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Now, this might seem a bit like pandering (considering I’m writing on a CPH blog), but hear me out. The Lutheran Study Bible (TLSB) was first published around the same time I was ordained into the pastoral ministry. At the time, I was looking for resources to use for parish education, and boy did I find one here! The new study Bible is thick. It has line after line of study notes, cross-references, and appendices. On top of that, about every 10–15 pages there is a full-page article concerning one of the theological issues relevant to that section of Scripture. As devotional material, in my first year of pastoral ministry, I read through TLSB cover to cover twice. It was exactly what I needed at the time.
It is the kind of resource the learners in my parish needed too. For many, though, the depth of material and length of these extra features was intimidating. With all the material packed into TLSB, some parishioners grew confused at how to approach the thing. What did all that fine print beneath the text mean? What was at central column? What did the symbols mean?
This blog post will lay out a few tips and learning activities for helping the learners in your parish get more out of the features of TLSB. Feel free to mix and match, adapt, or use the list in whatever way works best. Hopefully, my ideas will help springboard your learners’ love for Scripture.
The Features Map
When teaching the features of TLSB, start at pages xx–xxiii in the front matter. This section is easy to skip over when leading a Bible study—but it’s your loss if you do. Your learners will be missing a wealth of help by not understanding what’s on these pages. When teaching the features, begin by just giving your learners a few minutes to peruse these pages, which visually lay out the different components of the Bible and how they function. For many learners, it will probably be more helpful for them to look over the pages themselves and ask you questions than for you to lecture what each feature means. Feel free to base a lecture on them if that’s how you teach, but then provide plenty of time for your learners to ask questions and digest the different components of each feature.
An encouragement here is to provide a Post-it note tab or flag for each of your learners. Have them put it on page xx, with a little bit sticking out to the side so they can reference these pages quickly as they do their Bible study.
Do a Study
In my opinion, the best way to learn how to use the features of TLSB is to dig right in and have each learner do a Scripture study. You could have each of your learners pick out a favorite verse or short section of Scripture and work independently to learn how to use the features. Something that is fun for confirmation-class youth is to have them do a Scripture study of their confirmation verse. Encourage adult learners to remember (or find) their confirmation verse and study it.
If you feel your learners would need extra help or a boost of confidence (especially youth), pick one verse as a class and walk through the process of using the features as you study it together.
As your learners explore the features, give each one a pen and piece of paper to use to jot down some notes about the passage during the exploration. Here are some suggestions and examples of what can be done:
Overview and Outline
Before they dig into the passage or verse they have chosen, have your learners go to the beginning of the Bible book and review the Overview sidebar and the book Outline. The Overview section provides a great little summary of items like the author, date written, and people involved. Critical to a study is remembering the purpose of the book. Make sure your learners review the purpose of the book to be studied (maybe even have them copy the purpose word for word on their sheet), as well as the dominant Law and Gospel themes.
The Outline of the book gives a good eagle-eye view of the context of their passage. Where does their passage or verse fit into the overall structure of the book? What might this mean for their Scripture study? Give your learners a chance to predict the answers to these questions with a partner if you have time.
Another strategy is to give your learners an opportunity to use the Concordance in the back of TLSB to get a better grasp of a word from their verse or section. We believe that Scripture interprets Scripture, so learning the importance of how similar words are used throughout the Bible can provide insight into the overall meanings of those words. Instruct your learners to pick out and write down one or more very important words from their section (e.g., words like grace or forgiveness). Tell them to use the concordance on page 2243 to look up how that word (or any closely related word) was used in 5–10 other places in Scripture. After this, have them reflect upon the questions “What does this reveal to you?” and “How would you define the word based on these 5–10 different uses of it?”
Translation Note (Footnote) Study
Some verses contain translation notes or footnotes. These show certain slight variations on certain passages in certain texts over time. We need to be aware of these and not be scared of them, for studying these can be an interesting exercise. Refer your learners back to the features map on page xxi of TLSB to identify where they can find translation notes. Then point them to page xix to review the different types of footnotes. After this, ask “Are there any translation variations in your section? If so, what are they?” Reflect on how adding or substituting these translation notes might enrich your understanding of the text.
Refer your learners back to the features map on page xxi of TLSB to identify where they can find cross-references. These wonderful references provide another way to use Scripture to interpret Scripture. Cross-references serve a variety of functions, so before you have your learners use them, point them first to pages xviii and xix to learn what different types of cross-references can help them accomplish. Then instruct your learners, “Read through at least three of the provided cross-references for the section you have chosen. For each, make a note on your sheet of how the cross-reference adds to your understanding of the passage.”
Undoubtedly the biggest feature of TLSB is the study notes. These notes provide a fantastic wealth of commentary and insight for nearly every verse of ever chapter of Scripture. As you look at the study notes with your learners, point out these prompts. Encourage them to take notes on their sheet of paper as they go.
- Read through all the study notes for your section. If you have only a verse, try reading through the chapter surrounding your verse and looking at the study notes for the chapter too.
- Write down one or two insights the notes immediately provide.
- Are there any Church Father quotations in your study notes (strange abbreviations and quotes)? If so, find out who said them and when (check the Abbreviations section at p. lxvi).
- Are there any Theology Icons in the text? (See a list of icons on p. xxiii.) If so, how does the text help you understand these big ideas of the faith?
- Read over the Law and Gospel Application Notes for the chapter of your verse or passage (the symbol and explanation for these is found on p. xxii). In your own words, summarize in a sentence or two the Law and the Gospel from these Application Notes.
Once your learners have worked through a few of these helps, encourage them to share their insights with others in pairs or small groups. Sharing findings with others, and teaching one another in the process, will only increase understanding and boost confidence in Scripture study.
These are just a few ideas I’ve used in the past. TLSB provides so much more, before and after, that can help the learners get more out of their Scripture study. Like most tools, though, there is a skill set that’s required to use these features. Unless we intentionally train our learners to apply the procedures of these features, they’ll unfortunately most likely never use them. We Lutherans have a wealth of theology and a history of empowering our people to engage Scripture. We are called to be royal priests, so we can have great joy in understanding our faith more and more through the Word. I encourage you to get out and spend some time in this resource with your learners.
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