Scripture art—art based on Scripture—is a powerful way to interact with God’s Word. Here’s a little historical background followed by six ways Scripture art enhances both personal and group Bible study.
Biblical Imagery and Art
The Bible tells us that God often gave messages to prophets in images, not just spoken words. The books of Genesis, Daniel, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Revelation are filled with detailed descriptions of visions and dreams that paint pictures in our mind’s eye and inspire artists to create works such as The Last Judgment by Michelangelo.
Art in the Bible
God at times inspires gifted artists to serve him. Moses said this of the craftspeople in charge of constructing the tabernacle (Exodus 35:30-35):
See, the Lord has called by name Bezalel … and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, with intelligence, with knowledge, and with all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold and silver and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, for work in every skilled craft.… He has filled them with skill to do every sort of work done by an engraver or by a designer or by an embroiderer in blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, or by a weaver—by any sort of workman or skilled designer.
In his book, Word Pictures: Knowing God Through Story and Imagination, screenwriter Brian Godawa says of this passage that “It is not insignificant that this is the very first passage in the Bible in which God fills a person with his Spirit, and that person was an artist” (51, emphasis his). He concludes, “Art is not merely a calling, but creativity is shown in Scripture to be a gift from God. The Lord is described as ‘putting skill’ into the artisans and ‘filling them with skill’” (53).
Art in Church History
It is no wonder, then, that the church has always used art in worship. Stained glass windows in spired cathedrals tell Bible stories in ways even children can understand. Great artists such as Rubens and Rembrandt portray Bible passages using paint on canvas and help us see details we may have missed.
For example, Craig Hazen in his novel, Five Sacred Crossings, describes how people from different backgrounds react to Rembrandt’s The Return of the Prodigal Son. Some relate to the son, others to the father, still others to a ghostly background image. People see themselves and loved ones all represented in the single painting.
6 Ways Scripture Art Enhances Bible Study
In our book, Discovering Hope in the Psalms, Pam Farrel, Karla Dornacher, and I encourage women to go further than completing the in-depth Bible study. We offer options for creatively interacting with Scripture. No, we’re not expecting Rembrandt-level works. But we hope the creative options will help God’s messages of hope settle deeply in readers’ hearts. The book’s merging of in-depth study, details for seasoned Christians, devotions for newer Christians, and creative options is the reason Kay Arthur of Precept Ministries wrote this about it: “What an incredibly unique and creative Bible study Pam, Jean, and Karla have created! It’s multilayered, dimensional, theologically rich, touching the senses—enlightening the mind, capturing the heart.”
In the two months the book has been out, readers have posted photos of their endeavors in the book’s Facebook group. Today I’d like to share with you six ways we’ve seen Scripture art—art based on Scripture—help people hide God’s words in their hearts.
1) Scripture Art Deepens Understanding
When artist Annie Magee from Victoria, Australia, began going through Discovering Hope in the Psalms, she challenged herself to create art to go with every daily lesson. That’s right: every lesson! That’s 40 artistic creations. Here I share three of her creations.
Chapter 1 – Psalm 1: The Hope of God’s Blessing
She didn’t tell us right away what it meant, but you may have guessed the basic back story: Her husband of 19 years abandoned both God and her, wounding her heart with rejection.
Chapter 4 – Psalm 23: The Hope of the Lord’s Good Care
She didn’t know when she painted it what the cord around Jesus’ wrist symbolized. But as she prayed over what it might mean, she realized it was Jesus saying, “I will never forget you.” As she portrayed Psalm 23 creatively, layers of meaning came forth. God’s gift of art helped her understand his abiding love and heal her heart.
Chapter 8 – Psalms 30 & 146: Hope Fulfilled
Annie wrote this:
I have … been going through a type of mourning for almost 2 years now, and as I completed Chapter 7 on Sunday just gone, the Lord responded to my Psalm prayer, He told me I can lay that to rest now. When I heard Him whisper this to me, a little joy returned, and I felt as though I have begun to live again. He has shown me so many incredible things throughout this study. Now, as I begin the final chapter, He has shown me that my mourning is turning to dancing. Blessed be the Lord.
Studying God’s messages of hope in the Psalms gave Annie the foundational understanding she needed. But when she creatively expressed the verses, their hope poured more deeply into her heart and healed her wounds. My heart sings for joy at how God has given his daughter hope in his unfailing care.Scripture art deepens understanding of Scripture #DiscoveringHopeInThePsalms Click To Tweet
2) Scripture Art Increases Learning
In Brain Rules, John Medina, a developmental molecular biologist, quotes research that shows “Students learn better from words and pictures than from words alone” (175). He cites studies that show involving two or more senses increases learning by 50% to 75% (171 ff.).
