An In-Depth Look At How To Effectively Study The Bible—an avid learner’s take

One of the barriers to getting to the heart of the Bible and appreciating the truth stated in it is the way we approach to not only learning it but by how we are holding others to accept it.

In our attempt to study the Bible, we tend to use a theologian’s lens or a pastor’s preaching perspective, and then we apologize and excuse the practice by stating a caveat that we’re not a theologian or a pastor by trade, but just a person who’s attempting to understand the Bible’s text. The opposite of that would be us being only an occasional or leisure Bible reader. When we are this type of reader, we tend to draw out a passage or a verse and apply it as a universal reality.

I had a Bible Study conversation with my daughters the other day. The topic question was, ”Is there a right or a wrong way to interpret the passages in the Bible or look at the Bible as a whole?” My long-story-short answer is, YES. The follow-up question and the answers to it are as follows: ”Can we raise questions and be skeptical about the stories told in the book and if so, will that affect our individual salvation?” YES, YES, and NO. Trust me when I say that I am beyond happy that I am having this conversation with my kids especially the older ones. Conversations such as this help spark learning and trust. We need open discussions where we journey in the truth together rather than have debates where both parties are intent on proving the other wrong.

Personally, I always encourage others to look and check into the veracity of Biblical understanding, including my own. Being a woman or a man of the church does not exclude a person from being wrong, sometimes fundamentally wrong on the interpretation of passages or of how the Bible is taken.

In terms of reading, especially if you’re just starting or had been handling the study of it in a questionable manner, how do you approach the Bible? I probably will receive a flack saying this, but I’ll say it anyway. The litmus test in rightfully understanding the context of the stories told in the Bible is not love. Positing that as long as you see it from a viewpoint of love it should be okay is not just being overly simplistic, but it’s also encouraging the reader to ignore the important elements of the book. Doing so, it prevents the reader from getting the total picture. You can’t be encouraging critical and mindful thinking and also be endorsing a narrow perspective. Truth be known, the Bible also has the most horrific violent stories and narratives of all literature combined.

It’s true, some misunderstood verses are benign or have resulted in inspired life-changing changes maybe. The thing is, there are also misguided interpretations that have catastrophic repercussions.

And so I say, first thing’s first. Understand that the Bible is a collection of narratives of different genres meant to be understood as a unified literary piece of work. There’s no arguing that the Bible is literature. The easy part is that it reads like a long novel.

Although personal experience and emotional connection to a passage vary, it is imperative to note that the truth of the Scripture is never dependent on the individual’s subjective take on the verse. Hence, the premise that there is no right or wrong interpretation of the Bible’s text is flawed at best and a danger at worst. Think of the slave owners of modern history and the Westboro Baptist Church when you start justifying the merits of individual interpretations. The truth of the Bible is found within its context and it has nothing to do with any of our opinions.

Map Source: Rose Book of Bible Charts, Maps, & Timelines

What do we need to know or do to understand the Bible?

1. When you read, don’t rush. Don’t be in a hurry to get to the ethical or moral lesson of the passage.

2. The Bible begins and reflects the time and culture it came about. Expect to do an adjunct reading. Consider looking into linguistic and language translations.

3. When studying each book, understand the text of the literature in terms of the history, timeline, and the places that the stories took place. The truth of the Bible is narrated through this backdrop.

4. Fight the compulsion to engage the storylines in your own terms. Learn about the characters and the protocol of the time. Keep in close check the urge to engage or apply the passages in the context of the present times.

5. The task of the reader is to get into the narrative of the book in its own context, mindful that the Bible which is composed of 66 books, with over 40 authors, written in three continents in a span of nearly two thousand years, and translated many times over is a unified literary unit.

Here Are Just A Few Important Literary Devises To Know While Studying The Stories Of The Bible:

1. Foreshadowing—an advance hint of what’s going to happen later in the story. The plan of redemption, for instance, was foreshadowed first in Genesis 22 during the Test Of Abraham.

2. Figures of Speech

3. Parallelism is the use of components in a sentence that is grammatically the same; or similar in their construction, sound, meaning, or meter.

