Written by Bob Grahmann
You can download the PDF of this resource here.
Many small groups could discover vast new vistas of the Bible if they discovered Manuscript Bible study!
It’s astonishing how little Manuscript Bible Study is known in Britain - considering how fruitful it’s proved elsewhere in getting people into the Bible in quantity. So we in Living Leadership are proud to present this introduction, praying that it will empower many homegroups – and even whole churches – to dig into God’s Book in an entirely fresh way…
So how do you do Manuscript Bible Study?
Let’s start in the right place. The Bible is God’s living Word. As you approach a manuscript study, pray that God would meet you, so you experience God himself in his Word; speak to you as a friend to a friend; teach you his truth; surprise you with some new insight or discovery; and transform you over time into the image of Jesus.
But then what?
Type out or download the passage
Here is the first thing that makes manuscript study distinctive. You’re going to create your own Bible manuscript, which can be marked up freely and colourfully, but with no “helps” such as headings or notes at the bottom of the page. There is just you, your friends, and God’s Word!
Choose a section of the Bible – a short Bible book for example. Then you type out or download your chosen passage - but double-spaced; in a block (“justified”); and without any verse numbers, chapter divisions, headings, or paragraph indentations.
That means that everybody in the group is going to have to explore its sections and flow of thought for themselves. This allows us to see the passage in a very fresh way! (You might find it helpful when it comes to discussion to have line numbers every five lines in the right hand margin.) And, give enough white space, and wide margins, for participants to be able to write comments, ideas, questions, observations.
Now the fun starts! (And by the way you need lots of coloured pencils!)
Look closely: take time individually for each of these…
- Read the passage through carefully, a few times, and write down specifics that you see: who is there? what is happening? when is it? where is it? how is it happening?
- Circle (or highlight in different colours) signs of the passage’s flow of thought - words, phrases or ideas that are emphasized by repetition, or that connect by contrasting, being similar, progressing from the general to the particular, or stating a cause that leads to an effect. Look out for connections like `Therefore`, `But`, `Then`.
- Put yourself into the passage. If it is a narrative, put yourself into the story. What do you see, smell, taste, and feel? Choose one of the characters and become them. If it is a letter or law section, feel what it might have felt to get that letter or hear that law. If it is poetry, let the power of the poem and its images sweep over you.
- What responses and questions does the passage raise in your mind? What words, phrases, or concepts don’t you understand? Does the passage turn in any unexpected ways? What intrigues or puzzles you? Write these questions down too.
- See if the passage can be divided into thought units, sections, paragraphs. Look out for changes of setting or theme. See what sentences you think add up to a thought unit, and mark that as a paragraph.
- Now write a brief title for each paragraph.
- Look at the context of the passage. What comes before it in the Bible, and after it?
- Consider the questions you wrote down earlier. Look hard in the passage for insights into these questions.
- One of the best ways to move towards answers to your questions is to look for connections among the paragraphs. Is there a word, phrase or idea that repeats? Is there a contrast? Is there a cause in one paragraph and the effect in another; or a string of similar words, phrases, or ideas that run through a few paragraphs? Draw coloured lines between the connected words or phrases to mark them. What do you think is significant about these connections? What light do they shed on possible answers to your questions?
Look at your connections, your questions, your points of significance, and the context. Step back and ask yourself: what are the main points of this passage? What is the author trying to say? Why is this passage or story here? Try to write this in an integrative sentence.
Hear from God and Act Boldly
Now you’re moving from “What does this passage mean” to applying it - asking, “What does this passage mean for me, or for us?”
As you ponder your study, do you sense that God is speaking to any part of your life? Is there a promise to trust, a command to obey, or an example to follow or avoid? Is there a deeper insight into God or your experience with God? What action are you going to take in response to what God is saying to you? Processing and applying the main truths of the passage after they have been discovered is an essential part of manuscript study.
The Joy of Community
That’s not the end. Manuscript study at its best is communal, done in a group that discovers and shares together, coming to a common sense of the passage. So, after you have studied the passage on your own, share it now with your trusted fellow believers, in small groups. Get their correction, their affirmation, and their insights.
Now take the time to pray together about what you’ve discovered.
Worship God and respond to his love for you. Thank him for speaking to you in his living Word.
Manuscript Bible study was developed by Paul Byer of InterVarsity USA in the 1950s, and since then through InterVarsity staff and missionaries it has spread all around the world. Why?
- It’s fresh
- It helps one see the themes in a series of chapters or entire Bible book - often as we never have before
- It’s based in discovery; the learners are not told what the passage says or means, they discover the facts and meanings for themselves, and apply the text to their own situations. The teacher acts as a facilitator, helping the evening along; learning happens through the group generating questions from the text, seeking to answer them, and then putting these answers together to form the main truths of the passage.
- It’s communal - there is a combination of small group, large group, and personal study and interaction.
- Anyone can learn to do it
- It’s a guard against heresy and false teaching
- And it’s interesting and fun!
Bob Grahmann is director of InterVarsity Link, which recruits, trains, sends, and helps care for graduates and staff from the US who go overseas to work with the IFES among students. He also serves as worldwide director of the Bible & Life discipleship and Bible study training programme, which is used in the US and many countries around the world.
© Bob Grahmann.