We just finished the week-long BereanSafari conference. Safari means “journey” in Swahili, and the Bereans were a group of people around the time of Christ who searched the Scriptures for understanding and also to verify teachings they heard (Acts 17:11). So, literally BereanSafari seeks to be a “journey of discovery” in the Scriptures using the method of Manuscript Bible Study. A diverse group of people spanning a variety of vocations, aged 20 to 70, from several African countries as well as Europe and the U.S. converged for a week of concentrated study. Since we studied the first half of Mark two years ago at this conference, we got to do the second half of Mark this year. Six days, approximately 40 hours in study sessions, just to do half of the book of Mark? You have to experience it to realize how fast the time can go when learning together! So, I want to share the experience of just one page of Mark to give you a taste.
First, we start with about 30 minutes of personal study – looking for themes, repeated words, questions that come out, and also looking up unfamiliar words in a Bible dictionary, places in an atlas, or looking for Old Testament connections in a concordance. On page 23 of the manuscript, we are in Mark 9. I highlight the three references to “in my name” or “name of Christ”. I note the actions and consequences involved in the “giving a cup of cold water” and also the “causing one of these little ones who believe in me to sin.” Then I underline in orange “enter life”, “enter the Kingdom of God”, and “reward”, since they appear to all point to the same result. I put a question mark by “their worm does not die”— What in the world does that mean? I tried looking up “worm” in the Bible dictionary, but that is not one of the entries.
We move into small group discussion. Our group has the lowest average age (about 30) in the room. There are three members aside from myself – all young Kenyan adults, working as a teacher, investment advisor, and Christian rap singer. Mercy notes that Jesus’ teaching in line 1 (“anyone who would be first must be last and servant of all”) is a “new” and countercultural teaching for his hearers. Peter notes that even though John changed the subject, Jesus comes back to children and their value. Chacha (the rap singer) helps us imagine how painful and debilitating it would be to have your hand or foot chopped off – did Jesus mean that literally? Regardless, we agree that Jesus is emphasizing the seriousness of sin, and his call to deny ourselves in our pursuit of Him.
My small group discussion – from left, Me, Chacha, Peter, and Mercy
Now, we move into large group discussion. Our facilitator, Cyd, walks us through the text, asking questions and hearing from each group about what they found in the text. With her prodding, we realize that the person casting out demons in the name of Christ (who the disciples wanted to rebuke) was acting like the child that Jesus was just holding up as an example. He saw, he heard, and he imitated in simple faith – and apparently it was working! Farther down the page, when Jesus says “if your hand causes you to sin…” Cyd asks “what causes us to sin?”. We remember back on page 17, when Jesus describes sin coming from what is inside us – the cleanness of the heart, not the body. The “cutting off” of a limb, though, is essentially what repentance looks like in our hearts. Manuscript Bible study involves a lot of making connections – trying to see the text as a whole, as it was written, rather than just looking at a couple of verses. Another group that had a concordance contributes that Isaiah 66:24 is the source of the phrase “their worm does not die”, in a prophecy about judgment. A few other Old Testament references also help to flesh out the picture, including Malachi 3:1-4 about God “refining with fire” and Numbers 18:19 about the “covenant of salt” (Did you know there was a covenant of salt??).
The session where we looked at this particular page of Mark took about 2 hours. I came away with a heightened sense of God’s call to humility and faith, as well as the gravity and abhorrence of sin in God’s eyes. Nothing life changing, per-se, on this page, but as we soak in these words over the course of six days and slowly make our way through Mark we gain a much deeper appreciation and understanding of Jesus’ life and mission as Mark portrays it – to bring life – including eternal life, restored life to the hurting or marginalized, and the salvation found through losing our lives for His sake. We are so grateful for this week of soaking in the Words of Life, and left invigorated, inspired, and refreshed, hoping that we can introduce Manuscript Bible Study someday in Congo!
The “Mark 2” study group, including our facilitator, Cyd (far left)