Different Ways to Read the Bible

Have you ever thought about the interrelationship between:

  • WHAT the Bible is,
  • WHY we read the Bible, and
  • HOW we read the Bible?

Granted: the Bible is the word of God, meaning God communicates himself to us through the Bible in unique ways.  But beyond that, what is the Bible?

To illustrate: which of the following assertions is true?

  1. The Bible is a collection of ancient Near-Eastern literature of various genres.
  2. The Bible is the history of ancient Jews and early Christians interacted with God.
  3. The Bible is the story of how God saves the world.
  4. The Bible is God’s message to you about what he has done for you and what he wants from you.

It’s a trick question, of course.  They’re ALL true.

Did you notice the progression from 1 to 4?

  1. The first assertion is “objective”, academic.  It doesn’t say anything about how the Bible guides your relationship with Jesus Christ.
  2. The second assertion brings the discussion into the realm of religion (interaction with God), but it’s still remote from our daily needs.  It’s “how God dealt with them back then.”
  3. The third assertion hits closer to where we live, but it’s impersonal.
  4. The fourth assertion hits at the heart of our existential needs.

So WHAT is the Bible, WHY do we read it, and HOW?

  1. Literarily, the Bible is a collection of beautiful ancient Near-Eastern literature.  We read it to experience the way people, guided by the Holy Spirit, have experienced God.  We read psalms, wisdom, and the stories of heroes and villains, and we attempt to get into the genre (poetry, wisdom, narrative) in a way that benefits us.
  2. Historically, the Bible is the record of God’s interaction with the (sometimes) faithful.  We read it to understand how God works over the course of history.  We study events and stories, we try to understand what the author intended to communicate to the audience.
  3. Narratologically, the Bible is the record of God’s “rescue mission,” how God redeems his sin-damaged creation.  We read it to understand God’s purposes throughout history AND IN THE HERE AND NOW.  We try to understand the story and our place in it, what these things teach us about God’s character and how we can better reflect his image.
  4. Devotionally, the Bible is where we go to hear God’s voice.  We read it to know him and serve him better.  We read it prayerfully, asking the Holy Spirit to speak to us through it and guide us to apply it to our lives.

All these approaches are important.  Understanding the more “objective” aspects of the Bible–the literature, the history–helps keep us from misunderstanding the more “subjective” aspects.  And searching for the more subjective aspects–the metanarrative, the voice of God–keeps the Bible from being a relic, something dead and useless.

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