Thursday, May 11, 2023

Bible Study: Pay Attention to Details!

I cannot tell you how thrilled I am to begin Greek 2 on Monday. A big part of the course will be learning how to do exegesis, giving students a framework for studying the Bible at their own pace. I have no greater joy than to see young people discovering the thrill of digging into the Scriptures for themselves. In fact, authentic Christianity can be described as a firsthand acquaintance with the word of God. Don't just let a blog post or a commentary tell you what the Bible says. Read it and study it for yourself. 

This is exactly what I do in my daily Bible study time. I work over the text like a dog gnawing on a bone. I read the passage over and over again in the Greek (or Hebrew). I read it silently. I read it aloud. I read it in as many different English versions as I can. I read it in foreign languages such as German, French, and Spanish. I read it in the Latin Vulgate. I even read it in the language of my upbringing, Hawaiian Creole. I study its words. I study how those words are put together. I study the structure of the passage. I study its historical background. I study its rhetorical devices. This is exactly the process I go through. 

The key is attention to detail. John Wooden, famous basketball coach, once said, "It's the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen." 

Lou Holtz, who earned a reputation as a magnificent football coach, said, "In the successful organization, no detail is too small to escape close attention." 

And Henry Ford, the automobile developer, noted, "A handful of men have become very rich by paying attention to details that most others ignored." 

Again, we are talking here about attention to detail. Other words for this are:

  • accuracy
  • meticulousness
  • exactness
  • precision
  • thoroughness
  • exactitude
  • preciseness
  • correctness
  • conscientiousness
  • attentiveness

Note I did not include "perfectionism" in this list. Nobody ever gets every detail right. I was recently listening to a sermon and the speaker quoted Isa 26:3 from the New Living Translation:

"You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you."

He said, "Look at that word 'all.' That includes you. That includes every single believer who ever lived." That's a marvelous point but it has no basis in the text. The Hebrew lacks the word "all." It simply reads, "Whose mind is stayed on you, you will keep in peace, peace." The preacher overlooked the details. 

Or consider the error I once made. In Mark 1:2, there is a textual problem. Some scribes wrote, "As it is written in Isaiah the prophet." Others wrote, "As it is written in the prophets." In my book New Testament Textual Criticism: A Concise Guide, I argued for the originality of the reading "in Isaiah the prophet" partly because what follows in verse 3 is actually two quotations and therefore a scribe would have been tempted to "correct" the text to "in the prophets." But Maurice Robinson pointed out to me that in verse 3 you actually only have one quotation and one allusion. The only direct quote is the one from Isaiah -- hence the "correction" could have gone in the opposite direction. Had I compared the Greek of Mark with the Greek of Mark's source, the Septuagint, I would have seen this immediately. I had failed to pay attention to the details. 

In Greek 2, we're going to address all of these issues and more. Every one of these obstacles to accurate exegesis can be overcome. 

What about you? Do you regularly read and study the Bible on your own? Or are you like many Christians who rarely if ever open the Bible for themselves? Do you pay attention to the details when you do read the Bible? Serious Bible study is essential for spiritual maturity. 

So the ball is in your court. Inerrancy means that we have a Bible that is completely reliable, trustworthy, and without error. As we study it, we can eagerly expect God to speak to us through the words of Scripture!