Furthermore, when we study in community we are helped to sit longer with one passage. Too often our personal reading is a quick read through. On our own it is too easy to let the Scripture go "in one ear, out the other." But a passage that can be read in three minutes can also be discussed for two hours. Members of groups that have had extended discussion, even arguments, about the interpretation of a passage come away with a sharper understanding and a higher retention rate.
In inductive manuscript study, the more diverse the community the better. Through seeking to approach the text inductively we attempt to lay aside our preconceptions and bias, but it is impossible to do so thoroughly. We bring our experiences and presuppositions with us to the text. We all have blind spots that cannot be exposed without the help of others. Diversity increases the variety of perspectives and enables a group to consider the text from different angles.
Some of my best experiences in the Bible have been with non-Christians. They don't take a lot for granted. They ask questions of the text that had never occurred to me, and those questions prove to be deeply fruitful. By wrestling with the perspectives and questions of those who don't have allegiance to Jesus, my faith is deepened and my understanding expanded. It's likewise invaluable for men to study with women, older folks with teens, wealthy with poor, Westerners with those from the global south and so on.
I recently spent several days participating in a dig-in of the Gospel of Luke. The group was comprised of people from all over North America (including Saskatchewan and Montréal). The ages ranged from the 20s to the 50s, and four different ethnicities were represented. When studying the parable of the great banquet in Luke 14, someone read verse 23 and asked, "Why does the master tell his servant to compel people from the roads and lanes to come to the banquet?" We struggled for a while trying to answer this question from the text, wondering if the master even cared about the people in the roads and lanes or if he only cared about numbers. We felt very uncomfortable with the possibility that this Scripture in some way supported forced conversions.
In the midst of our wrestling with the text, a man who was born and raised in the Middle East shared a story about his parents and hospitality. In their culture, the value of reciprocity requires that any gift or invitation be matched in the coming months. With this information, the meaning of the text jumped out at us. The servant must compel the poor farmers and travelers to come to the banquet because they are in no position to repay the invitation. Those who represent the master must assure them again and again that the master wants them to enjoy his feast even though they cannot reciprocate.
For those who gather around God's Word with a common desire to grow as Christians, experiences of communal Bible study can produce deep joy. Over our four days of studying Luke, the joy and energy level in the room built day by day. There was joy when a new insight emerged or a connection was made with earlier passages that had never been considered. There was the joy of seeing something built (our understanding of Luke), like the feeling of satisfaction you have when building a new deck or restoring an old car. Each day we found more to laugh about as we played with language and the text, and as our relationships grew we found ways to lovingly tease each other.
Group Bible study amplifies insight, understanding, perspective, and joy. "Turning up the volume" through studying together enables us to hear and enjoy the beauty and power of the Scriptures.