The Old Testament in Ten

A ten-session bible study course designed to help people have a clear grasp of the Old Testament story and the most important themes, events and people.


In 20 years of ministry both in parishes and now as a pioneer minister, one thing seems consistent. People lack confidence about the bible and in particular the Old Testament. They may know quite a lot of the stories or passages, but don’t always know how it all fits together. They may also struggle to know how to read it, or how to cope with the violence in many of the stories.

I put this course together in response to a request from a member of the St Clare’s community, building on various courses and approaches I’d taken over the years. Its aim is to give people a really clear grasp of the Old Testament story and the most important themes, events and people.

We started it in 2020, so the whole thing was done via Zoom, which worked really well, though it worked best when we had fewer people (no more than half a dozen) as this gave everyone space and confidence to speak. This doesn’t mean it couldn’t work with more, but that was our experience.

One of the values of St Clare’s is simplicity, so I tried really hard not to overcomplicate things. We used the same simple structure for each session, with the same questions.

Session Outline

The outline I used for each session was as follows. I made sure that each session was a maximum of an hour and a half, though some weeks we took less than that.

Opening Prayer – A few moments of quiet and a gathering prayer to bring everyone together.

Overview of the topic – Each week we covered a section of the story as outlined in the overview sheet, starting with creation. Participants were given details of which books of the bible this was found in, and the keener ones tried to read the whole section in preparation (for example Genesis 1 -5 in session 1) though this wasn’t required. I wrote and gave a short talk each week, covering the topic. On the first week I also gave an introduction to how each session would work, which I then repeated (to some extent) on the second week and then on weeks when new people joined us. At the end of this, I would pause for questions of clarification or thoughts before moving on to the particular bible passage, but tried to resist getting too bogged down in this.

Bible passageWe would then read the particular passage being studied that evening. I included a copy of bible passage being studied with the participants’ sheet when I sent it out each week, and encouraged them to read it in advance. This meant everyone easily had it to hand and all in the same translation (I used the NRSV). When needed, I would then give a brief explanation of the context and background to the particular passage being looked at.

Questions for discussionWe used the same questions each week, designed to facilitate a conversation, not to seek ‘right’ answers. The questions seek to ensure that we engaged with the passage emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. Some weeks the ‘heart’ questions were really hard and the ‘mind’ questions easy. Other weeks it was the other way round. Some weeks we could have talked for hours, other weeks we took half an hour. I made sure I had a bible and a commentary to hand but I tried not to be anxious about questions I might be asked. If I didn’t know the answer someone else in the group usually did, we would work it out together, or someone would just google it!

The questions are as follows:

HeartHow does the passage make you feel?
What emotions are present in the characters/writer?  
MindWhat does the passage make you think?
What analytically is going on in the passage?  
SoulWhere is God in the passage?
What parts of your faith are inspired/disturbed?
What does it prompt you to do/pray?

Closing reflection and prayer – I chose to play a piece of music with accompanying images on screen to give people a chance to reflect and pray. I then drew the whole thing together with a prayer appropriate to the week.

And finally…

Full details of what we did are in the downloads. Please feel free to use it, adapt it, share it as you wish. If you are able to support St Clare’s by giving us credit, or by using our online shop, that would be amazing.

I hope you find it useful and would love to hear how you get on.

Rev Charlotte Gale, February 2021

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