The indications of a revival of interest in the study of the Bible are numerous and encouraging. They are to be found in the increase of private and devotional reading of the Scriptures, the improvement of lesson helps for the Sunday School, the more conscientious preparation of the lesson among teachers in such schools, the increase of exegetical preaching, the organization of courses of Bible study in young people's societies in nearly all religious bodies, the increase of correspondence Bible work, the creation of Biblical departments in colleges and universities, the establishment of Biblical instruction in connection with state universities, and the organization of clubs and circles for the study of Biblical literature as possessing equal attractiveness with English and other literatures.
The study of the Bible is absolutely necessary to the development of the Christian life. The facts which the Scriptures present are basis of faith in the Christ and in the whole series of providential events which prepared the way for his final disclosure of the life and purposes of God. Only by acquaintance with these facts and the prophetic, devotional, and horatory discourses and meditations to which they gave occasion is one able to understand the Old and New Testaments as the records of our holy faith. The necessity of a daily return to the Scriptures as a means of spiritual nourishment and culture is the more apparent when one notes the fact that a great part of our religious life is made up of activities. This is true of the young people, whose organizations with their various committees and departments lay emphasis on service; it is true of the maturer members of the church, before whom is constantly placed the responsibility for the active ministries to which the gospel calls; and particularly is this true of missionary workers, pastors, teachers and others whose lives are consecrated to Christian service. Where the visible ministries of the church are so largely devoted to the expenditure of spiritual vitality there must be some means of nourishment and recuperation. This is provided in the reading and study of the Word of God, and the atmosphere of prayer in which these privileges should be enjoyed. The nourishment of the Scriptures is as necessary to the spiritual life as that of food to the body.
This hand-book is designed to afford suggestion and assistance to those who desire a fuller and more accurate knowledge of the Bible. It gives a brief summary of facts regarding the making and the purpose of the Bible; its chief divisions; short sketches of the various books, serving as introductions to their study; and various other material of an interesting and helpful sort to the reader and student of the Bible. The book has its purposes and its limitations. The former has been noted. The latter was set by the desire to put all the material into such a brief and convenient form that the little volume could be in reality what its name implies, a hand-book, constantly kept at hand for reference and suggestion.
A few suggestions as to a method of Bible reading and study may be found profitable.
1. Use the Revised Version of the Bible if possible. It is much superior to the Authorized or King James Version, not only because of its better interpretation of particular words and passages, but because the translators of 1881-1884 availed themselves of many principles of interpretation unknown to those of 1611. The Revised Version is not perfect, but it is a long advance over its predecessor and is gradually coming to take its place with those who desire to possess the best version of the Scriptures. There may be a feeling of reluctance on the part of those who have long used the older translation at the thought of giving up its familiar phrases, but one who has before him the most of his career as a Bible student cannot afford to deprive himself of the advantages resulting from the used of the Revised Version.
2. The Bible should be studied with a good map at hand for constant reference showing the localities, which were the scenes of the events recorded. If possible some good work on Biblical Geography should be at hand. One is never able so thoroughly to realize any event of which the Bible speaks, i. e., to make it real to himself, as when he visits the spot in person, or by the assistance of good description of the place, or possesses even a map to show its location and relation to other localities. Almost any good edition of the Bible, either of the Authorized or the Revised Version, contains a set of maps. They should be constantly used till the student is thoroughly acquainted with Biblical localities.
3. Some general plan of Biblical chronology should be used for frequent reference. No system thus far devised is altogether satisfactory, because the writers of the Bible were not particularly concerned about dates and give them usually in relation to other events, so that one is often able only to approximate the real time of an event. The chronology employed in the margin of the Authorized Version was that of Archbishop Ussher, and has been found quite unsatisfactory in many particulars as judged by light thrown, especially on Old Testament events, by recent researches among the records of nations with which Israel came into contact. An outline chronology of the leading periods and events in the Biblical history is given in the appendix to this handbook. Exactness of date is neither possible nor necessary in many cases, but a plan of dates relatively correct should be mastered by every student.
4. The gradual character of the Biblical revelation should be firmly impressed in the beginning of any study of the Scriptures. The divine purposes were disclosed only as they could be understood. A nation was chosen to be the channel of that revelation, and its education was to that end; not for its own sake, but for the world. The Old Testament is the record of that national discipline. Not everything could be taught at once, but only step by step could advance be made. Progress is seen through the whole of the Old Testament dispensation in the disclosure of truth and its embodiment in character, in preparation for the appearance of the Christ. The New Testament is the record of his manifestation to the world; of the gradual spread of the Gospel, and of the helps to the progressive realization of the Christian life.
5. The student should seek such familiarity with the books of the Bible that their names, groupings and contents can be instantly recalled. These items are all important. The knowledge of the names of the books of the Bible in their order is indispensable and easily acquired. To assist in the possession of this knowledge, and to render it still more accurate and detailed, it should be remembered that the Old Testament books fall into three groups, which, speaking in general terms, may be called (I) historical, 17; (II) poetical, 5; (III) prophetic, 17; 39 in all. In the New Testament there are also three groups; (I) historical, the Gospels and Acts, 5; (II) didactic, the Epistles, 21; (III) apocalyptic, Revelation, 1; 27 in all, a total of 66 in the Bible. Then in the study of a particular book its plan and contents may be secured. The ability to "think through" a book, i. e., to recall the general line of through its chapters, is the only knowledge that can satisfy the real Bible student.
6. The memorizing of portions of Scripture is a practice that should be followed, and whose results will be most satisfactory both as a means of a better understanding of the Bible and as aids to the religious life. The habit of committing to memory a passage of Scripture daily is easily acquired, and presently the mind is stored with the most precious utterances of the ages.
7. References in the New Testament to passages in the Old Testament should be carefully searched out, and incidents narrated in different places should be compared. This may be done with the aid of the references found in the Authorized Version, but unfortunately the system there adopted often runs to fantastic lengths, references being sometimes given on the basis of quite superficial resemblance. One's own references, neatly set down on the margins of his Bible in the light of careful study, will always be found the most helpful.
8. In short, the ability to do one's own study and come upon one's own results is the goal of all methods. Notes of work done should be made. Condensations and paraphrases of passages may be made with profit. "A lead pencil is the best of all commentators." A note-book should be in constant use. Results may be written on the margin of the Bible page in ink. Many systems of "Bible marking" have been devised. Few are of any value except to those who devise them; but any good method of preserving results, worked out by the student himself, will prove of value.
9. The use of any helps that may be within reach is advisable. But they should be used as helps, and not usurp the place of the Bible itself. After all, it is the Bible we are to study, and no mere study of books can compensate for a failure to study first and constantly the Book.
10. The use to be made of this hand-book will suggest itself to every student. In taking up the study of any book, read that book carefully. Then read the material on that book in the following pages. After this read the material on the other books of the same group, that the surroundings of the particular book may be obtained. From these readings a knowledge of its date, or that of its events, will be secured, which may be supplemented by the chronological material furnished in the appendix. Then read the book through at a single sitting if possible, to get its leading ideas. After this make an outline of its contents, and lastly turn to the questions on the book in the appendix and write out full answers to them. The results of such a use of this little book will render it of value to every one so using it, and will amply justify its preparation.
HERBERT L. WILLETT.