How to Read the Bible
And any other book for that matter.
2 Tm 3:16
Have you ever written something, say a text message or letter, and the reader communicates back something different than what you wrote? Or perhaps the reader goes and does something even contrary to what you meant? Well, I think this happens far too often when it comes to reading the Bible.
Without humility, we can bend the text to our hurt and shame
Think about it. The Bible is a collection of writings and events spanning millennia, written by different authors touching on various areas of life, steeped in a specific culture, passed down with a central message of hope and reality in the God of Creation.
And that summation doesn’t even scratch the surface of what we hold in our hands when we pursue to read it. The Bible demands, at the least, the respect to see what it wants to communicate. But too often we read the text while holding over it our ideas and habits as supreme.
Seek what the author intends
Reading is a skill and if you are able to learn the skill, do it — rightly. Let’s focus on intention. Every time someone sits down to create a piece of literature, a point is wanting to be made. A thought wants to be expressed. An idea wants to be heralded. A reality wants to be shared.
The point I’m trying to make is that whatever we find in the literature we didn’t create, it isn’t about our thoughts and ideas.
This is the humility we need when approaching the Bible. There are ideas and events that are being communicated to us. If we come at it in the pride of life, we meet it with a wall of misunderstanding from the start.
The first question we should ask ourselves is, “What is the author saying?” Reading the Bible isn’t merely about observing words or events, but a conversation.
It’s crucial that we understand this. We will find many things in Scripture that if we don’t come with this humility, we will make the wrong conclusions about what it saying.
In other words, keep it in context. I promise you, when you do your categories of thought will get busted and replaced with truth.
God doesn’t endorse multiple wives
For instance, just because polygamy exists, doesn’t mean that God ever endorses it. God met Israel where they were when he brought them out of Egypt and they were already practicing polygamy.
Part of his covenant with them was then giving them rules of conduct to show how they should treat one another given the circumstances, giving dignity to the women who were already being treated as objects.
Reading the Bible is a conversation
When questioned about the divorce practices of the day, Jesus referred to the Genesis account of marriage. He points out that in the beginning God designed one man and one woman in covenant relationship, should marriage be entered into.
God never intended polygamist practices, so he reveals to us how those relationships are always marred with imbalance and suffering.
Now if we bring our own ideas into the mix, not wanting to see what the text is saying, of course we will bend it to our own hurt and shame.
But there’s a glorious truth revealed about contentment and love and God’s own nature should we just see what’s in front of us beyond our bias of culture and individualism.
The Bible Requires Faith
To my last point: reading the Bible requires faith. Biblical faith is anything but blind. Looking into what the author intends requires trusting all that God has to say about the matter through an author.
Also, keep in mind that a good way to confirm what you find is to see it elsewhere in the same book and/or in other books of the Bible. God is very gracious.
He actually never says anything once for us. He knows us, so he’s communicated his will and character many times, through many people, across thousands of years.
By God’s grace, keeping these words in mind, we will find ourselves benefiting from his words that are life to all who look into them and health to every area of life (Pr 4:22).