Manuscript Bible Study
If you have a level of familiarity with the Bible, you may think you have already plumbed the depths of what it has to say. In reality, however, there is no limit to what the Holy Spirit can reveal to you through the words of the Bible. One way to come to your reading with fresh eyes is through the Scripture Engagement practice of Manuscript Bible Study (MBS). With this method, you will study Scripture in community—seeing it in new and fascinating ways. Sometimes a fresh approach is all that is needed to be reawakened to the marvel of God’s Word.
MBS was invented by Paul Byer in the mid-1950s. 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 who practice Manuscript Bible Study print out a passage of the Bible—removing chapter and verse numbers, section headings, and footnotes 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 reading the Bible a new way to interact with the text. The imposed structure of chapters and verses has been removed, leaving only the words. Participants are encouraged to “mark up” this printed copy (called a “manuscript”) with a variety of colored pens and pencils to highlight their observations on the manuscript (see Practice Tips for details).
Small Group Setting
Most of the work of discussing the “marked” passage will happen in the small group setting. But first, individuals will mark their own copy of the manuscript—looking for key words, promises, contrasts or comparisons, illustrations, repetition of ideas, structure, connections, etc. They should also develop questions they have about the passage as they read.
Next, group members gather to discuss the passage. They will discover that together they see more details than they did as individuals. The group members share their observations and questions, working 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 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 readers to take ownership of the text, literally making their marks on the page, as well as drawing their 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 one another see what the text actually says and keeps anyone from over- or under-emphasizing one aspect.
- It makes the Bible the teacher.
- Finally, in many respects, it’s just fun!