Because of a level of familiarity with the Bible, some Christians think they have already plumbed the depths of the Word. In reality, however, there is no limit to what the Holy Spirit can reveal to us through the words of the Bible. One way to come to the Bible with fresh eyes is through Manuscript Bible Study (MBS). With this method, participants approach the Word in community, seeing Scripture in a new and fascinating ways. Sometimes all that is needed to be reawakened to the marvel of Scripture is a fresh approach.
MBS was invented by Paul Byer in the mid-‘50s. Byer sought a way to enrich his personal Bible study, and he started by marking up his Bible with colored pens and pencils. However, as he did this he became frustrated: “[E]very time I flipped a page the material I had worked on disappeared from sight and there was no way to relate it visually to the new pages.” Byer, as an architect and visual learner, knew that seeing this connection was vital for him. He bought two New Testaments, cut out the pages he was studying, and spread the whole passage on the floor to see it all at once. He “discovered that this opened up meaning, as the internal structure and relationships within the text became apparent, and … took on new meaning.” Byer shared this method with his co-workers at InterVarsity and soon began leading students in the practice.
Those that practice Manuscript Bible Study remove all chapter and verse numbers, section headings, and footnotes from a passage in an attempt to eliminate all distractions. The desire is to see the passage in its original form. This unique visual view of Scripture affords those who are used to the Bible a new setting for interaction with the text. The imposed structure of chapters and verses has been removed, leaving only the words of the original authors. Participants are encouraged to “mark it up” with a variety of colored pens and pencils.
Small Group Setting
The “marking” of a passage happens in a small group setting. People gather together to observe a passage where they see more details as a community than they would as individuals. Individuals first mark their manuscript, looking for key words, promises, contrasts/comparisons, illustrations, repetition of ideas, structure of the passage, connections, etc. They also develop questions they have about the passage. The group then shares their observations and questions and works together to answer those questions from the Bible. The group then processes and applies the passage together.
Small group leaders, while giving very little guidance to the process, participate fully. This gives other members the opportunity to truly discover what the Word says rather than just having it explained to them, as so often happens in small group settings. The leader of MBS must work to emphasize that the point of the exercise is not to become more biblically literate—though that is a wonderful side-product—but to engage God’s Word in an attempt to meet him there and be changed by that interaction.
MBS is a helpful tool for small groups for a number of reasons:
It provides a fresh way to look at Scripture.
It forces readers to search for themes and deeper meanings in the biblical text.
It allows a reader to take ownership of the text, literally making his or her marks on the page, as well as drawing his or her own insights.
It is an excellent way to build community among different individuals as they deeply engage the Scriptures together.
It guards against heresy and false teaching as the members help each other to see what the text actually says and keep from over or under emphasizing one aspect.
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