Saturday, 17 March 2012

On reading Scriptural passages repeatedly

I have come across this advice several times, and while it may be of some use to some people, I would like to register my dissension.

I believe I first came across this concept from John MacArthur, though cannot remember the context. But he either recommended it or stated that he himself did this; or, quite possibly, both did and recommended reading thru a passage of Scripture multiple times. The rationale of such an exercise was perhaps to commit it to memory, or to better understand the passage in question.

I have since come upon this recommendation several times. Jamsco suggested it, Justin Taylor and Joe Carter referenced it. These go back to a suggestion by James Gray in his 1904 book, How to master the English Bible.

Variants on number of times thru a book are 30 times, 20 times, as many times as needed to master the book.

So I have given this a go. When I first came across the idea I tried James, though not certain if I managed to get thru the full 30 readings. I have also tried it with Jude, Ephesians, and the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7; getting thru each book or passage at least 20 times.

My conclusion, this method is overrated. It may work for some people. If it does, continue. And reading thru more than once has some benefits, not the least being an overview of the book which is sometimes less appreciated when we focus on smaller passages of Scripture. Focused exegesis mindful of a larger context is very useful. But I have not found the reading of a passage multiple times to add significant insight in the 18th or 19th reading. Frankly, 5 times is probably plenty. I think it would be more useful to read the book a few times then come back at a later stage when you have delved into several other books.

I am not saying this is a bad practice, or that it won't work for you. Rather this is to temper others' enthusiasm that you will obtain awesome insights on the 20th reading that you missed on the previous 19.

3 comments:

  1. Gordon Fee recommends reading through a book at least 7 times, even using various translations. I can see the benefit for exegetical work, or teaching prep (which is what he makes the suggestion for), but I'm not too sure it is practical for devotional use. I think it would actually be distracting for those purposes.

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  2. I have to agree. I find that people who overread books and passages tend to have more shallow understanding of texts, rather than deeper understanding. I think reading it that often is fine for memorization but for anything else, it is better to read it 4-6 times.

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  3. JCF, I am not particularly good at memorisation, though don't try significantly. I don't find repeatedly reading a passage helps me. Though I do have a reasonable grasp of what is said, ie. have have memory of the passage but not a verbatim one.

    Uncertain if I should blame me or modern education ☺

    SLW, I found some benefit with several passes thru and will post on that. Not certain 20 was justifiable. And it may have been helpful for me to use a different version each time.

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