When I first planned this series of the ‘Reading Rut,’ this post was not included in my plan. But as I constructed the previous articles, I realized that the following is an important aspect of reading that needs to be considered. So far, we have looked at some pretty important and encouraging reasons why we should be reading The Bible. In light of these, I hope that it has been clear that reading the Bible is not an aim to be achieved in itself; that is, it is not so we can tell others that we are ticking the Bible-reading box, or even to feel that we are fulfilling our ‘requirements’ as a Christian before God. Rather, it is a means to a greater end—Christ-likeness for God’s glory. Because of this purpose, the way we approach and undertake reading the Bible is incredibly important.
How we read the Bible is obviously a big topic with many different aspects, and definitely one where there is no single right way to do things. So today I am going to cover just a few key things to consider in your approach to reading Scripture. My chosen focus here is based on some of my general observations as I have talked with other believers, and particularly aspects I have discerned are often not prioritized or thought to be a significant or essential part of Bible reading. So it is in no way exhaustive, but hopefully relevant.
HOW TO READ THE BIBLE
The Bible is not your average book; it is the chosen way for the God and creator of the universe to communicate with us and transforms our very souls. Not many other books could claim this (let alone claim it and be true). So it should come as no surprise to us that we cannot simply read the Bible as if it was any other book.
I never much enjoyed English classes in my later school life, as I often felt like we were looking more into a poem or story than the author ever intended. We’d find hidden meaning or speculate as to what they meant, when really, the author may never have put anywhere near the same amount of intention into a given sentence or phrase. But the Bible is not like this, for there is intentional meaning and purpose to the entirety of Scripture, as all has been inspired by God (2 Tim 3:16). However, if there was one thing I did gain from those English classes, it was to be thinking about the context of what we were reading, and asking, ‘what does the author actually mean?’ And whilst the Bible was inspired by God, it was written by a range of human authors, all who had clear intentions as they wrote to specific audiences, all at set points in history. There is an objective, fixed meaning. So when we read the Bible, we need to not be searching for our own meaning or interpretation, a subjective view of the passage, but searching for the objective ‘what did the author mean when they said this?’
Now this doesn’t mean that The Bible is irrelevant for us today, or inapplicable to our own lives; but what this does mean is that we need to be sure we are applying what the author intended to our own life, rather than applying our own interpretation based off our preconceptions or feelings. This means that, unless you have been to Bible college and spent time learning and studying God’s Word, you will probably need some outside guidance from those who have familiarised themselves with the author’s context and theological intent. A Bible commentary is the best place to start, but we will explore some good options in an upcoming article on Bible reading resources.
This practical aspect of reading the Bible is grounded upon an even more important ‘state-of-heart’ in which we approach God’s Word by—humility. Our humility in our own knowledge and our understanding that “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)” should lead us to seek, whether through written resources or direct conversation, the wisdom of others, who by God’s grace and kindness can more clearly “see” Christ in Scripture than us, or give insight into how this best applies to our lives.
This humility is also to be extended towards God. Ultimately no matter what or how we read, we are reliant on God for it to be fruitful. This humility before God in our reading is epitomized in praying. Reading prayerfully is something that is often included in people’s regular reading routines, or is at least seen and known to be important – although I am unsure if this is seen to be in lieu of the practical guidance we discussed above, with the potential justification of not utilising outside resources as they have already ticked the box of praying to ask God to reveal his Word. We should pray that in all our reading, whether of the Bible or in what we use to understand it, that we may humbly receive God’s guidance in both the interpretation and application of Scripture. We pray in recognition that we cannot know God except through the work of the Spirit; we need God to open our eyes and hearts to the Holy Spirit’s revelation to us:
“These things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God” (1 Corinthians 2:10-12).
This prayerful reliance on God should extend to all aspects of our Bible reading. That is, we should pray that the Spirit may reveal to us the true meaning of his Word to us, but also that he may truly change our hearts and minds through this process, and give us the strength and conviction to live out the implications of this revealed Word.
Finally, having come humbly and prayerfully to our reading and understanding what the author intended to say, we want to read the passage thoughtfully. Thoughtful reading includes not only questioning the author’s meaning and context, as already discussed, but asking about the words and phrases, about the connection between other passages, the application to life (both our own and others) and our emotional response to what we have read. This thoughtfulness about what we read is the foundation to our meditation or reflection on God’s Word in our day to day lives, both in and beyond our time set aside reading.
This discipline of reflecting is integral to our reading being a fruitful rendezvous, so keep an eye out for the next post where we will discuss the why and how of Biblical reflection.