The Bible is not just for clergy. It is for everyone. Studying it enriches our lives. It connects us with our past, present and future. “Knowledge,” Rabbi Arnold Wolf once said, “isn’t everything. It is, profoundly, the only thing.”
1. Use commentary: In Jewish tradition, we never study only the biblical text itself. We study with the interpretations of the great teachers of Jewish history. Some might say this prejudices our point of view. Shouldn’t we encounter the text with fresh eyes?
I would argue that we benefit from the wisdom and insights of generations past. We can and will arrive at our own interpretations and conclusions. Yet, rather than prejudice us, the insights of great teachers will spark our own ideas and lead us to a deeper encounter with the text.
2. Study with a partner: Good partners will not only hold us accountable for taking the time to study. They will engage us in conversation and debate. They will notice things we did not. As the Book of Ecclesiastes says, “Two is better than one.”
3. Set a fixed time for study: What gets scheduled is more likely to get done. If we find a consistent time for study, we can fall into a regular pattern. In Jewish tradition, the Sabbath has always been a time for study of the weekly biblical reading, and I lead a regular Saturday morning study group.
4. Use a good translation: Every translation is an interpretation. When we study the Old Testament in Hebrew or the New Testament in Greek, we can better appreciate the poetry and literary beauty of the text. Yet, unless we went to Divinity school, we probably do not read or write in either language. Thus, a good translation is critical.
Aim for one that seeks to preserve the cadence and character of the original. One of the best Hebrew Bible translations was done by Everett Fox, who sought to preserve much of the wordplay and poetry of the original.
5. Say a prayer before you begin: Studying the Bible is not like studying Shakespeare. It begins and ends with faith. It is part of our search for truth and wisdom. Rather than just sit down and begin reading, I prefer to say a prayer to put myself in the proper state of mind.
In Jewish tradition, the prayer reads, “Blessed Are You, Eternal God, Sovereign of the Universe, Who Commands Us To Immerse Ourselves in Learning. Amen.”