(4) Text: Initial Notes on Methods

Mar 16, 2024

It is not in spite of, but because of our love for our ancient, precious biblical texts, that we, with energy, seek out how to read them. We respect methods developed over centuries, and they are not the painful things that some imagine or accuse them of being; they are blessings from God that make it possible for us to dance with our texts in a wide variety of styles to help make intimate conversation possible.   

Methods are different from tools. Tools for Bible reading include things like English translations, concordances, dictionaries, Greek and Hebrew texts, commentaries, Bible software, and the like. Methods, on the other hand, are the dance steps we learn to allow conversation with biblical texts to come alive—a conversation between the text and the self.[1]

Methods are so important for reading biblical texts that we’ll spend several weeks on this sketching out an array of methods under two major categories:

 As we proceed, I will point out that these two categories are not entirely separate; for either to work properly they must work together. They are, in effect, joined at the hip.

However, I want to first deal with an objection. Have I forced the above comparison? Does the word “methods” apply more to #1 than #2?  Are they apples and oranges?   

I include this objection not to criticize but to address the concern. The answer to all three questions is “no.” The point of the chart is simply that some methods for reading the Bible are designed more for textual examination (#1) than for personal introspection (#2).

For centuries, attention has been given not only to methods that help evaluate and elucidate texts, but also to methods that assist in the care and feeding of the personal self. The chart merely helps to put these as they should be: side-by-side—joined.

Anyone interested in reading by the Spirit of God is certainly interested in both areas: text and self. Both sides have very specific methods for very specific things.[2] The sooner we learn this, the more quickly we are able to have meaningful conversations with biblical texts.  After all, we want to read biblical texts, not simply for their own sakes, and not simply for our own sakes, but ideally and ultimately for how the two intersect.

As we go forward, we will talk about how these two areas relate to each other. We’ll avoid the common trap of “I like this side” or “I like that one!”—as if one side is for eggheads and the other for airheads. Rather, we want to see not only the need and value of both sides, but also why both sides need each other. For the sake of my ongoing illustration, each specific method (on either side) is like a specific dance. On the dance floor, different steps are needed for different types of music. Whereas we will not describe every kind of dance step, we will talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly of each side.


[1] I will speak of “the self” or “our self” as used in psychology. 

[2] Some people have a misperception that reading the Bible “for what it means to me” somehow transcends all methods. Actually, this may signal a lack of disciplined reading that is more selfish than for the self.

Series Intro: 
Power-Reading the Bible

1. Reading By the Spirit
Week 1: What Does It Mean?
Week 2: The Letter Kills
Week 3: What Could Be!

2. Reading the Text
Week 4: Methods

Week 5: The Prime Directive 
Week 6: Text Methods: Highs and Lows

3. Self Disciplines
Week 7: Methods for the Self
Week 8: Specialty Tools
Week 9: The Self and DBS

4. Summary
Week 10: Spirit, Text, Self: Our Repertoire


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