Consider Matthew 5:13-14, ”You are the salt of the earth…You are the light of the world.” The second point amplifies the first point. When you get the literary structure right, you’ll understand that salt and light share a parallel perspective. The context in which salt is used in this passage has nothing to do with flavor or being a preservative. Be a preservative of the earth (or the flavor of the earth) does not make sense in the storyline. This is the area where knowledge of culture, topography, and geography also play an important role in understanding the text. Salt in Jesus’ time and in the location he was preaching was used as a catalyst for starting a fire or producing sparks specifically for outside ovens. This was a type of salt gathered in the Dead Sea. The parallel resonated to Jesus’ audience and was effectively received because it speaks to the practical reality of the people in the area.

4. Recapitulation includes the repetition or restatement and a summary of main points. In the Book of Matthew, Matthew recapitulates the history of Israel in his writing of the genealogy of Jesus. Check page 1 of the summary I prepared for the study of Chapters 1-5.

5. Paradoxical Technique refers to the use of concepts or ideas that are contradictory to one another, yet, when placed together hold significant value on several levels. The uniqueness of paradoxes lies in the fact that a deeper level of meaning and significance is not revealed at first glance, but when it does crystallize, it provides astonishing insight (source: In the Book of Matthew, The Beatitudes is a great example of this technique.

6. Symmetrical Form. The themes or main points are characterized by balance and harmony. In Genesis 1, Moses wrote about creation in a symmetrical fashion, e.g., “God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.” Genesis‬ ‭1:8‬.

7. Inclusio is a rhetorical device where the narrative ends where it begins. Bracketing is also a form of inclusio wherein sections are grouped together to convey a single thought. It’s a literary strategy to alert the reader of the important theme in the story or for the reader to examine the theme within a theme. The other significance of inclusio is to discourage us from individually handling or treating in isolation any small part of the inclusive grouping.

Example. Matthew 5-7 are an inclusio. The entire three chapters talk about the teaching of Christ on the mount. The message within the narrative is about The Way of the Kingdom—not to be interpreted as The Way to the Kingdom.

It’s time to equip readers and would-be readers and learners of the effective tools in understanding the text and learning the real context of the passages.

Empirically studying the Bible encourages a joint pedagogical journey of opportunity for us (who most likely claim some kind of biblical expertise) and the skeptics, including the disenfranchised individuals.

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What Will It Take To Bring What Is Apart Together?

Recently, my husband and I had a wonderful lunch and a lively couples’ book discussion at our home. It’s always a pleasure to host and see people ease up and be themselves at the company and space you provide for them. We don’t have a lot of square footage in the house, but somehow, every one of our guests contribute to make it work for all.

Our intention was to make the meeting as enjoyable as it was instructional and informative. Humor plays both prophylactic and cathartic roles in a husband and wife relationship. And yes, everyone has to have comforting food, too, most especially when the conversation may most likely get intense at some critical points in the discussion. 😊

When preparing for the study, my husband agreed that we’ll stick to the basic premise and foundational structure of Biblical storyline of bringing together what is apart. Marriage is a union of two individuals. Surely, there are a lot of advice and a plethora of information to digest pertaining to married life.

And so, what we committed to doing in our study is to highlight the heart of the Bible’s main message of unity through transforming love, being that Eggerichs’ book is marketed as a Bible-based self-help book.

My husband and I took a different approach in tackling chapters 4 to 8 of Dr. Emerson Eggerichs’ popular married couple’s book, “Love and Respect.” We dug deeper into the theme and challenged a few of its audience-based premises. You see, while we do understand the intention of the author to help a husband and wife become more loving and respecting of each other, the disconnect that we see is that the book limited the scope of love and respect by designating each virtue as a gender-assigned need or as described by the author, a gender-specific dominant language.

But what is perceived as a woman’s natural desire for love is actually a longing for acceptance or belonging, an inclination towards relationship and connection. Women have a higher degree of sentimentality compared to men. Instead of looking at it as a Propensity For Sentimentality, we believe that in the book, this nature is mislabeled as a love-based virtue.

What has been referred to as a man’s need for respect in the book is actually a deep desire for recognition or an acknowledgment of strength or accomplishment. Men have been conditioned and expected to compete since very early in his life more so than women. It is a fact. Instead of tackling it as an Ego-Issue, Vic and I agree that in the book, a man’s inclination for recognition and achievement is discussed as a respect-based virtue.

