In many Bible study groups, the following thing happens: you come together and read a Bible text. After a short moment of silence, somebody brings up his or her favorite topic that is vaguely connected to the text. This might be predestination, baptism or world politics. All these topics are important, but the purpose of the meeting gets lost – that is, to share around a Bible passage and let God speak to you.
At the IFES World Assembly 2015 in Mexico, I got to know the Intervarsity USA Bible study bookmark that guides through an inductive Bible study. Back in Germany, I translated it into our context. It was great: the students concentrated more and dug deeper into the text with the guidance of the bookmark.
As long as we read the Gospels, it worked quite well. Yet as we studied other types of biblical texts like prophetic, poetic or apocalyptic literature, it became more difficult to work with the bookmark. It was, for example, problematic to read Old Testament law as we read the Gospels – we couldn’t simply apply the law directly to our life. Some students asked: “Why should I follow Jesus and not the whole Old Testament law? Both are in the Bible and come from God…? And what about the psalms that talk about vengeance? Doesn’t Christ call us to love our enemy?”
We realized that we need different kinds of questions for different literary genres in Scripture. When reading narratives, we observe what the different characters say and do, how events evolve and how God is at work in the midst of this. When reading prophetic texts, observation is more about asking what social, ethical or religious wrongs are being addressed. Poetic texts often use imagery to convey their message and so we need to give them appropriate attention. Similarly, the questions we ask in interpretation will differ from one kind of biblical text to another.
After a while, we developed Bible study bookmarks for seven different genres: narratives, epistles, prophetic passages, poetic texts, Old Testament law, wisdom literature and apocalyptic literature. For each genre, the questions suggested for the Bible study correspond to the theological and literary characteristics of this type of text. You can find them here.
With regard to these bookmarks, Markus Heide – head of SMD student ministries – says: “I experience their value when they help student groups to unearth the treasure of Scripture instead of only hearing what they already know. I experience their value when they help a Christian to read the Bible with a non-Christian friend and together they make discoveries, instead of the Christian explaining everything to the non-Christian.”
Fabian Mederacke, former regional staff of SMD Germany