I know. Those are the standard journalist’s questions and I live by them (remember my first degree was in News Ed from MU). I go back to them with each new learning task and reading the Old Testament, especially, challenges my basic knowledge.
Thank goodness for study Bibles. I decided to use the Wesley Study Bible (NRSV) for this year-long challenge of reading the entire Bible. The study notes add the background information that helps me understand the who, the what, the when and the where of the scriptures.
Admittedly I am not educated in ancient history. Sadly, when I first tested the world of ancient history in high school, the subject matter did not hold my interest (nor did the method of teaching either which was lecture, read, test).
In college I avoided it like the proverbial plague. The closest thing I took was a class on the synoptic gospels, and that was strictly New Testament. Now, though, I am finding myself looking for understanding of ancient history.
Therefore, another study Bible to use is the Archeological Study Bible. The notes in here align with the readings, true; but another aid is the sidebar articles that explain the culture, the locations, the art, and so many other extras that are not in other study Bibles but help get a better mental image of the times.
In the Methodist tradition, John Wesley created a quadrilateral approach to studying scripture:
The phrase which has relatively recently come into use to describe the principal factors that John Wesley believed illuminate the core of the Christian faith for the believer. Wesley did not formulate the succinct statement now commonly referred to as the Wesley Quadrilateral. Building on the Anglican theological tradition, Wesley added a fourth emphasis, experience. The resulting four components or “sides” of the quadrilateral are (1) Scripture, (2) tradition, (3) reason, and (4) experience. For United Methodists, Scripture is considered the primary source and standard for Christian doctrine. Tradition is experience and the witness of development and growth of the faith through the past centuries and in many nations and cultures. Experience is the individual’s understanding and appropriating of the faith in the light of his or her own life. Through reason the individual Christian brings to bear on the Christian faith discerning and cogent thought. These four elements taken together bring the individual Christian to a mature and fulfilling understanding of the Christian faith and the required response of worship and service.
[Accessed on February 7, 2019 at http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/wesleyan-quadrilateral]
Reading the scripture cold is perfectly acceptable, but using the quadrilateral keeps one’s understanding balanced. I find the study notes in my various Bibles greatly increases my understanding—especially of the who, what, when and where of the scripture.
Therefore, how I read the scripture is a process that is adding time to my studies, but the depth of understanding is greatly improved and answer one of the major challenges in following the reading plan that I am currently using:
Why are the Old Testament books paired with the specific New Testament books as the plan outlines?
I am sure that there are Biblical experts and theologians who have a proper academic answer to this, but in my reading I am discovering the answer—at least from my point of view.
The first pairing has been Genesis and Romans. I was not quick to figure it out, but I think now the connection is that Genesis is the beginning story of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, (now known as the Jewish faith) while the letter to Paul’s letter to the Romans is the story of the Christian church.
The second pairing is of the book of Isaiah and the gospel of Mark. Again, this is my conclusion not a Biblical expert, yet paring these two books serve as teaching manuals.
Isaiah, the book, becomes the literary link between the Old and the New Testament. The historical references provide a timeline of what happened to the people that are in the genealogical lineage of Jesus, from the King of David.
Why is this a key to linking with Mark? Again, study notes help, but remember that Mark’s audience is those faithful who continue to follow the Law of Moses, the Old Testament Law of the Israelites. The gospel of Mark is almost like reading a concise story of Jesus’ teachings and ministry.
The stories are not filled with overly descriptive language and the words attributed to Jesus are clearly identified and very straightforward.
The parables and the lessons to the twelve disciples are divided into separate subtitles and there is very little room for confusion. For beginners, the gospel of Mark is an excellent starting point for understanding by the novice Bible student.
Of course following any Bible reading plan can be challenging, but so far so good (pardon the cliché). I have read and re-read so many scriptures that reading following this plan is enriching my understanding.
Typically the readings from the Old Testament are twice as long as those from the New Testament, but the real challenge in reading the Old Testament is understanding the historical and the cultural background.
Again, using the study Bibles is so helpful to fill in the historical background. This covers Wesley’s concern that scripture reading should be read within the context of history or tradition.
The study notes also adds in a better understanding of the literature, too. In the reading for today, Isaiah 41:1-10, is described as a courtroom drama. That made reading the passage much simpler.
An additional study note explained that the same verses are “classical salvation oracle” which included the signature phrase:
“You are my servant, I have chosen you, and not cast you off, do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.”