Early Friends were deeply familiar with and immersed in the Bible and relied on it heavily for inspiration and guidance. This is strikingly evident in their testimony against taking oaths, which probably led to more imprisonment than any other position taken by Friends. Friends constantly referred to Jesus’ admonition in Matthew 5:33-7 and to similar passages in James.
Friends did not, however, believe that the Bible was the “Word of God”. They felt that it was impossible to understand the meaning of the Bible if one did not live in the “life and power in which the scriptures were given forth.” Margaret Fell wrote of hearing Fox speak for the first time:
And then he went on, and opened the scriptures, and said “The scriptures were the prophets’ words, and Christ’s and the apostles’ words, and what as they spoke they enjoyed and possessed and had it from the Lord.”
And said, “Then what had any to do with the scriptures but as they came to the Spirit that gave them forth? You will say, Christ saith this, and the apostles say this, but what canst thou say? Art thou a Child of Light, and hast walked in the Light, and what thou speakest is inwardly from God, etc. ?”
This opened me so, that it cut me to the heart, and then I saw clearly we were all wrong. So I sat me down in my pew again, and cried bitterly: and I cried in my spirit to the Lord, “We are all thieves, we are all thieves, we have take the scriptures in words, and know nothing of them in ourselves.”
Jack Smith discussed the views and experience of the Bible among Conservative Friends today in a wonderful talk he gave on The Scriptures as Understood & Used by Conservative Friends at the first Quaker Spring gathering in 2007.
Different Approaches to Bible Study & Reflection
There are many rich approaches to learn from the Bible and use it both individually and in groups as a vehicle for spiritual formation. Here are some important ways it can be used.
Lectio Divina is an individual approach of taking specific Bible passages into deep contemplative prayer. It was originally developed in the 6th century and used by monastics but is being used by those from many faiths today.
Bible Study at Quaker Spring. Too often when Friends today do study the Bible, they enter into an intellectual exploration of what the passage being studied is about. At Quaker Spring, two different approaches to morning Bible study have been used over the years that are very different than this intellectual or academic approach. On some mornings we do Bible reading out of silence, where participants lift up passages that are “given to them” to share with the group. No introduction or comments are made: those present just allow these passages to speak in their heart.
The second approach we have used on other days is to reflect deeply together on a particular section of the Bible that someone present feels led to bring to us. Someone in the group reads a verse or two from the section we are focusing on. There is a period where anyone present can share what the passage is saying to them in the moment. The idea is not to talk about the passage (e.g. what the biblical writers meant or intended or what the passage is about or other passages dealing with similar issues) but to allow God to work in our hearts now through the words read. When the group is ready, one or more additional verses are read. At the 2011 gathering on one morning we only made it through two verses!
Walking with the Bible was a 12 session Bible series focusing on listening to God’s voice in the present in response to biblical passages. The materials can easily be used in any meeting or other setting as a method of group reflection on bible passages. There are recordings to all 4 sessions linked to the above that can be used in bible reflection in any seting. There is also a Pendle Hill pamphlet that describes this approach.
Our Hope for New Life was given by Debbie Humphries to Allen’s Neck Meeting. It is on the theme of resurrection & life after death based on 1 Cor. 15:12-19.
The Biblical Roots of Quaker Worship explores a variety of passages in the Bible beginning with John 4:19-24 that undergird waiting worship and spirit-led prophetic vocal ministry. Includes an appendix with a summary of additional citations used by Barclay in the 11th proposition “Concerning Worship” from his Apology.
Healing the Male Heart: The Beatitudes as Radical Model for Masculinity is an article by Peter Blood describes Jesus’ revolutionary message of Matthew 5:1-12 focusing especially on the new kind of spirituality that he offers to men today.
Christ’s Jubilee Challenge on the concept of jubilee found originally in Leviticus 25 and then picked up in the messianic prophecies in Isaiah 61:1-2, which Jesus read in the synagogue in Nazareth right at the outset of his ministry in Luke 4:14-21.
Jubilee: Proclaim Liberty Through Out the Land deals with the same issues and passages. This article was written for New England Friend in preparation for the 350th session of NEYM focusing on jubilee.
Those Who Know Their Need of God: A 4 session course on the Sermon on the Mount Download as a .pdf file
Hebrew Bible Course – a 3-month course for high school students
Course on Luke – This is a 3-month course for high school students
There are many excellent free websites & apps for accessing the Bible online today. An easy to use website & app is Bible Gateway https://www.biblegateway.com/. You can easily search for passages entering either a biblical citation or a phrase. There are many different translations to choose from.