I have always struggled to read the Bible cover to cover. I have started and abandoned so many “read your Bible in a year” programs. I just can’t sustain it. But it’s not for lack of stamina or interest. I think it has more to do with what happens when I read the Bible.For me, even opening up to a random Scripture becomes the beginning of a study. I read the cross-references and the marginal notes. I look up key words in the concordance. Sometimes, I just start with one word, such as woman, and read all the scriptures about the word,”woman,” that are listed in the concordance, looking for patterns and symbols. The funny thing is, no matter what method I use, I always get my rhema word! God is good like that.
Maybe I’ll never get from cover to cover, but I’m certain I’ve read it all, by now.
This morning, I read a nice, short article explaining the principles of understanding Bible text, one thing that a lot of new Bible students struggle with. I try to use only the King James Version when I study, but I do look up some words in the original Greek or Hebrew (especially if there is controversy over the interpretation – for example, someone recently told me that the word demon was never mentioned in the Bible. This is not true. But that’s another post!). Here are the guidelines R. C. Sproul, renowned Bible writer and pastor, sets forth in Knowing Scripture:
- The Holy Scriptures interpret themselves. You don’t need an outside writer, no matter how early the writer, to interpret the Word of God, because verses in one part confirm the meaning of verses in another. Jesus, himself, quoted Scripture from 24 different Old Testament writings, according to some students of the Bible.
- If we truly believe that the Bible represents the inspired Word of God, then all Scriptures must tell one, consistent message. If I interpret a verse one way, and it appears to contradict another, then my interpretation is in error, because the Word of God is complete, true and infallible. If I don’t believe this, then I can’t really believe any of it.
- The Bible has a literal interpretation… (continue to number 4…)
- … in the sense in which it was written. Parables are fictional stories with a moral or message (e.g., the story of Lazarus and the rich man); symbols are just that — representations of something else (e.g., the lampstands of Revelation); poems and songs are poems and songs (e.g., Song of Solomon and the Book of Psalms); didactic passages are meant for teaching and instructing (e.g., all those directions given to the Israelites in Leviticus and Deuteronomy); historical narratives are books chronicling history (e.g., the Book of Numbers); letters are letters (e.g., Hebrews, Romans, Corinthians I and II…)
- The explicit message interprets the implicit one. I learned, as a student, to look first for the literal, then for the figurative (and the figurative almost always had to do with Jesus, because, really, the whole book is about Him!). I do believe that there are patterns for us to observe, even in the historical passages.
- Clearer passages interpret more obscure ones. I don’t know if Sproul was thinking of this, but my mind immediately went to “the abomination of desolation — the reader will understand.” in Mark 13-14 and other places. Other passages help us understand this better (help me, anyway!).
I think we get into trouble when we try to turn a passage into something it’s not (look how many arguments have arisen from letters of Paul — letters written to specific groups of people to address specific congregational issues).
I am not a Bible expert. But I have been greatly helped by these guidelines as I study the Word of God, to “find myself approved” (2 Tim 2:15).
- “Knowing Scripture,” RC Sproul, TableTalk Magazine
- The Scriptures of Jesus and His Earliest Followers, Craig A Evans (2002), pp 191-194. (Summary here)
- Interpreting Scripture with Scripture (hillsbiblechurch.org)
- How Do You Read the Bible? (eisdoxan.wordpress.com)
- Ignorance of the Bible Leads to Error (jcrylequotes.com)
- Knowing the Scriptures (wordspiritjourneys.wordpress.com)
- Confidence in the Bible as the Word of God (christianongtangco.wordpress.com)
- Lacking Nothing (todaysanewday.wordpress.com)
- Biblical illiteracy and Bible Babel (archden.org)