This is why Scripture art is so effective. It engages the senses of sight, touch, and (if painting) smell. It provides additional layers of learning. Here’s how my co-author, Pam Farrel, interacted with Psalm 51.Scripture art increases learning #DiscoveringHopeInThePsalms Click To Tweet
3) Scripture Art Increases Meditating
Psalm 1 says that the righteous person meditates on God’s instructions day and night. Interacting with Scripture creatively is a means of meditating on it.
One creative option is coloring Karla Dornacher’s illustrations with colored pencils, gel pens, or paints. The illustrations have a verse written in them with key words emphasized. Coloring Scripture art takes some time, but that’s time spent meditating on a verse’s words.
Many display their finished Scripture art, thus fulfilling the gist of Deuteronomy 6:9: “You shall write them [God’s commands] on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” This helps them continue to meditate on the verses even after they’ve finished the study.Scripture art increases meditating on God's words #DiscoveringHopeInThePsalms Click To Tweet
4) Illustrations to Color Make Scripture Art Doable
Few have Karla Dornacher’s or Annie Magee’s skills. So Karla’s illustrations make art doable for the rest of us. Coloring the Scripture art in the book is entirely optional. But women who don’t consider themselves artistic are buying pencils, giving it a try—and liking it. After all, this isn’t the Crayola coloring we did when we were five (in fact, there’s even a Colored Pencil Society of America for professional artists). For those who want to grow artistically, Karla offers free videos, such as this one on making key words stand out: Colored Pencil Gradient Letters. Here’s my coloring of the Psalm 2 opening page.
Virginia Thompson of San Juan Capistrano, California, says she wasn’t interested in coloring when she got the book, but thought she might as well give it a try. She found herself praying for people as she colored. I’ve been coloring the bookmarks through embroidery and find I have the verses memorized by the time I’m finished.Illustrations to color make Scripture art doable #DiscoveringHopeInThePsalms Click To Tweet
5) Scripture Art Starts God Conversations
My friend Diane Smith of Resort Living Interiors in California encourages Christians to use decorative items that can start conversations about God around the house. The bookmarks in Discovering Hope in the Psalms are one way to start conversations. Marliese Grace Jackson in Garrison, Texas, made a container garden to prompt conversations about Psalm 1.
Deborah Lewis Boutwell of First Baptist Pinewood in Tennessee invited her niece to show her small group how to put a verse from chapter 3 on mugs, a terrific way to invite conversations about God.
Judy Webb of Aliso Viejo, California, created a journal for illustrating psalms and taking notes. She takes her art journal with her on a home visits to the elderly to help start conversations.Scripture art prompts conversation #DiscoveringHopeInThePsalms Click To Tweet
6) Scripture Art Enhances Group Study
The five Scripture art benefits above apply to personal Bible study. But Scripture art also enhances group Bible studies. Here are three ways.
a) Scripture art is inviting
Karla Dornacher’s illustrations invite women in, even those who might normally be intimidated at the thought of “study.” Here are two reasons. First, pages with art are friendly. See, for example, the approachable opening page of the chapter on Psalm 23 beneath Karla’s Bible:
Second, a bookmark that illustrates the key verse adorns the opening page of every chapter, and that means women can grasp the main point immediately. This draws them into the study. In other words, the Scripture art makes in-depth study more approachable for women not used to it.
b) Scripture art encourages friendships that spans generations
Small groups that span generations easily bond over doing Scripture art together. Debbie Rothrock’s Discovering Hope in the Psalms study group in Shelton, Washington, has women from 18 to 72 attending and learning together. When they discussed chapter 1, they learned how to trace and frame art.
Tausha Vollbrecht Love attends the evening Discovering Hope in the Psalms Bible study at Holly Springs Baptist Church in Garrison, Texas. Then she babysits for the morning group, which is also going through the book. She taught the children about Psalm 1 and helped them make simple fruit trees planted by water.
c) Scripture art allows people to use their gifts
Encouraging artists to share their creations and teach others in our small groups allows more people to use their gifts and talents.Scripture art enhances group Bible study #DiscoveringHopeInThePsalms Click To Tweet
God’s Word is powerful. Let’s engage with it in every way we can.