Methods of Bible Study

Arthur G. Clarke

Part 2 of 4 of the series Bible Study

BESIDES ONE'S FAVOURITE BIBLE for general reading, it is advisable to have for the study desk a well-bound and reasonably large clear type Parallel Version or Interlinear Bible. Both are obtainable with wide margins or interleaved for notes. Failing either of these a copy of the English or American Revised should be kept handy for reference. There is much difference of opinion as to the value of the Scofield Bible. If used, the notes should be treated as suggestive rather than authoritative. A loose-leaf edition of the Bible with blank pages, which may be inserted at any desired place, is now available for those who prefer it. A box of fine-pointed pen nibs and holder and a bottle of good quality permanent blue or blue-black ink will be required. Avoid washable inks. Indian or drawing ink does not always flow freely from the nib. The possession of a fine-pointed fountain pen kept specially for Bible marking is useful.
A good concordance is a practical necessity for the Bible student. A Young's or Strong's has considerable advantage over a Cruden's. Both show the occurrence of words in the original text. Even better is The Englishman's Concordance published by Messrs. S. Bagster & Sons, Ltd. It is in three volumes and therefore less bulky to handle than the two named. Two volumes are styled The Englishman's Hebrew and Chaldee Concordance and the third, which may be purchased separately, The Englishman's Greek Concordance. In this work all occurrences of a word in the original text appear under one head whatever English word may represent it in the common versions. There are also valuable indexes. The two volumes for the Old Testament have been out of print for some time. Secondhand copies are rather difficult to obtain and only at a much enhanced price, but the expenditure is well worth while.
Their names are legion! All schools of interpretation are represented. No commentary should be allowed to supersede independent research else it becomes a stumbling-block. The same may be said of books on the Bible, though there is no reason otherwise why the student should not avail himself of the labours of scholarly and spiritually-minded men, and accept written ministry just as readily as oral teaching. The very best commentary on the Bible is the Bible itself. The apostle Peter in his second epistle, ch. 1. 20, has laid down a rule which should ever be before the mind of the student, 'No prophecy (i.e. not simply Foretelling but Forthtelling) of the Scripture is of private (i.e. its own) interpretation'.  In other words, no passage must be detached from the general teaching of the Scriptures lest its meaning be misunderstood and even perverted. As the late Dr. C. I. Scofield truly remarked, 'The saying that anything may be proved by the Bible is both true and false - true if isolated passages be used, utterly false if the whole divine revelation is in view'. As a general commentary the one by Jamieson, Fausset and Brown is useful, especially for the New Testament. For more ambitious students, The Speaker's Commentary is one of the best. Not so well-known nowadays but to be recommended is The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge also published by Messrs. Bagster. If the student's Bible does not contain a good series of maps with index of place names, it is well to obtain a Bible atlas. A dictionary of the Bible is also desirable. Excellent Bible study correspondence courses are now offered at reasonable cost but care must be taken to follow only those recommended by reliable Christian magazines.
Bible study is greatly facilitated by having a definite system of filing notes gathered from various sources. It is very disappointing to lose valuable notes jotted down on scraps of paper. I suggest that a small pocket book be constantly carried for personal jottings or helpful points gathered from others. As soon as possible these notes should be transferred to permanent records. For these latter, perhaps loose leaf note-books are the best, failing which school exercise books with good quality paper will serve. For beginners three of the former will be sufficient. One may be devoted to Books of the Bible. Use a sheet for each of the sixty-six books adding another sheet when necessary. In posting notes enter chapter and verse in a left-hand column where the figures will catch the eye when turning up references. Sooner or later a chapter-and-verse index will be required. A second loose leaf book may be used for Doctrines of the Bible, taking a sheet for each subject and again adding a leaf as needed. Keep the subjects in alphabetical order. The third memo, book may be reserved for Sidelights on the Bible, to contain notes on archeological and other scientific discoveries, also other matters having any bearing on the Bible. Along with the memo, books it is helpful to keep three or more large and strongly made envelopes with corresponding titles for filing away loose notes not ready for posting, and for cuttings from periodicals. By adopting some such system there is always ready to hand valuable material for the study of a special topic or Scripture passage and for the preparation of addresses.
This is in favour with many. There is a method known as 'railway lines' by which prominent words and sentences having a textual or spiritual relation are linked up by ruled lines, which are sometimes carried to marginal notes and references. Some prefer to overprint the lettering in ink so that the words so traced stand out boldly from the rest of the text. A word of caution is needed here. Unless sparingly used either of the above methods will defeat its own end for instead of greater clarity only confusion results. In any case all such marking should be neatly done. Nothing looks more unsightly and even irreverent than a Bible with its pages disfigured by pencil notes, careless writing and other ugly marks. A Christian's Bible should be regarded as a life-long companion and therefore neither to be abused nor neglected. On the whole it is better to use plain underlining with simple signs in the margin employing, if desired, coloured inks to distinguish various subjects. Most Bible shops sell sets of such inks for this purpose. Wide margins are best reserved only for analyses, references, well-attested emendations in translation and very concise expository notes. Alliteration and other mnemonic aids are permissible and for analytical and synthetical outlines may prove very effective but should not be overdone.