Without doubt, all Christians are expected to own a Bible and to read it regularly. Unfortunately, while most Christians apparently own multiple Bibles, this does not mean we read them.
The questions here is not as to whether Christians should read the Bible, but how. To briefly address the first issue, Bibles are not like car manuals to which we refer only if things go wrong; but are locked, out of sight in the glove-compartment all the rest of the time. No, The Holy Bible, is the A-Z of life which the Lord our God has given us, and so much more at the same time. It is not a case of should or should not, it is a case of need. We need to, we must do, in order to live a full and pleasing life for the Lord our God.
What is the Holy Bible?
The Christian Holy Bible is a collection of 66 books written in three different languages, on three different continents and over a period of approximately 1600 years. The Bible is the inspired and inerrant Word of God, written by about 40 authors (agents). In short, the Holy Bible is from God, and is without error in each and every single thing which it addresses.
What use is the Holy Bible?
As above, The Holy Bible, is the A-Z of life which the Lord our God has given to us, so that we may not be ignorant. But it is so much more at the same time. As Second Timothy 3:16-17 says:
“All Scripture is God-breathed, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfected, thoroughly furnished to every good work.” (MKJV)
or as another version says:
“All Scripture is given by God. And all Scripture is useful for teaching and for showing people what is wrong in their lives. It is useful for correcting faults and teaching the right way to live. Using the Scriptures, those who serve God will be prepared and will have everything they need to do every good work.” (ERV)
Is Bible reading all we need to do?
As the A-Z of life, the Bible explains how we should live godly and worthy lives and answers all our questions. Should we then spend all our time reading it and studying it to the exclusion of all else? Do we, should we, become more holy and pious by just reading the Bible?
The answers to these questions is no. As Timothy 3:16-17 says, the Bible is our handbook for life and is provided for our use, our reference and our guidance. By studying the Bible day and night to the exclusion of all else is unbiblical and is religiosity and idolatry. We need to be focussed on God all the time, and His Word is His means of helping us do this.
Looking at Timothy 3:16-17 we see that we are expected to Use the Bible, not just Read the Bible. For, as these verses say, it is useful for:
- Showing people what is wrong in their lives,
- Correcting faults,
- Instruction the correct and godly way to live
- Preparing ourselves,
- Obtaining all we need to do good works.
Other verses in the New Testament also attest to the expectation of God that we will read and use the Bible, not just read it as an academic exercise, or as a thrilling novel. First Timothy 4:13-14 says: “Until I come, attend to reading, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift in you, which was given you by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the body of elders.” In other words, we need to do more than just read.
And James 1:22-23 says: “But become doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if anyone is a hearer of the Word and not a doer, he is like a man studying his natural face in a mirror.” As James says, don’t just read the Word – DO the Word!
How to Read the Bible?
The Holy Bible is the Word of God and as such it is multi-faceted and multi-layered. Though I studied the Word exclusively all of my life, with my dying breath I will still admit that I have only just scratched the surface of understanding its depth. Deuteronomy 29:29 talks to this point saying “There are some things that the LORD our God has kept secret. Only he knows these things. But he told us about some things. And these teachings are for us and our descendants forever. And we must obey all the commands in that law.”
I truly believe that as we approach the last days of this Church age and the second coming of the Lord, the Lord is revealing to us many more of His “secret” things to us today, so that we may be ready and prepared. Our approach to reading the Bible, is therefore very important.
Historically, the Church has determined there are four ways to read the Bible:
- Literally – With a factual and literal interpretation of the words.
- Allegorically – Interpreting the words for their metaphorical and spiritual meanings.
- Devotionally – As a means of spending time prayerfully devoted to the Lord.
- Ethically – as a means of developing a godly and moral character.
The devotional and ethical approaches to reading the Bible are perhaps the easiest to understand and the most practiced, on one sense. However, the literal and allegorical ways or reading need a bit more thought.
Christian Literal and Allegorical schools of Bible Study developed very early in Christianity. The Antioch school took the literal approach to Bible study and its interpretation; studying the text, the context, the language history and the culture to arrive at the meanings. Whereas the Egyptian based Alexander school was allegorical, concentrating mainly on the underlying spiritual meanings. Even though these schools were diametrically opposed to each other in their approach to theological development and Bible study and interpretation, both recognised that the Bible is just too diverse to be contained by one approach. Each school saw that some passages must be interpreted literally and some allegorically. (The Wikipedia article on the Alexandrian school’s distinguished theologian Origen Adamantius, provides more on this.) Thus for example, the Antioch school of literal interpretation still recognised that certain scriptures were multi-layered, and contained more truths and teachings than a simplistic literal reading of the text revealed.
If we pick up a book of poetry and start reading, we will read it differently compared to say, a history book or an instruction manual. Not only will we read it differently, we will approach our reading of it differently; we may even expect and anticipate the book of poetry to awaken our senses of imagination and perhaps bring back to memory the smells, the aromas, and the emotions of past experiences. An instruction manual will stir none of these, but will bring us to a place of logic, reason and facts and mundane practicality.
What we need to recognise here is that the Holy Bible is very diverse in its scope of literary prose; there are songs, poems, prophecies, prayers, parables, genealogical lists, histories, biographies, miracles and a lot more beside. Each of these requires us to approach the Bible in a way which allows us to receive that which the Lord wants to give us. That sounds easy, but there are Bible passages where, for example, in the middle of a genealogy, words of deep spiritual have been placed. The two verses of First Chronicles 4:9-10 are a good example of this, where a two verse short story about Jabez is contained within a genealogy.
If we read the genealogies of Mary and Joseph as just lists of facts, we miss the opportunity to ask ourselves why they two start at different points and why they takes the historic roots and routes which they do. Jon Gleason’s excellent article on this very topic “Another Quick Thought on Joseph” exemplifies this point.
We need to approach Bible reading with all the tools available to us, and then use and exercise the tools we have been given, as we read. Perhaps the first and greatest of these tools is Prayer; coming before the Lord as we start to read the Bible, asking for the gift of His revelation and understanding. The Lord wrote the Bible; it is His Word and He knows how to correctly interpret it for our immediate benefit in our present circumstances.
In counselling and intercessory prayer sessions, I have often witnessed the Lord speaking through my wife Jill, to prophetically give Bible passages which totally align with a someone’s history, and their present circumstances. It is awesome to hear a person say “WOW! That is exactly what happened to me!,” as they hear a three-thousand-year-old Bible passage of the Lord’s choosing, read out to them.
Brothers and Sisters, I tell you: The Word of God, the Christian Holy Bible is alive! It is not a dead book, but a living book. First Peter 1:22-23 says of this:
“Purifying your souls in the obedience of the truth through the Spirit to unfeigned love of the brothers, love one another fervently out of a pure heart, having been born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, through the living Word of God, and abiding forever.”
It is our personal testimony that the Holy Bible lives and that if we ask the Lord for understanding, He will provide.
For God, it is not a matter of our reading of the Bible, or our interpretation of the Bible, but what we do with the results of our reading and our interpretations. Remembers, at all times, God knows the thoughts of our heart and of our mind; they, like our dreams and visions, are not hidden from Him.
How important is that to Him? Read Matthew 7:21-23
“Not everyone who says to Me, Lord! Lord! shall enter the kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in Heaven.
Many will say to Me in that day, Lord! Lord! Did we not prophesy in Your name, and through Your name throw out demons, and through Your name do many wonderful works?
And then I will say to them I never knew you! Depart from Me, those working lawlessness!”