Own the Text

Here’s a follow up to yesterday’s post.

It is easy to succumb to the temptation of reading secondary sources (dictionaries, commentaries, etc.) before you have had the time to absorb the text for yourself. In the endeavor to interpret the Bible, especially some of the more difficult passages, we might be moved to grab that commentary to help us figure it out. Resist it, standing firm in the text!

It is much, much better for all readers—students, preachers, and other serious readers—to learn the habit of first reading the text largely on their own. Even the most sophisticated advocates and practitioners of the most complex historical-critical methods emphasize this:

Before reaching for the secondary sources, such as the commentaries, one should try to formulate a provisional analysis of the text.[1]

In other words, spend time with the text by itself. Look at it over and over again. Ask questions, even basic questions you think you already know. Meditate on the passage when you’re standing in line at the grocery store or sitting in a waiting room. Listen to it on audio. OWN THE TEXT for yourself. Then, and only then, can you handle secondary sources responsibly.

Here’s a suggestion which I have written about before and one that was recommended by Dr. Nijay Gupta on his blog.

  1. Print out a copy of the text, double-spaced in a slightly larger font. Use this as your primary was to engage the text. It keeps you from being distracted, and you can use the spaces and margins to make notes and write down questions. Draw on it, use different color pens or whatever helps you. Or:
  2. Dr. Gupta recommends the following:

“WORD WALL: Print out the Scripture text in super-large font and plaster it on the wall. I use colored pencils and mark up the text with notes and thoughts, prayers, impressions, highlighting important words, etc. I suggest keeping it “up” all week and spending time each day (maybe twice a day) marking it up more.” [he’s addressing pastors here, but this can easily be adapted for personal use]

Don’t be owned by commentaries; Own the text first. Then make responsible use of those commentaries that can help you refine your interpretation and guard you against going down some rabbit hole.

[1] Michael J. Gorman, Elements of Biblical Exegesis: A Basic Guide for Students and Ministers (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2010), 28.

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