require reading at a slower than normal speed. Read for comprehension, ignoring the division of chapters and verses and treating each book as one coherent unit.

3. Skip the commentaries. Don’t get bogged down by referring to commentaries or other outside sources. Commentaries are for your Bible study, rather than for this “synthetic reading.” Read the book in its entirety and then attempt to summarize in your own words the book’s theme and major points.

4. Stick with the process. After the eighth or ninth reading you’ll hit a wall that is similar to what runners face in marathons. The text will become dry and lose its flavor. You’ll want to move on to the next book or abandon the program altogether. Stick with it. Persevere and you’ll discover the treasures that repeated readings can provide. ....

5. Choose an appropriate version. As much as I love The Message, a modern language paraphrase is not an appropriate version for synthetic reading. Likewise, the familiar rhythms and cadences of the KJV can, upon repeated readings, get in the way of comprehension. I personally recommend the ESV, though the NIV can be a suitable alternative.

6. Pray. Ask God to open your heart to his Word. Trust the Holy Spirit to illuminate the text and provide guidance and understanding.

7. Begin today. Don’t put it off another day. Don’t say you’ll start tomorrow, or next week, or after New Year’s. You won’t. Start with the only time that you are guaranteed – now. ....

James Gray on Mastering the Bible | Scriptorium Daily, Evangelical Outpost: How to Change Your Mind

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous3:10 PM


    Thanks for posting this. It's very relevant to the book I'm writing. I requested a copy of How to Master the English Bible through interlibrary loan, but also found a recent reprint on Barnes and Noble for $10. I'm committed to finishing the Bible this year, but next year (or several years) I think I'll try this.


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