No, we don’t mean you have to learn Ugaritic or Aramaic and go to the British Library to study one of the ancient manuscripts of the Bible that is kept there! We mean making your own “manuscript” of a text of the Bible so that your study of a passage is more deep, powerful, accurate, and exciting.
A “manuscript” of a passage is a passage that is:
- printed on a white sheet of paper
- with lots of white space
- double spaced
- with no chapter divisions, verse numbers, or paragraph indentations
- with no headings, helps, notes at the bottom, or “official” explanations
But why do all this? What are the advantages of studying a passage in this way?
- It’s fresh. Looking at a text of the Bible without verse numbers, chapters, paragraph breaks, etc., helps you see the text in a fresh way. It helps you get pre-conceptions or memories of past sermons out of their mind and see the text as new and exciting.
- It helps you see themes. Other than a few chapters of the book of Proverbs, the Bible wasn't written as verses. The books of the Bible were written as a whole item, as documents. Paul's epistles are letters. One doesn't compose a letter one sentence a day. A letter contains themes that the author wants to get across. The Gospels are whole documents, witness-documents to the glory, humility, power, and presence of Jesus. When studying a manuscript of a passage, with the passage and its context laid out on the table in front of you, it is easier to see the main themes of the passage, the main points the author wanted to say.
- Chapter divisions and verse numbers were not even added until hundreds of years after the Bible was written. They were not in the original text of the Bible. So when studying a passage without them, you are actually closer to what the original studiers of the Bible might have experienced.
- It’s yours. You can mark it up. You are free to write on the manuscript, to make marks, draw lines of connection, use different colors to illustrate different themes (there is no prescribed color scheme that one must use - invent your own), write questions, thoughts, insights, etc. Unless your Bible is gigantic and weights hundreds of pounds, the pages are probably too small for you to write a lot of notes on them.
- It’s discovery. The emphasis is on learning through discovery rather than being told by an expert. One learns more when one discovers something for oneself.
- If you are studying in a group, using a manuscript gives you a common text to work from and enhances discovery, sharing, and interaction. It also provides a level playing field for the group because no one is ahead of the others. No one is the "expert" by reading notes from scholars at the bottom of the page.
- It’s fun!
Try it by yourself or with a group. You will find that your Bible study is greatly enhanced, and you can study Jesus’ living, written Word more powerfully.
To start, visit your favorite Bible program on the web (for instance https://www.biblegateway.com/), download the passage you want to study and copy it onto a Word Document. Double space it. Take out headings, paragraph indentations, and chapters. Take out the verse numbers and put in line numbers. Make the margins wide. Then dig in!
Or you can order books of the Bible in manuscript form directly from InterVarsity. Visit here for more information: http://intervarsity.org/bible-studies/manuscripts.