Feed Up: More on Reading the Bible

Posted: January 14, 2011 by pastorerichann in Bible Studies / Helps, Christian Starters
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I’m thankful for the responsiveness of people taking up a new year’s challenge to read through the entire Bible. As presented on Sunday morning, January 9, 2011 here at Cornerstone, in Chariton, Iowa – we have a couple of different reading guides available. One breaks down the Bible into genre’s of literature (Law, Wisdom, Epistles – etc) in order for a person to have a balanced intake when reading. The other guide simply uses the “canonical” order (Genesis through Revelation). As we looked at during worship, there are some initial helpful tips that relate to this:

– Try to have the goal of both reading the entire Bible, as well as meditating, memorizing, and applying certain passages of scripture: Often we can tend an “either or” approach with this, while various Christians throughout history have discovered the benefits of both. The former is germane to helping one “get the big picture” – while the latter helps us live out passages based on immediate needs and God’s conviction.

Other helpful tips are in correlation with basic approaches to hermeneutics (meaning the “science of interpretation“). We looked Sunday at some simple rules of thumb to interpreting the Bible. These included:

– The New Testament interprets the Old.

– Teaching passages interpret stories.

– Clear, prominent teachings interpret vague, obscure ones.

We ended by considering some general and specific books that can be helpful tools along the way. Some general tools include: A Bible reading plan; a devotional (or even a devotional Bible); a concordance; a chain reference Bible; a chronological Bible; a one or two volume commentary (I consider good starter examples to be: The Bible Knowledge Commentary – Walvoord and Zuck; The Wiersbe Bible Commentary – Warren Wiersbe).

These kinds of general tools are helpful in order to read books of the Bible within their intended “context.” “Context” pertains to the circumstances surrounding an event or written document which should be examined in order for it to be rightly understood. Answering questions about books of the Bible such us “who wrote this, when, to whom, and why (?)”  help the reader understand the “context” of what’s being said. A simple reading of verses and chapters before and after the section of scripture one is studying can prove to be one quick way of discovering its “context.” Paul Little in his book “Know What You Believe” puts it this way:

“The context of a chapter or book is an excellent starting point for understanding a biblical passage. Statements lifted out of their context become entirely distorted, even developing into unbiblical doctrines. A skeptic once triumphantly asserted, ‘The Bible says, There is no God.’ He was considerably deflated when reminded of the context: ‘The fool says in his heart, There is no God’ (Psalm 14:1)” (1)

Going deeper into understanding the context of a passage of scripture requires work in some different tasks. Some of these “tasks” can be termed as follows:

The Literary Task: This category often includes the type/genre of literature of the particular book you’re reading (Example: The wisdom and apocalyptic literature of the Bible – such as Proverbs and Revelation, often use unique figures and symbols as compared to historical literature – such as Joshua or Acts). The literary task can also involve taking into consideration the original languages (OT being Hebrew; NT being Greek) and the unique characteristics of certain words, phrases, and syntax (sentence structure) in those languages. The “literary” task is also often seen as studying how a certain passage fits and functions in a book.

The Historical Task: This task pertains to the historical events of the era the book was written, as well as (being mentioned previously) the immediate context of who was writing, to whom, and for what reason.

The Cultural Task:  This is similar to the Historical task, but takes into consideration primarily the “attitudes, patterns of behavior, and unique expressions of a particular society, which affect our understanding of a passage” (2)

The Theological Task: Some make this task its own category in relation to “how a topic fits in the tapestry of theological themes in the story of the Bible” (3) 

Most of what’s been said so far relates to reading and “studying” the Bible. A basic question being answered when doing this is… “What does it say ?

Next should come the very important practice of “applying” the Bible to our lives. If “study” invovles answering the question “what does it say?” – “application” involves answers the question “What does it say… to me?” (right now – and how should I live it / obey it in my current life circumstance?).

The Bible is excellent, ancient literature – but it is also much more than that. It is God’s inspired (Grk theo-pneustos – “God breathed”) Word and is useful (profitable) for us for all that God has for us to do to glorify Him (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Since the Bible is from God, it’s a good idea to spend time meditating on that fact, knowing that God’s “living,” and “powerful” Word will penetrate our thinking, convict us (Hebrews 4:12), and be used of the Holy Spirit to grow us spiritually (John 17:17).

So… read it, get “the big picture,” use tools, discern what it says, rewrite it in your own words, meditate on it (think it and say it our loud), pray it, apply it, live it, and continually build your life on it! The blessing will be yours! (Matthew 7:24-27).

For further reading: “How to Study the Bible for Yourself” (Tim LaHaye); “Read the Bible for Life: Your Guide to Understanding and Living God’s Word” – George Guthrie; “The Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life” – Donald Whitney; “Know What You Believe” – Paul Little

(1) Paul Little “Know What You Believe” (Downer’s Grove, Il; Intervarsity Press, 1970; ed. updates c. 2008), p. 27

(2) Andreas Kostenberger from “Read the Bible for Life: Your Guide to Understanding and Living God’s Word” gen. ed. George Guthrie, Nashville Tenessee B and H Publishing Group c. 2011), p. 47

(3) ibid., p. 47

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