Thursday, January 1, 2015

Reading Your New Testament: Glean Everything You Can From Your New Testament

If you are one of my students, you'll hear me tell you over and over again, "Glean everything you can from your New Testament by reading it for yourself." I'm not against reading journal articles, commentaries, and other specialty studies, but you should read and mine your New Testament for all its worth and as well as your abilities permit. There is no competition when it comes to studying the Word of God. The standard to which God holds us is faithfulness and accuracy. That's what Paul means when he writes to Timothy, "Work hard to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth." There's no comparison going on. It's God, his Word, and you. When you go to the Word, you go to meet him, and you do all that you do to please him.

If you're preparing to teach and you read from the New American Standard Bible, for example, read it for all it's worth! Look at what the author says, to whom he says it, how he says it, where in the discourse he says it. Pay attention to things like tense and aspect, voice and mood, person and number, gender, etc. If you are one of my students, hopefully you'll be gleaning everything you can from your Greek New Testament. I want my students to be using their Greek for the rest of their lives. Listen to something David Alan Black used to tell us all the time:
"The Bible teaches its own inspiration. The key passage is 2 Tim 3:16: ‘All Scripture is God-breathed . . . .’ That is, everything written down (πᾶσα γραφή) in the text of Scripture is inspired by God (θεόπνευστος). But this includes not only the words. Words are not the minimal units of meaning of language, nor are they the most important. A proper understanding of biblical inspiration, based on the Greek, would include the words but also the tense, voice, mood, aspect, person, number, gender, case, word order, phrase order, clause order, discourse structure, etc. All of these features were put into the text by the Holy Spirit, and it behooves interpreters of the New Testament to do their best to unpack what is there.”
Check out the tense. Look hard at those verbs. Check out the voice. The mood too! Think about the aspect. You can't just read your translation and be a sponge. Those were the old days. Now think through these grammatical issues. What person are we dealing with–first, second, or third? Does it matter? How do these things impact the way that we understand the passage? Look at the gender. What's going on with the order of words, phrases, clauses. Why does Paul give the charge in Philippians at the end of the first chapter, but waits so long to do so in Galatians? What's going on with the literary structure? Think through how authors use different prepositions in close proximity. Unpack finite verbs by paying attention to their participles. Look closely at their characteristics. Is there a shift? Anything peculiar?

There's so much you can see on your own. You'd be surprised at how much you can glean if you just bring a pen and start making observations. What you'll actually end up seeing is that you will make observations that just go unmentioned in the commentaries you consult later. You'll also realize that you know what you're looking for before using those commentaries, and you'll end up maximizing your time. You can get in and get out!

Write your observations out. Grab a piece of paper and jot them all down as you see them. That's time well spent. I promise you. Whatever you do, don't underestimate yourself. I'm not saying you can do it on your own. What I'm saying is, if you have the Holy Spirit (1 John 2:27), you can definitely do it!  Spend some time with the Lord and his Word. It's the best time you'll ever spend!

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