For individuals wanting supplemental materials to further enrich their private devotions, and pastors in search of helps in writing devotional blogs, following are some very helpful tools:
Charles Haddon Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening contains a year’s worth of devotionals which every Christian should read through at least once.
Lyman Abbott’s For Family Worship, consists of a compilation of helpful Scripture passages and prayers. The latter part contains a nice variety of prayers for various occasions.
The “Resolutions“ of Jonathan Edwards deserve the contemplation of children of all ages.
The Orthodox Presbyterian Church has made available a very nice daily devotional based on the writings of John Calvin.
While not always devotional in nature, nor suitable for family worship, Martin Luther’s Table Talk contains a great deal of Christian wisdom and wit served up in small portions.
While the above referenced devotional tools are highly recommended, they should not be allowed to supplant the intense study of Scripture itself by the individual reader. All too often, we rush through our Bible reading and reap little from it because of inattentiveness to the text or a feigned familiarity with the message. Following are some practical tips to increase depth and effectiveness in Scripture reading. I am indebted to Dr. C.J. Williams and Dr. Dennis Prutow at The Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary for much of the following information. You can follow Dr. Williams’s very insightful blog contributions at Gentle Reformation and Dr. Prutow’s very fine at devotionals at Word for the Week.
1) Read slowly and deliberately. Study the text closely in a detailed and analytic way.
2) Annotate as you read. Record key concepts, details, and questions, namely:
- What is the theme, subject, and main point?
- What is surprising and significant?
- Take note of unusual details, curious phrasing, etc.
- Look for patterns, repetitions, comparisons, contrasts, and similarities.
- Analyze the author’s point of view. What does he want us to know?
- What is unique about the writer’s style?
- What questions does the text bring to your mind?
- What questions does the author expect you be asking?
3) Establish a context. To what historical or literary event is this a focused response? You need to understand both sides of the conversation.
4) What keywords and phrases are being used? In addition to studying a word, its root, and range of meaning; one also must know how that particular word is used in that particular context: usus loquendi (use in speech). Further, Biblical terms and phrases have contextual associations. For example, when we say “Gettysburg,” more is understood than a quaint town in eastern Pennsylvania.
5) Note the author’s rhetorical tools and analyze them. Why is the writer using a figure of speech? What is the literal meaning of the figure? Why does the author use that particular figure? Is it attested to elsewhere in Scripture? What is being added by using it? Look for:
- Figures of words (implied comparisons):
- Metaphor – apply the meaning of one word to another
- Metonym – apply the name of one thing to another
- Synecdoche – part for the whole or whole for the part
- Figures of thought (formal comparisons):
- Simile – comparison using “like” or “as”
- Allegory – extended metaphor (signs/symbols)
- Parable – extended simile (types/anti-types)
- Irony – contrary convergence
- Inclusio – bracketing similar material
- Euphemisms – soften expressions
- Sarcasm – ridicule or taunt (often under the cover of praise)
- Hyperbole – emphasis through exaggeration
- Hendiday & Hediatris – modifying adjectives
- Merism – totality by contrasting parts
- Theriomorphism – ascription of animal characteristics or actions
- Anthropomorphism – ascription of human characteristics or actions
- Anthropopathism – ascription of human emotions, passions, or desires
- Synonymous parallelism – second line repeats the idea of the first
- Antithetic parallelism – second line contradicts the idea of the first
- Synthetic parallelism – second line advances the idea of the first
- Alternating parallelism – lines form alternating patterns
- Inverted parallelism – chiasmus
6) Establish relationships to other Scripture passages. Is the writer building upon previous authors? Do subsequent authors build upon the present writer? What are the connections?
7) Plot analysis: Take note of the scenes: beginning, middle, and conclusion/resolution; as well as their transitions. What is the time and place of the setting?
8) Character analysis: Is the character also the narrator? What is the narrator’s point of view? What does the dialogue reveal?
9) Biblical-Theological analysis: What has been contributed to redemptive history in this particular advancement of progressive revelation? How does this harmonize with the unifying concept of Covenant Theology? How does it contribute to it?
10) Theological-Dogmatic analysis: Every teaching truth in the Bible falls under two headings: 1) What man is to believe concerning God, and 2) What duty God requires of man (WSC 3). How does this text specifically answer these questions? Do not generalize in answering this. Look at your text in all of its uniqueness for truths which can be found nowhere else in the Bible. Avoid platitudes and broad generalizations. What does the text explicitly say? What more is implied?
11) Attempt to understand the Bible inductively, studying individual pieces of Scripture; and deductively, understanding the big picture and moving from the big picture to the smaller pieces. The two work together. As you build, you fit the parts of your understanding into the whole of your theology; which in turn, further informs your understanding of the parts.
12) If you come across an interpretive difficulty or apparently contradictory passages, pigeonhole them for later. It will not be too long until you come across a verse, sermon, or commentary which resolves the difficulty in a seemingly serendipitous way; but is in actuality a testimony of the Scriptures manifesting “themselves to be the word of God, by their majesty and purity; by the consent of all the parts, and the scope of the whole, which is to give all glory to God” (WLC 4).
13) As a practical note, find a wide margin or “note taker’s” Bible in which to record these insights, cross-references, and citations. It will be invaluable to your further studies.
14) Read the text as the living word of God. This is not a literary exercise. We are disciples, not critics. In a nutshell, ask “What truth does this text have for me today and how will I apply it concretely?”
Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven — things which angels desire to look into.
-I Peter 1:10-12