Manuscript Study

scrollsStudying the Bible can be intimidating; doing it with 800 other people seemed overwhelming.  The Urbana Student Missions conference was held in St. Louis last week and I had the joy of attending as a representative of our ministry.  Each day began with an hour and a half inductive Bible study from the book of Luke.  The facilitator took us through this method that has been used powerfully over the years by Intervarsity (the campus ministry hosting Urbana) called Manuscript Study to help us to see that studying God’s word wasn’t so tough after all.

The cornerstone of this approach was to work in small groups and follow a regular pattern:

  1. First, you spent time quietly reading the passage and making mental and written notes of your observations.
  2. Second you shared your observations with your small group and then we did this with the larger group.
  3. In the third step, you looked for questions that came from the text and wrote then down, talked about them in the small group and then in the larger group
  4. In the fourth step, we looked for answers to the questions from the passage itself and from other portions of scripture.  These were then shared and discussed.
  5. Finally, we looked for applications from the text to our own lives.  What was the Bible saying to us about how we should live as followers of Christ?

Having been a Christian for many years and having experienced many types of Bible studies, I really appreciated this approach for its commitment to studying the text.  Our facilitator constantly urged us to go back to the text and ask “what did it say” as we explored our observations and questions.  It is amazing how rich God’s word is and how much can be missed on a cursory pass.  The value of simply asking, “Who was the author speaking to and what would they have thought about what was being said?” was particularly helpful in framing our discussions.

On the first day, we studied a passage from Luke 4:14-30 where Jesus is visiting and teaching in the synagogue in Nazareth, his home town.  I was so blessed to see how much the written word meant to our Savior as he was handed a scroll and read from the book of Isaiah.  He went on to define his purpose on earth from words that had been spoken about Him many centuries before and were written down for just such an occasion as this.  What must his hearers have been thinking when He told them that He came to proclaim good news to the poor, freedom for the prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind and to set the oppressed free?  From the text, it is clear that they were all impressed at first, but quickly turned against him when he refused to be a magician and simply do a miracle to prove He was what He said He was.

Like so many of the people in Nazareth, I am excited about what Jesus came to do especially when there is something in it for me.  Who doesn’t want to be around someone who is healing, freeing, restoring and proclaiming good news all the time?  The reality, however, wears a little thin when I begin to realize that this is also my mandate as a follower of Jesus and that doing this can be exhausting, overwhelming, thankless and frustrating.

Later in our study of Luke, we saw a pattern that Jesus established for His disciples as He sent them out in pairs.  They were to go to the towns that he sent them to and find someone to stay with whose house they would proclaim peace over.  When they found the place they were sent to, they had three specific tasks – eat, heal and proclaim.  They were to eat what was set before them, heal the sick and proclaim, “The kingdom of God has come near to you”.  While it is not clear what happened in every place they went, one key thing is mentioned as an expected result – repentance.

As I begin this New Year, I am more aware than ever of the power of words.  Far too often, however, I am willing to settle for 5-10 minutes a day of reading a devotional book and calling that significant.  While I certainly value the wonderful devotional books that have been written over the years like My Utmost for His Highest and more recently, Jesus Calling, there is nothing that should replace real Bible Study in my life.   I look forward to applying the inductive study principles I have learned at Urbana to many other portions of scripture in the years ahead.

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