Wednesday, February 17, 2016

How to Read the Bible

I heard it again last week - if you want to read your Bible, really read your Bible and get everything out of it that you possibly can, then you're probably not doing it right. Reading your Bible requires a good translation of the Bible (not one that you can understand or whose language speaks to you, but a "good" translation - one that is close to the original language), a commentary or two on the specific book/subject/whatever that you happen to be reading for that day, a Bible dictionary for looking up all the words and dates and names and ideas that you don't readily understand, a notebook and pen for taking good notes....and a large table on which to spread this all because you have long ago run out of lap for all this....stuff.

This, the "experts" say, is how you must read your Bible. This is how you get the most understanding of the Good Book. Anything short of this, and you're bound to miss some of the nuances, some of the insights, some of the historical implications of the text you're reading. And you know what? I absolutely agree with them. This is absolutely true.

...if you're reading the Bible to discover the Bible.

See, these guys tell you that reading the Bible is about this very thing: discovering the Bible. It's about understanding the historical significance of all of the characters, about being able to place them into a specific time and place and circumstance. It's about knowing how each of the books of the Bible came about, and why they came about at a certain time. It's about discovering the situation into which Isaiah spoke his prophecies of the Suffering Servant, about knowing what was happening in Jerusalem when Ezra and Nehemiah went back to start rebuilding the fallen city, about the Jew-to-Gentile ratio of the region of Galilee when Jesus was walking those shores. 

Some of this information is absolutely fascinating. Especially if you're a bit of a history buff, it's neat to see the way all these details come about, how all the stories are intertwined with one another, how all the characters sort of get wrapped up into these developing narratives. But this is not merely reading the Bible; it's studying the Bible. 

There's a big difference.

And it's a difference that's dangerous. More and more, we're talking about studying the Bible in this way. More and more, we're pushing Christians down this road. It's not enough to just read the Bible; you have to study it. You have to put all of this worldly context around it that you can. You have to uncover all the things the Bible doesn't tell you about itself.

In doing so, we often fail to recognize all the things the Bible does tell us about God.

This is the trap. Because the Bible is not a story about the Bible; the Bible is a story about God. All these commentaries, all these dictionaries, all these study guides - they tell us more about the Bible, but they don't tell us more about God. They don't tell us how the prophet cries out to God when the weight of the truth gets to be too much for him. The prophets tell us that; the commentaries usually don't. They don't tell us the encouragement God offers for His people when they are in difficult situations. They tell us more about the difficult situations, as though that were the key element of the story. The commentaries tell us about the Jew-to-Gentile ratio in the region of Jesus' ministry, but the Gospels tell us what it's like to hear Jesus speak, to gather in the crowd as He passes by, to cry out to Him, to break bread with Him. 

The Bible itself has all you need to discover the God about whom it speaks. If anything else were necessary to this, it'd be in the Bible, too. Plain and simple.

So don't get sucked into the trap. You don't need commentaries and dictionaries and study guides and a kitchen table a mile long to read your Bible for all its worth. Maybe if you want to know more about the Bible.

But if you want to know more about God, if you want to draw near to Him, you need only your heart. You need only come to the Story searching for God, and you will find Him.

That's how you read the Bible. 

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