The Social Psychology of Respect: Implications for Delegitimization and Reconciliation

Since Eggerichs heavily referenced Dr. John Gottman’s research, we decided to share specifics in the group. We included several researched empirical facts and experts’ well-studied practical instructions to overcome marital conflicts. While we encouraged the husbands and wives to look into the deconstructed Christ-like definition of love and respect, Vic and I also facilitated an open discussion on a few real-life vulnerabilities and conflicts that a couple faces in their relationship.

Making Marriage Work

What Vic and I were aiming for in today’s discussion was to accomplish what we believe is the overall goal of the five chapters, which is to emphasize unity. However, we highlighted in our presentation that unity in marriage is a result of transforming love; a love that also produces respect. To help us achieve this and stitch the chapters together, we incorporated Inso Kim Berg’s miracle question. We adjusted the question to highlight a narrative of bringing two individuals together as one unit. We hope the discussion was enjoyable as it was instructive and informative.

We opened the book meet by throwing a question that deals with what’s obvious and common. It’s easy to demand a change from our spouse.

Miracle Question #1.

“Suppose tonight, while you slept, a miracle occurred. When you awake tomorrow, what would be some of the things you would notice about your spouse that would tell you life had suddenly gotten better?”

Then towards the middle of the group discussion and after getting the knowledge and assuming that the group have acquired enough understanding of love, respect, and overcoming marital conflicts, Vic and I asked the second main question of the day. This time the question involves a self-reflective challenge of asking what you can do to improve your marriage. Here goes,

Miracle Question #2

“Suppose tonight, while you slept, a miracle occurred. When you awake tomorrow, what would be some of the things you would notice about yourself (as a husband or a wife) that would tell you married life had suddenly gotten better?”

At the end of the discussion and after looking into the detailed study of forgiveness and expounding on a suggested dominant yet unifying language of a Christ-inspired love and respect between a husband and wife, we posted the third and last question. This time, the focus of the query is on the agreed couple’s goal of change. We concluded the discussion with a clear intent of joining two individuals to become one unit.

Miracle Question #3

“Suppose tonight, while you both slept together, a miracle occurred. When you awake tomorrow, what would be some of the things you, as a couple, would notice about your household that would tell you married life had suddenly gotten better?”

PowerPoint copy of what we used in today’s book meet.

And if you’re interested, check out the unabridged copy of what my husband and I put together in preparation for today’s book meet. Please note that none of our book meetings are intended to replace professional advice and interventions.

What will it take to bring together what is apart? A miracle? Or a transformed heart and mind — an attitude of faith? That when both parties come to terms and acknowledge that God being the head leader and Christ’s example of love and humility as their core inspiration, both the husband and wife sees and live a co-equal share of power, openheartedness, and reliability. And that their marriage becomes a continuing discovery of a true union of two becoming one.

Last year, Scott Treadway, lead pastor of Rancho Community Church presenter a Sunday lesson centered on purity and patriarchy. He briefly touched on the God’s take on gender equality and treatment of women. Follow the link for the full video of the sermon.

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Reflections on Mark 5:21-43, Day 55 NT Study

I participate in a few ongoing book studies and book club. One of which is a private online community whereby the challenge is to read the New Testament (NT) in one year. I’m sharing in this post a personal reflective insight specific on Day 55, Mark 5:21-43. I made a few edits to expand the narrative a little bit and to fit the essay into a blog post.

The Bible Project: New Testament In One Year, Day 55, Mark 5:21-43 (NIV)

“When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” So Jesus went with him. A large crowd followed and pressed around him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering. At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?” “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ” But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?” Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.” He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James, and John the brother of James. When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” But they laughed at him. After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!” ). Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this, they were completely astonished. He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.”

There is so much to digest on this day’s passage study. Mostly, when people want to do a deep study of Jesus’ ministry, they go more towards Matthew and John or even Luke before they read Mark. I find Mark’s narrative style as fascinatingly insightful.

Mark’s accounts of Jesus’ healing and miracles and the casting of demons during his ministry and the emphasis on concealing Jesus’ identity as Messiah and Christ are evidentiary thematics. The Book of Mark is not a long read in comparison to the other gospels, although the author’s narrative is filled with action and his literary voice shows a sense of immediacy. How this book ended is a whole other literary exploration.

