On page seventeen of the book " Education " is a statement to the effect that we should lead our students to the fountains of truth, and not be content with what men have written about truth, To be exact, I quote as follows: " It is the work of true education . . . to train the youth to be thinkers, and not mere reflectors of other men's thought. Instead of confining their study to that which men have said or written, let students be directed to the sources of truth."
After vainly endeavoring to reach this ideal, I came to realize that a change in class method of approach to the Bible was necessary, especially in the book study of the Bible. Instead of studying notes on the Bible and looking up references in the Bible, it seemed to me of primary importance to direct the attention of the student to the Bible first, supplementing this first-hand contact with the Scriptures with other helps.
The second year I was asked to teach the epistles class, I determined to study the epistles themselves first of all, and leave what men had said about them to take second place. A recognized essential was an understanding of the circumstances of time and history out of which the epistles were written, and we found that this was obtained in natural order in connection with the study of the meaning of the text.
My first assignment was the book of Colossians. We used the American Standard Revised Version, which is divided into paragraphs, and we started in to study the book chapter by chapter, paraphrasing the language and finding the dominant thought in each paragraph. I found plenty for students to do outside of class, while I prepared studies on the more difficult passages encountered. I am free to admit that I found it a hard struggle to walk alone with the Scriptures in the classroom after using crutches so much. I was told that students could not interpret the Scriptures for themselves. But I had met such doctrine too many times outside of the classroom, as proclaimed by the papists, to give much heed to this argument. It seemed to me that what the student needed was an opportunity, under consecrated leadership, to learn how to interpret Scripture. It is true that before one learns to swim he must flounder about considerably, but it is all to good purpose. So in this first-hand method of Bible study, experience brings conviction, and leads to discovery of better ways. Every first-hand effort to understand the Scriptures has brought its reward.
As a result of our first efforts, Colossians became a familiar book, and we understood Paul's style of writing and his message as we had never done before. This was a two-hour course, and during the first semester we studied Colossians and Ephesians. My greatest perplexity was the slowness with which we advanced, but some of my students, who were enthusiastic over this way of studying the Bible, encouraged me by saying they considered it better to get a little thorough knowledge, than to slide over a great deal of assigned material and end with only a shadowy impression of the Scriptures studied.
As opportunity afforded in my connection with other classes, I tried out this method of direct Bible study in relation to other books, and always with satisfactory results. The study of the books of John and Matthew was more simple than the study of the epistles, for the material was easier to comprehend; but the study of Revelation was the most difficult.
At the opening of the second semester of that year, I determined that in all my classes I would follow the method of first-hand study of the Scriptures, which had given such satisfactory results in the preceding semester. I worked out a plan covering four Bible classes, as follows: (1) The Epistles Class: The book of Romans. (2) Old Testament Prophecies: The Book of Daniel. (3) Analytic Bible: The Book of Hebrews. (4) The Book of Revelation. Here were four classes studying four different books. Two of the classes met on two days in the week, and the other two met three days in the week.
The general program was as follows: I would assign a chapter, as, for example, the first chapter of Romans, asking the students first to read the chapter through; second, to take up a study of each paragraph separately, giving the substance in their own written words; and third, as a conclusion to the study of each paragraph, determine an appropriate title, containing as far as possible the dominant thought or prominent feature in the paragraph. Difficult points in the paragraph, upon which they needed light or wished to study further, were duly noted.
Each paragraph in the chapter was studied in this manner, after which each student was asked to make a general survey of the whole chapter, writing a brief summary showing the connection of the principal thoughts, and as a final item, determine an appropriate title for the entire chapter.
In my own study, I followed the same plan, and the digest which I prepared was mimeographed and furnished to the students after they had handed in their studies. The papers passed in by the students were examined and graded according to the prescribed requirement, as to neatness, and the apparent success with which the student penetrated into the meaning of the Scriptures.
At the class exercises we gave consideration to the difficult points and the larger features, and the students, having a good understanding of the subjects and the problems of the chapter, entered into the discussion in a very practical way. After they had handed in their studies, I gave them mine, and assigned the next chapter for study. Thus we worked through the whole book.
After studying the books in this way, concluding by a little memory drill, the classes were able to think through their several books paragraph by paragraph, giving titles of chapters and paragraphs with corresponding numbers, thus demonstrating that they had such a comprehensive grasp of the content of the book studied that they could refer to any portion of it as desired.
For a year and a half I have used this method of study, and find it very profitable. When I began this study, my knowledge of the Bible was, I think, as thorough as that of the general run of our conference workers; but as I came to handle the Scriptures in this first-hand way, I found myself on a new road. It has given me a grasp of the Scriptures such as I had never known before, and it has brought joy to my own soul. I can carry on this method with about two lines of study daily, while working in new material, and keep the classes interested and progressing. After one such careful study of a book, it becomes familiar, and does not take so much of my time in preparation for subsequent classes. There is always an abundance of profitable work for the students. While the student cannot get over as much Scripture as he can in a survey course, yet he does become acquainted with what he studies, and develops a love for the word of God which is not to be found in superficial study.
Survey courses have their place and are indispensable as an introduction to more advanced, detailed study. In Education," page 190, it is said that " the student should learn to view the word as a whole, and to see the relation of its parts." This statement presents a phase of Bible study which will need to be carried on, not only in an introductory survey course, where perhaps special emphasis should be given to it, but throughout the whole course of Bible study, along with a more intense study of the parts. A student needs a certain grasp of the parts before he can successfully grasp the broader relations; and some prefer the emphasis on these larger relations later in the college course. Complementary to a study of these larger relations, and I believe basic to a comprehension of them, is the intense study of the parts which is also strongly emphasized in " Education," page 189:
" In daily study the verse-by-verse method is often most helpful. Let the student take one verse, and concentrate the mind on ascertaining the thought that God has put into that verse for him, and then dwell upon the thought until it becomes his own. One passage thus studied until its significance is clear, is of more value than the perusal of many chapters with no definite purpose in view, and no positive instruction gained."
With a general background in Scriptural knowledge, such as a survey course should give him, the larger relations of the parts will become clearer to the student as he makes each part his own and studies its relations to other parts. But without this more intense study of the several parts, his knowledge of Scripture will surely remain superficial and inaccurate.
The method I have described needs to be supplemented from time to time by questions on the chapters, and references to the Spirit of prophecy and to commentaries. The questions should be primarily sociatic, not catechistic. A few thought-provoking questions are of more value to a college student than many of the catechistical type which can be answered from memory or by simple reference to the text.
I believe there are valuable elements in the book study plan, and I purpose to continue this method until I find a better one, modifying it as experience and circumstances may demand. The topical method of study has been thoroughly used in our Sabbath schools and in the giving of Bible readings, et cetera; and while this is a valuable method, I believe the more intensive book study of the Bible should obtain a larger place in our colleges.
College View, Nebr.