Why learn scripture?
The disciples in a certain sense become “drawn into intimacy with God by being immersed in the word of God. God’s word is, so to speak, the purifying bath, the creative power which changes them and makes them belong to God”. And since Christ himself is God’s Word made flesh (Jn 1:14) – “the Truth” (Jn 14:6) – Jesus’ prayer to the Father, “Sanctify them in the truth”, means in the deepest sense: “Make them one with me, the Christ. Bind them to me. Draw them into me. –Verbum Domini, 80
We must have this in mind as we read, pray, and learn scripture. It is meant to grow us in loving knowledge of Jesus Christ, knowledge not limited to an intellectual possession. This knowledge should be life changing and transforming. Have your bible on hand.
Threading: Gospel Style
For those who are not good with numbers, learning scripture seems like an impediment to the rich spiritual life. Yes, number crunching is hard, but there is another way! Threading asks you to learn a common idea or theme, not a numeric order of verses. The verse numbers of the chapter will fall into place as you thread the content together.
First, pick and read a chapter of a gospel, like Mark 5. After reading the whole chapter, you learn that there are three events that take place. Three persons are healed, raised to life, or delivered from demonic possession. At first there seems to be no common thread. After all, there are different persons and different miracles involved. That does not mean they are unrelated.
Second, name the activity or event(s) that happens in the particular chapter. Before you do that: if you know anything peculiar to the Gospel or the author you are reading, apply that knowledge to the chapter at hand. For example, Mark says “immediately” a lot. He also has short passages with many miracles packed into his sixteen chapters. In this chapter, what do you have? The healing of the demoniac, the girl brought back to life, and the woman healed of her flow of blood.
Even though the miracles have been named, only a vague thread can be drawn between the three persons: all were given life in some way. The demoniac healed was free to love again, the girl was given life, and the woman was removed her illness. But is there anything specific or subtle that ties them together? Sure, they are all miracles… but there are a lot of miracles in the Gospel, so tying them with the thread “Miracle” does not distinguish this chapter.
Third, ask what is it that threads these three persons together? You cannot say, “They’re all adults,” nor can you say, “They all went to Jesus.” Remember, the girl was dead; her dad interceded on her behalf. (Notice even in these steps you are learning details of the chapter).
Look at verse 18. Now, look at verse 23. Anything? “Begged.” The man begged to follow Jesus after being delivered from Legion (18). The dad begged for Jesus to heal his daughter (23). Well, what about the lady who bled? Look at verse 33: she “fell down before him.” The dad “fell at [Jesus’] feet” when he begged. Now, while there is a literary difference in the way these people approached Jesus as well as a difference in when (either pre- or post-healing), they all approach him with humility and poverty. They all recognize him the Lord as the one from whom they receive living water.
In other words, each person acted in humility or need and was not afraid to “tell him the whole truth” about what it is they wanted or the reason for touching him. This act of humility is the thread linking these three stories. And what chapter of what Gospel do these three take place? Answer silently. After this thread is brought to light, more details can be added. For example, there were about 2,000 swine that drowned (verse 13), the woman was bleeding for twelve years (verse 25), the dad’s name was Jairus (verse 22).
The fourth step is exactly that: build on what you know. Add details; enrich the story. Now that you have a thread, sew a whole blanket together (or whatever uncommon image helps you). This building up of the story will help the whole chapter flow. If you keep up this kind of method, you will be able to thread together a section of chapters in the Gospel. For a letter as short as Philippians (four chapters), you will easily be able to thread together the whole book.
Notice: threading requires one theme, event, or lesson from the chapter to tie it together. The following Threading style will explain another type of threading I have found helpful for non-Gospel texts.
First, pick and read a chapter from the bible, like 2 Corinthians 3. You read it yet? Whoa bro, St. Paul is all kinds of wordy and theological in that chapter. How could anyone possibly learn that chapter? Simple: read it and thread it!
Second step: name what happens. It probably won’t be an event since it’s a letter to a community not a story about Jesus’ miracle working. So, name a theme, teaching, or main point. It looks like this chapter talks about coming closer to God through the Spirit. Obviously, there are details involved with that. What about the Spirit? Why is Moses brought up? How does he fit in? Notice the connections Paul is bringing to light. Ask questions to provoke thought. Engage your mind. That is essential to learning.
The third step is different for Threading 2.0. After understanding what happens, decide on one verse to be the “theme” of the chapter, a verse that can get at the point of the chapter. The verse may not summarize the whole chapter, but the verse should be a strong taproot to help you go deeper and understand it better. How about verse 18? In that verse he talks about unveiled faces beholding the glory of the Lord. Huh? Well, earlier in the chapter he talks about the glory of the Lord shining off of Moses’ face and Moses needing a veil so the Israelites wouldn’t freak out. The glory of the Lord came through the “dispensation of death,” through the Ten Commandments.
St. Paul makes a point to contrast the power of that law with the power of the Spirit: “will not the dispensation of the Spirit be attended with greater splendor?” “If what faded away came with splendor, what is permanent must have much more splendor” (verses 8 and 11). The (Old) law is good, but only a shadow of truth in comparison to the Gospel. So, we who are in Christ and believe in him behold the glory of the Lord with unveiled faces. This beholding causes us to be transformed into the likeness of the Lord, “from one degree of glory to another.”
In the above two paragraphs, I was searching for ways to bridge the chapter to the theme verse. I “thought it out,” I “talked it out.” Wrestle with the passage you learn so that your mind can search it. Strive to clarify the flow of the chapter so that it lights up. That does not give you permission to be a heretic. I’m just saying, find something that can catch your attention.
The fourth step is you deciding on how you want your one verse to relate to the whole chapter. When you read the chapter again in light of that verse, it should have more light and clarity. For me, verse 18 ties 2 Corinthians 3 together because it seems to be a summary of St. Paul’s teaching on the glory of the Old law and the Spirit.
What now? Is there any fruit from threading? You should be able to recognize a seemingly obscure verse from the chapter. For example, let’s imagine you read to me verse 7. I should be able to hear “splendor, “Moses,” and “brightness” as pointers to my theme verse. These few words from that one verse should be threads coming through the fabric. Those few threads should reveal to me their origin and their place within the whole cloth (that is, the particular chapter). Can you see that? Read verse 3 to me: “Spirit,” “not tablets,” “human hearts.” That verse is not as clear as some of the others. But, if I have in mind the teaching of St. Paul and verse 18, I may be able to make the connection.
Again, after the thread is found and made clear, you can build on what you know. In other words, even though verse 3 seems obscure, it will fit better in the chapter as your understanding of the chapter’s structure and content develop. I hope this helps you immerse in the Word and become one with him who is our Life. I welcome your feedback and want to read about your threading experience.