I read the Book of Mark a few times, but every time I go back to read it again I would always have this reaction, ”Whoa! Pause. Pause. What just happened?”

Menstrual Disorders

The story of the bleeding woman who was already suffering for 12 years and the young girl who just died and was literarily regarded as probably just 12-years-old is a good study of contrast. But first, the obvious similarity between the two is that they were both females. Their story conveys a similar religious belief that cast them as impure and thereby anyone who got into physical contact with them will be rendered ceremonially unclean. The difference was that the 12-year-old was depicted as unclean when she died. The Jews believed that touching a dead body defiled a living person.

Are we punishing women for having periods?

Did the Mosaic Law on purity help the overall being of women or did its implications push for the continuing neglect of women’s health and overall well being?

A menstruating woman during that time was regarded as still unclean for seven more days even after the flow has stopped. Women during this time were marginalized for being a woman. Let that sink in for a moment. Imagine what it’s like for the bleeding woman who suffered for 12 years.

Then, imagine the number of people she touched while she was making her way into the crowd for Jesus. Would they run away and do a ceremonial bath if they knew? What would they do to the woman? Maybe stone her to death? Imagine how people would have reacted if they had prematurely found out Jesus was touched by her. Understanding these scenarios put a context to the woman’s terror and horror when Jesus asked who touched His garment. But what boldness! She took a life and death risk. To me, it was undeniable that her knowledge of who Jesus was for her and her understanding of His providence was what motivated her to seek healing (or more like a new life). What an inspiring faith!

In contrast, the 12-year-old girl was beloved by her father. The father advocated and pled for her healing.

The bleeding woman was alone, abandoned. Is it not incredible that Jesus would address this woman as daughter? I am blown away!

He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” Mark‬ ‭5:34‬ ‭NIV‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

And I wonder, given the society’s religiosity and cultural norms, would the girl’s father have this sense of advocacy and drive for her daughter when she begins her monthly bleeding? What if she develops a menstrual-related condition such as the bleeding woman’s affliction, will he cling to the religious beliefs and join others in the eventual marginalization of her being? What is Jesus telling us in the crossover of these two stories?

What is a menstrual cycle?

What is clear to me is seeing a pattern of the consistent narrative of Jesus’ ministry of shaking the status quo. He uses metaphors and direct examples of how, we as a society, should treat each other. It’s breathtaking, how constantly and consistently Christ has revealed how the narrow understanding of God and his precepts pulls people apart. And how hardened religious beliefs and societal demands and high moral expectations and kept humans, too, from developing a keen insight of God’s intention of unity and overall message of love.

I’m taken at how meticulous, insightful, and purposeful Christ’s revelations of how-tos with regard to love and treatment of each other.

In the different areas of today’s modern day society, how has the treatment of women changed?

How do people from different culture respond to menstruation? The people during the ancient world used women’s monthly period and menstrual-related conditions to subjugate and oppress girls and women, do you think a version of this is still happening today?

Menstrual Taboos Among Major Religions

In your study of Jesus Christ while he was on earth and your understanding of his ministry and messages pertaining to love and unity, what insights have you formed about how women should be regarded in society? In terms of the culture of interpersonal relationships among all genders, what do you think Christ endorses based on how he broke social protocols and cultural and religious norms of his time? What do upside-down leadership and selfless service mean in Christ’s ministry? How does that translate to practical living?

It should be easy for people now because we have the Bible, one would think. We see the characters, read between themes, and etcetera. But, we still get it wrong. And sometimes we get it wrong in a big way. Understandably so, especially in cases where the Bible has already taken the form of a God to us and when it’s utilized like a remote control for our personal understanding.

Thankfully, God’s transforming love and grace endure. Faith is not blind obedience or acceptance. Faith in Christ comes from knowledge, understanding, insights, and trust in Him and in His ministry.

Additional Readings

Menstruation and Sexual Intercourse: A Biblical and Scientific Review

Menstrual Purity: Rabbinic and Christian’s Reconstructions of Biblical Gender

Understanding the Bible: A Personal Perspective

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