Joel Sarli was Associate Secretary of the General Conference Ministerial Association and the second editor of Elder’s Digest when this article was written.


It is usual today to hear of professor and students─mainly in schools of theology─and lay people criticizing the method used in giving Bible studies. It is true that we must be very careful in handling biblical material. It is true that we must not join the group of popular preachers who are superficial and careless in using the texts of the Bible. It is also true that we must respect the original meaning intended by the inspired writers. But what is not right is to discard the method of using a certain number of independent texts as a wrong way of studying the Bible or giving Bible studies. When we use a text in giving Bible study consistently, in no way are we perverting the intent of the Bible writer. I would like to suggest that systematic theologians do this regularly. We have to remember that most of our outstanding evangelists used the proof-text method in the past, and most of the members in today's congregations accepted the message preached in this way. The misuse of Biblical material is dangerous─it doesn't mater what method is used.


How many texts should be used in a Bible reading? This question is often asked and usually elicits interesting, if not positive, discussion. Experienced Bible teachers have their own ideas on this matter, and the origin of these ideas may be traced to the example of those workers under whom they received their earlier training. But there are also teaching principles to guide us in our textual proportions, and it may be helpful to discuss this subject in Elder's Digest.

The average Bible reading may be considered complete when about fifteen texts are used. We must remember that students may not be used to finding versus in the different books of the Bible. Later on, when the interest has become more keen and the student more skilled in finding texts, the same reader may enter into an investigation of 20-25 texts without showing any strain or embarrassment. In the use of texts and their number, the ability and temperament of the student should receive consideration.

Where possible there is wisdom in grouping textual points, so that in developing the study the reader will not need to become upset unnecessarily over the unfamiliarity with the books of the Bible. If we are able to group texts into close proximity, time may be saved and Bible confidence built up by the learner. Logic would need to guide the teacher in the proper sequence.


Prophecy may require both narration and exposition. Daniel 2 is an example. Prophetic chapters need to be illuminated with facts from history, which in the hands of the skilled teacher become fascinatingly interesting to most people. In the study of prophecy more verses are usually reviewed, but the process need not become tedious nor the student too text-conscious. The whole prophetic picture may be spread out without extensive leafing through other books of the Bible. A whole array of verses may then be clarified with satisfaction and still keep the study confined to one hour.

To illuminate the study further, the use of visual aids is most helpful. Generally speaking, prophetic teaching requires more skill than doctrinal teaching because it calls for a thorough preparation of historical data. No unusual skill is required in presenting logically a dozen texts on the return of Christ. Because of constant practice teachers will soon memorize the textual presentation of the subject. But an intelligent, fluent exposition of prophecy is not so readily memorized. Historical facts require reviewing and mastering so that the time element of the Bible reading is also guarded.


Just before baptism the heart of the truth-seeker is open to impressions and is hungry to know the whole truth. The reader is now exceedingly text-conscious and appreciates a plain "thus saith the Lord" for all queries. Whereas in the earlier stages of the interest the instructor may have had to restrain proof texts, the way is now prepared for a thorough investigation of very text that shed light on the subject. The time element of a Bible study has become a secondary matter to the new believer, for Bible study is now the chief concern. There is usually a need for reviewing some phases of the new doctrine studied. Definite questions reveal the seeker's interest and earnestness. To limit the study to 12-15 texts at this stage might hazard progress. More evidence may be desired by the more enthusiastic type of reader.


There may be an occasional query about the free use of texts in some of the outline Bible studies printed in Elder's Digest and other source. The observant reader will have discovered much variety in these outlines, and that some studies lend themselves to more textual detail than others. Elder's Digest is a professional journal serving trained local elders. Although a fuller array of texts provides more background for the doctrinal points under discussion, it would stand to reason that not all these need to be used in a Bible reading. These suggested outlines are not intended for patterns to suit every type of reader; rather, they are to furnish ideas for a textual discussion which may either be built up or trimmed down at the discretion of the teacher.

Joel Sarli is Associate Ministerial Secretary of the General Conference and the editor of Elder's Digest.