Methods of Bible Study. By W.H. Griffith Thomas.
Dallas, TX: Gideon House Books, 2016. 89 pp. $6.99 (paper).
One of my favorite aspects of Anglicanism is our emphasis on the Scriptures. The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion insist on the Bible as our ultimate authority. The Book of Homilies begin with an exhortation to the importance of studying Holy Writ. The Book of Common Prayer is permeated with God’s Word, and famously prays that we may “hear . . ., read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest” the Scriptures. In his classic work, Methods of Bible Study, W.H. Griffith Thomas provides a valuable tool for doing just that. Specifically, Methods of Bible Study seeks to equip the reader for the “study of the Bible itself as distinct from, or at least prior to, the study of books about the Bible” (p. 9).
Griffith Thomas (1861-1924) was a Church of England presbyter who is best known in Anglican circles for The Principles of Theology, the classic systematic theology text based on the Thirty-Nine Articles. Outside of Anglicanism, Griffith Thomas is best known as one of the co-founders of Dallas Theological Seminary. Though he held a doctorate from Oxford, Griffith Thomas was something of an auto-didact, having largely been self-taught in biblical Greek. His value for self-study is quite evident in Methods of Bible Study, the object of which is “the first-hand study of the Scripture” (p. 9).
The book is organized around approaching the Scriptures from various necessary perspectives: the Bible as a whole, the New Testament as a whole, the Old Testament as a whole, individual books of the Old and New Testatments, doctrine and individual subjects in each Testament, Christ in the Old Testament, the minute study of the Scriptures, and practical tips for bible students. In approaching the Bible from these different perspectives, Griffith Thomas helps the student develop a sense for the ways the various parts of Scripture fit together to form a unified story. For example, he points out that the Old Testament can be viewed as a book of “Unfulfilled Prophecies” (p. 19), “Unexplained Ceremonies” (p. 20), and “Unsatisfied Longings” (p. 20). He then observes how the New Testament answers these problems in the person of Jesus Christ: “Jesus the Prophent fulfils (in His Life) the prophecies. . . . Jesus the Priest explains (in His Death) the ceremonies. . . . Jesus the King satisfies (in His Resurrection) the longings” (p. 20).
This Christocentric approach to Griffith Thomas’ methods is one of the main strengths of the book. By being Christocentric, he falls within an historic mindset of exegesis that is common among the Church Fathers, but seems to have fallen into disfavor in lieu of a primarily historic-grammatical approach or a strictly applicational approach. My own formal training in graduate school was of the former variety, and the mainstream trend of popular American Christianity seems to be of the latter. Fortunately, I have observed a rising desire to return to Christ-centered exegesis, including among many Anglicans.
The primary audience for Methods of Bible Study is the layman or parish-level minister. That is, Griffith Thomas is not writing for an academic audience. Methods of Bible Study is meant to give the average student of Scripture, both lay and clerical, tools and guidance for growing closer to God through His Word. In discussing the importance of Bible study, Griffith Thomas writes, “Bible study above all else is intended to bring and keep the soul in direct contact with God” (p. 80). To this end, I would not hesitate to use Methods of Bible Study as part of a training program for small-group leaders or other facilitators of lay-led Bible studies. Similarly, I would not hesitate to use it as a relatively simple text for clergy continuing education. Nevertheless, Griffith Thomas has a warning for those of us in a teaching office: “In this devotional study let us ever beware of reading the Bible with an eye to our work. How great is the temptation to a worker to read with a view to sermons or classes! We must read it for ourselves first of all, and for no one else” (pp. 87-88).
As much as I commend Methods of Bible Study, I have a few minor criticisms. First, despite being written by an Anglican priest, there is almost nothing in the book that is specifically geared toward an Anglican audience. For example, no mention is made of using the Lectionary or Daily Offices in one’s Bible study. Rather, Methods of Bible Study is written for a much broader Evangelical audience. Personally, I would have loved to see some insights from Griffith Thomas based on his experience within his own Anglican tradition. Secondly, as the book was originally published in 1911, some of the specific resources mentioned in the last chapter are no longer available. Of course, Griffith Thomas can hardly be blamed for this state of affairs; he likely did not expect his little book to still be in print after over one hundred years! In fact, I first encountered Methods of Bible Study as an eBook on the New Scriptorium website of the Prayer Book Society, USA. It has long been in the public domain and is readily available in a variety of formats online. The print copy I used in my review is published by Gideon House, a Christian self-publishing company that certainly used a public domain edition as its basis.
In the end, I thoroughly enjoyed Methods of Bible Study, both as a student and teacher of Scripture. Whether in eBook format or in a reprint (I have two of the former and one of the latter in my library), I highly recommend this classic text by a classic Anglican theologian. We would do well to revisit the many readily available resources from past generations of our rich Anglican tradition. Methods of Bible Study is a good, accessible example of this kind of resource.