Todd Bolen is a professor at IBEX, just outside of Jerusalem. His particular focus is on archaeology and history. For the last year, I’ve subscribed to his occassional newsletter (available at www.bibleplaces.com). About 4-6 weeks ago, I found his blog entitled, Todd’s Thoughts, and have been enjoying it ever since. His posts typically focus on recent archaeological finds & his thoughts on all things Israel, but sometimes he posts thoughts on life, the pursuit of God and happenings with his students.
What follows is a helpful post from Todd on understanding the larger context of books of the Bible…in other words, seeing the forest amidst the trees:
It seems to me that one of the problems that believers have is that
they learn the Bible in bits. The preacher focuses on a paragraph (or
even a single verse). The daily reading plan has you reading portions
of 4 books (OT, NT, Psalms, Proverbs) every day. Bible "study"
automatically means a detailed look at a small portion of Scripture,
with a focus on individual words. The result is that no one knows the
Bible. They know bits of the Bible, but they can’t see the big picture.
They can tell you what the parable of the sower means, but not how it
fits into the larger context of Jesus’ ministry (why he told it at this
time, who it was directed towards, etc.). They know the story of David
and Goliath but they don’t have a clue what it is really about (hint:
it’s not about David and Goliath).
So my suggestion, especially to any former students no longer
encumbered with required coursework, is to plan to do a "forest" study.
Put the lexicon away, and instead see the sweep of the narrative or
discourse. Read the whole thing again and again. Identify the key
points, and observe the flow of the logic.
You can do this in the Old Testament (e.g., 1 Samuel) or in the New Testament (e.g., Colossians). Try to figure out what the author
was trying to say to his audience (and forget about how to apply it
today). Do this without any outside sources; just you and your Bible
and your pencil. At some point, re-write the book in condensed form,
tracing the essence of the "argument." If this is longer than a
paragraph, re-write it so that it’s not longer than a paragraph. Then
try to sum it up in a single sentence.
I’m not claiming that this is the only type of Bible study to do,
but I am suggesting that it be one of the types of Bible study you do.
And I have found it immensely satisfying. How enjoyable it is to know
the main point of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, and to have figured
it out for yourself (instead of just reciting some formula you once
learned in a class). Admittedly, some books will be easier than others;
the logic of Paul’s argument in Galatians is much simpler than the
oracles of Isaiah. So start with the easy ones. Later this week, I’ll
give you an example of what I mean.