Wesleyan scholar Randy Maddox has written an excellent article about the way John Wesley studied, interpreted, and preached from the Bible. It’s entitled: ” The Rule of Christian Faith, Practice, and Hope: John Wesley on the Bible (1)” (free registration required). This article is well worth the read.
Here’s a quick summary:
- Wesley never preached from the apocrypha, even though it was included in the KJV during his time.
- The Wesleys (John and Charles) utilized a number of translations, including: the Geneva Bible, Luther’s German Bible, and others.
- The Wesleys studied the Greek and Hebrew texts, they considered the primary languages more authoritative than the KJV.
- Wesley firmly held that scripture was inspired, however, he believed that it was not always exact on “tangential matters” (genealogies, for example). Wesley argued that the Bible was “infallibly true”. The word “inerrancy” was not in use in his time.
- Wesley believed that the inspiration of the Holy Spirit was key to understanding the Bible. “we need the same Spirit to understand the Scripture which enabled the holy men of old to write it.”
- Wesley preached nearly the entire Biblical canon, including extensive Old Testament preaching. There are records(2) that show he preached from all books except: Esther, Song of Songs, Obadiah, Nahum, Zephaniah, Philemon, and 3 John.
- Wesley read the Bible in conference with others. “If any doubt still remains (understanding a difficult passage), I consult those who are experience in the things of God, and then the writings whereby being dead, they yet speak.”
- Wesley valued the writings of early Christian writers, particularly those of the first three centuries of the church.
- Wesley read the Bible in conference with the “Rule of Faith”. He held strongly to the Apostle’s Creed. What the historical church had spoken on certain matters (such as the Trinity) was important in his thinking.
- Wesley focused on the value and nature of creation. He believed that God wanted to redeem all of creation.
- Wesley was convinced that God’s love for all of humanity was the central teaching of scripture. He described 1 John 4:19 as “the sum of the whole gospel”. We love him because he first loved us. He called First John “the compendium of all the Holy Scriptures”. He also frequently referred to Psalm 145:9. The Lord is loving to all, and his mercy is over all his works.
- Wesley’s favorite passages (as evidenced by the frequency he preached from them) were the book of First John, the book of Romans, 1 Corinthians 13, and Matthew 5-7 (The Sermon on the Mount).
- Wesley read the Bible because it was the guide to Christian belief, the guide to Christian behavior, and hope and sustenance for the believer.
(1) Randy Maddox, The Rule of Christian Faith, Practice, and Hope: John Wesley on the Bible, Methodist Review, Volume 3, 2011 (Free registration required).
(2) The Center for Studies in the Wesleyan Tradition has compiled a register of all the passages of scripture that John Wesley preached from (that we have record of). For sources, they used Wesley’s journals, works, and letters.