How to Engage in Intentional and Prayerful Theological Study, According to John Gerhard
My colleague, Rev. Dr. Benjamin Mayes, the General Editor of the English translation of Johann Gerhard’s Loci Theologici, shared with me a copy of something he prepared, in honor of, and memory of, Dr. Gerhard, whose heavenly birthday we commemorate today. Here is what Dr. Mayes sent to me:
“Some friends have asked me to share what I’ve been learning from Johann Gerhard’s “Method of Theological Study.”
“With regard to the study of Scripture, Gerhard and many other Lutheran theologians advise a twofold approach: cursory and accurate reading. With the cursory reading, you read the Bible in the vernacular, two chapters in the morning and two chapters in the evening, according to this plan:
“Morning (didactic books): Genesis (50), Job (42), Psalms (150), Proverbs (31), Ecclesiastes (12), Song of Songs (8), Isaiah (66), Jeremiah (52), Lamentations (5), Ezekiel (43), Daniel (12), Hosea (14), Joel (3), Amos (9), Obadiah (1), Jonah (4), Micah (7), Nahum (3), Habakkuk (3), Zephaniah (1), Haggai (2), Zachariah (14), Malachi (4). Apostolic Epistles in the NT. Total: 665 chapters.
“Evening (historical books): Exodus (40), Leviticus (27), Numbers (36), Deuteronomy (34), Joshua (2), Judges (21), Ruth (4), 1 Samuel (31), 2 Samuel (24), 1 Kings (22), 2 Kings (25), 1 Chronicles (29), 2 Chronicles (36), Ezra (10), Nehemiah (13), Esther (10), Judith (16), Wisdom (19), Tobit (14), Sirach (51), Baruch (6), 1 Maccabees (16), 2 Maccabees (15), Fragments of Esther (9), Fragments of Daniel (5), Prayer of Manasseh (1), 3 Esdras (9), 4 Esdras (16). The four Gospels, Acts, Revelation. Total: 670 chapters.
“As you read, you should write the theme of each chapter at the top of the page. E.g., for Gen. 1: “Creation.” If you follow this plan, the heavy thinking is done in the morning, and the lighter reading is done in the evening. The schedule allows you to miss something like 30 days and still finish in one year.
“With the accurate reading, you read the Bible in the Greek and Hebrew, beginning with the NT epistles. In this manner of study, you may only work through a few verses per day, and you are often reading a trusted commentary on the original text alongside. Gerhard says that for each chapter of the Bible, you should take notes on the following things:
“1. The summary and scope of each chapter.
2. Its general outline.
3. Significant emphases of words or phrases. (For this one, I simply note the definition of unusual words or phrases.)
4. The differing interpretations of ancient or recent teachers of the Church. (This is where you compare translations: especially Luther’s German translation of 1545, the Vulgate, if you’re able, as well as the KJV, plus the accurate modern translations.)
5. The resolutions of apparent contradictions.
6. Significant doctrines and observations that are not obvious at first sight.
7. Solid sayings of the Fathers. (Here is where I put the exegesis of passages treated by the Book of Concord, to start off with. Later, as I read Luther or the early church fathers I can add their exegesis in the correct place as I come upon the interesting quotes.)
“This is a work that will require many years. The first time through, Gerhard says, one should concentrate on annotating at least something and leave the rest of the space in one’s very large notebook blank, to be filled in from one’s future study.
“I have started this procedure, but on the computer. I am making one word processor file for each chapter as I come to it. To make it easier, I made a template that has the aforementioned seven items as headings. The reason for taking notes like this is to make preaching, teaching, writing, and debating easier. For the sake of preaching and catechizing, adding an 8th item for illustrations could be helpful.”
Study to show yourself approved unto God, a workman that does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth.
2 Timothy 2:15