Sunday, January 13, 2013

How Do I Read My Bible?

How do I read my Bible? How do you read your Bible? How have others read the Bible in the past? Is there only one right way to read the Bible? If so, what is that right way? These kinds of questions have honestly perplexed me for the past several months. I'm learning more about how to read the Bible and I'm learning more about how others read the Bible. And I'm learning that most of us have room for improvement.

NT Wright has some excellent advice for reading the Bible in this video. And, his first answer to the question, "How do we read the Bible? Any thoughts? Any recommendations?" is most excellent. He responds, "Frequently and thoroughly."

After that clever yet profound response, Wright suggests that we read books straight through in one sitting rather than exclusively in 10 verse chunks. We need to read epistles in their entirety in one sitting. We need to read the gospels in their entirety at once. And not just that, we need to read them with an awareness of the whole sweep of Scripture.

The only time I have ever taught the book of Romans in a class, my first two or three lessons were spent talking about the entirety of the epistle. The assignment I gave the class was to read the entire letter in one sitting at least three times before we begin reading it paragraph by paragraph. I asked them to write down 5-10 main points in the letter after the third reading. Only after that did we begin looking at the text paragraph by paragraph, frequently reminding ourselves of the main themes. I implored the class NOT to consult a commentary until they had read the letter through at least three times. I was amazed by how much easier some passages in Romans were when there was a constant awareness of the overall theme of the epistle and the place in the overall Bible story that the letter occupied.

As NT Wright says in the video "The Whole Sweep of Scripture", we should view each small passage as a window through which we see the whole thing. Reading Scripture aloud is actually declaring the mighty works of God. Never lose sight of the whole sweep of the Bible.

Of course, reading small sections at a time is certainly an acceptable way to read the Bible. There are times when it is the only practical way to read it. But it can't be the only way we ever read the Bible if we want to truly understand it. When we do read those small sections, we must understand that small section is giving us a unique perspective on the whole story. Remember that in some way, that small section is declaring to us the mighty works of God, and the mightiest work of God was raising Jesus.

Far too often I have gotten caught up in a topic. What does the Bible teach about alcohol? Or, what does the Bible teach about pacifism? Or, what does the Bible teach about the roles of men and women? Or, what does the Bible teach about hell? Or, what does the Bible teach about grace? Etc. Then, when I'm researching that topic I break out my trusty concordance or search software. I find and read all the passages.
When I do that, I don't always give those verses their proper place in the whole sweep of Scripture. I usually find that several of those passages say quite different things. What I end up with is a bunch of patches that I'm trying to force together neatly into a garment. Usually the garment I make from the patches looks a lot like the garment I wanted to make before I found all the patches, except that it's a bit rough and irregular in spots. And I just ignore the irregular and rough spots. Let's pretend they're not there.

I've found that I've done a lot better when I find something in the course of reading large sections at a time. Then, I get the overall sense of what's going on, and when something stands out to me that I hadn't noticed before, I'm much more likely to get the sense of how it fits into the big picture. And I can learn something new that is consistent with the main themes of Scripture.

This video reminds me of some things I was taught by one of my favorite preachers, Bob Waldron. He greatly emphasized to me the importance of understanding that the Bible tells a story. Learning where characters and events fit into the story is essential to understanding any of the stories that tell the one big story. He developed a three cycle approach to learning and memorizing the Bible story that has helped me tremendously. I highly recommend that, and would love to help you learn this overall story and help you organize that knowledge.

How ever you read your Bible, whether in small chunks or large, do so remembering that it is a story. It's a story of love. It's a story of redemption. The main point of the Bible, both the Old Covenant and the New Covenant is Jesus. God longs for us to come to Him. He draws us to Him and shows us Himself through Jesus. Remember the mighty works of God.

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