Today’s post covers two topics. First, is an informative lesson on how Bible grammar works. I’m keeping it short. After all, no one likes boring grammar lessons, right? Actually, I think you’ll find it interesting and it will change, in small ways, the way you read the Bible. Second, I introduce a new method/technique you can use as you go deeper into the word of God.
Bible Grammar Explained
When we read the Bible in English, we are reading a translation. The Old Testament was written in ancient Hebrew. The New Testament was written in the ancient Greek that was in use during the first century after Christ. The way the men who first penned the scriptures on the original manuscripts is interesting. Right now I’m using capital letters and punctuation to help my readers follow the meaning I’m trying to convey. The ancient writers didn’t do that. No punctuation was used at all and some of the earliest manuscripts we have available didn’t even use spaces between words. When I talk about God and use the pronoun “He”, I capitalize it because it refers to God. I also use capitals to start my sentences and denote proper names. The original writers didn’t do that, either. The early New Testament Greek texts used all capital letters and, again, zero punctuation. So, when I think about the job Bible translators have in taking those texts – written without capitals or punctuation or sometimes even spaces – and translating them into something we ordinary people can make sense of, I come away with a lot of respect. Those guys have a big job – and a big responsibility before God to get it accurate.
Here’s another interesting fact: There weren’t any chapters or verses in the original manuscripts, either. Over the centuries scholars, both Jew and Christian, introduced various divisions into the text with the idea of making it easier to navigate and understand. The last person to work on it was a printer named Robert Estienne Stephens and he is the fellow who gave us the final breakdown of the New Testament into verses. Get this – Stephens reportedly did the work on this project while riding a horse as he was traveling from Switzerland to France.
I mention all this here because it’s important for you to know that punctuation along with chapter and verse divisions in the Bible are works of men and not inspired. I am ever grateful that my Bible uses punctuation and that those divisions into chapters and verses are in place because they help me as I study the Bible. However, sometimes those clerical changes can skew and change the meaning of the words I am reading. It’s not really something we need to worry about – we can trust the scholars and translators to do a good job – but, if you are reading along and the change between chapters or verses just doesn’t seem quite right, or the meaning you are seeing doesn’t quite match up with what you are hearing the Holy Spirit speak, the most likely cause is either an aberrant division into chapter and verse, or poorly placed punctuation/capitalization. When that happens, pause, check in with the Holy Spirit (since He’s the one who will keep you straight), read it in a different way, shrug your shoulders, and go on. (You can also grab or pull up a different translation and see if it puts it the same way. I’ll post about different English translations sometime soon.)
Speed Read It!
I’ve been suggesting different ways and techniques you can use to study the Bible. First, I suggested you simply read it, making quantity your goal. Second, I suggested you add taking notes and journaling your thoughts to your reading. Just guessing, but I’m thinking that journaling your thoughts has added depth and richness to your Bible reading time. Am I right? This next method has the potential to turbocharge your Bible study. Try repeated speed reading.
I kind of stumbled into using this method a few years ago. God sometimes gives a pastor insight into the people he pastors that others aren’t privy to. Often we see some of the spiritual roots that underlie our parishioner’s struggles and needs, and then we struggle with finding ways to help them overcome the darkness that sometimes seems to overwhelm them. I once had a parishioner who seemed to endlessly struggle with certain issues. (I’m being vague here on purpose. :>) His flesh – his fallen nature – was always getting the better of him and it was destroying his life. Clearly, at least it was clear to me as his pastor, he needed to experience the transforming power of the word of God in a big way. That concept comes from two pieces of scripture, looked at together:
Eph 5:26 “...Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her to make her holy, cleansing her with the washing of water by the word.”
Rom 12:2 “Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind...”
The word of God is used by the Holy Spirit to wash and renew our minds. The more we study the word of God, the more we will see our minds transformed. We start forming new thinking patterns and are changed from the inside out. That’s how powerful the word of God is! And that is what my friend needed. My friend needed big-time exposure to the word of God.
The problem I faced as his pastor, was how to get that done. How could I get my friend exposed to the word in vast quantities? Then I remembered a technique I had recently read about that involved repeated reading of the same passage over and over. Here’s how it works. First, choose several chapters of the Bible book you are targeting. Don’t be easy on yourself. Choose enough material that it will be challenging. Then set yourself to read that entire section all the way through at least five times in the coming week. If you fail to reach that goal, then you can’t move on. You have to read the same passage five times the following week. That pattern persists until you succeed in reaching the goal and then you can start on the next section of the book you are studying. I made a deal with my friend that if either of us failed to reach the goal, we both had to stay on that passage. What this method did for my personal Bible study was astounding! We chose a section that was long enough to be a challenge and to start with I simply speed-read my way through. Hearing those words every day caused them to sink into my soul where they began to ripen and cure. The truth of the word of God just started to bubble its way up until I just had to start taking notes. In the end, I formatted and printed a copy of the passage we were reading so that I could write on it. That let me start taking notes as I read. I still have a binder full of printed pages of the Bible that I have covered with notes. This repeated reading method of Bible study was so significant for me that even when I knew I could finish the goal, I would sometimes deliberately miss finishing, just so that I could do it again!
You can do this solo fashion, but it works best if you do it with a partner. Find someone who will join you and then meet weekly, passing progress reports back and forth and sharing what God has spoken to you. This method will enrich both your own study/prayer time with the Lord and your friend’s Bible time as well.