There Is No Secret Formula
There is no secret formula to reading the Bible. We simply open it up and take it one sentence at a time. But reading and understanding the Bible are not necessarily easy. Some people have spent a lifetime studying the Bible. Yet, anyone can cultivate an ever-deepening knowledge of the Bible.
How? Here are five important ways to read the Bible. We should read the Bible reverently, contextually, in a Christ-centered way, communally, and repeatedly.
1. Read reverently.
The Bible is God’s Word to humankind, revealing heaven’s great plan of salvation. Scripture comes to us from above, calling for reverence. While human authors were used to write God’s revelation, the Bible is not ultimately a book by humans. It is from heaven. We are to follow the Thessalonians, who “received the word of God . . . not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God” (1 Thess. 2:13).
The ESV New Christian’s Bible is an affordable edition created specifically to help young Christians begin to navigate God’s Word for the first time.
As we read, then, we are to be under the Word of God, not over it. We must “receive with meekness the implanted word” (James 1:21; cf. John 12:48). When God’s commands contradict our desires, we must submit to what God has revealed, receiving in humility the Bible in its entirety, whatever it says. Such is the reverence called for by the sacredness of Scripture.
2. Read contextually.
We must have some knowledge of the Bible itself and the times in which it was written. This happens by reading the text in its literary and historical context.
Concerning literary context, the Bible consists of narrative, poetry, prophecy, and so on. We must read with sensitivity to what kind of passage we are reading. We must also read every text in the flow of the book as a whole, remembering the purposes for which the author wrote. Concerning historical context, various sections of the Bible were written during certain periods in history and reflect specific cultural backgrounds. Due to this historical distance, we ought to sit under sound preaching and consult various resources that help us in our study, such as commentaries.
3. Read Christ-centeredly.
Next, we must never forget the Bible’s “big story.” The whole Bible is about Jesus Christ—who he is and what he came to do. The Old Testament anticipates Jesus, and the New Testament reveals Jesus. Every book contributes to the message of a holy God’s saving mercy in Christ. While not every Old Testament passage explicitly anticipates Christ, every text moves the story toward its climax in Jesus (Luke 24:27, 44; John 5:39, 46).
From Genesis to Revelation, one storyline holds the Bible together. The themes of this storyline are creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. These themes are not equal in length—most of the Bible is given to unfolding the third of these, the great drama of redemption through Jesus Christ. But this redemption is set against the backdrop of creation and the fall and will find its completion in restoration and final judgment, when the original creation is restored to what it was always intended to be. The Old Testament develops this storyline, preparing for Jesus, and the New Testament fulfills it, portraying Jesus. As we read the Old and New Testaments through the lens of redemption in Christ, we will understand the whole Bible as God wants us to.
The whole Bible is about Jesus Christ—who he is and what he came to do.
4. Read communally.
The Bible is not to be read in isolation. Yes, God has given each of his people the privilege of reading and understanding the Bible. Indeed, the Christian who does not set aside time regularly to study Scripture will be impoverished. Yet scriptural nourishment is received not only in individual study but also through corporate study.
This happens mainly through the preaching of Scripture by those called and equipped by God (Eph. 4:11–14; 2 Tim. 4:1–2). The Bible is also to be read and understood through believers’ discussing the text in a mutually illuminating and sharpening way (Acts 13:15; 17:11; Heb. 4:11–12; 10:24–25).
5. Read repeatedly.
Finally, in order to understand the Bible with increasing depth over a lifetime, we must read it repeatedly. As God’s life-giving Word, it must be read and meditated on with great care, over and over (Ps. 119:15, 48). As we grow in our knowledge of Scripture, every verse becomes clearer and more meaningful. Unlike other books, which we read and finish, believers never “finish” reading the Bible. As with physical food, we must eat spiritual food each day to be spiritually healthy.
As we read the Bible in sacred reverence, with sensitivity to its literary and historical context, seeing Jesus as the point of the whole Bible, in a community of faith, and with unceasing and meditative repetition, we will grow as faithful readers of God’s Holy Word.
This article is adapted from the ESV New Christian’s Bible.
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- Don’t Try to Make the Bible Say More (or Less) than It Does (Vern S. Poythress)