This is part four of our several part series on how to read the Bible.
Part One: Don’t be scared! (Click here)
Part Three: Choosing the right translation. (Click here)
Part Four: Understand what the Bible is.
I can say, without hesitation, that we in the twenty-first century West are a part of the single most fanatically driven media-culture that this planet has ever witnessed. We are surrounded by news, headlines, sound-bites, quotable quotes, status updates, and 140 character-or-less Tweets that inoculate us with quick-shots of an enormous amount of data. I liken the way our culture gives us information to hitting the express cook button on the microwave. Crock-pot learning is a thing of the past!
And here’s what’s scariest about our express cook culture – this is how most of us study the Bible all the time! In my opinion, falling prey to this approach exclusively in our Bible study is extremely harmful for two primary reasons: (1) reading the Bible in sound-bites prevents you from truly understanding the “big picture” of any given book (which inevitably leads to taking scripture completely out of context); (2) the Bible was simply never meant to be read this way.
(1) The Big Picture
The first point is self-explanatory. We’ve all seen it happen before. Without the context of any given verse, it is very difficult to accurately interpret what it means and apply it to our lives! The most popular example that comes to mind is Paul’s passage on love in 1 Corinthians 13.
Since becoming a minister, I’ve learned that (on a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the worst) it is a Level Seven Sin to plan a Christian wedding without this passage being read. Not to mention, the countless high school guys who have won the summer-love of their church camp sweethearts by slipping them these verses during chapel.
However, if we keep in mind the context of 1 Corinthians 13, it becomes quickly evident that Paul is not renewing Priscilla and Aquila’s vows for them. Rather, he is teaching the Corinthians the primary ingredient for harmonious church polity, love. Love must be what informs all spiritual gifts and all interpersonal interactions within the body of Christ, or else the church will be divided and never reach its fullest potential. Read 1 Corinthians 12, 13, and 14 consecutively, and this will become clearer.
Now certainly, your personal love for your wife should be patient, it should be kind, it should not envy, etc. etc. etc. That’s not what I’m saying. Please use this verse in your wedding if you so desire. It will go great! What I am saying is that a whole new dimension of transformative insight and understanding is made available to us when we read chapters and verses with the big picture in mind.
(2) It’s a Story
The second point is one that surprisingly flies under the radar for most Christian people and greatly reinforces the previous point. It is simply the case that the Bible was not primarily written to be read in small ten verse chunks. Although this may be accommodating when we are committing scripture to memory, although this may be helpful when keeping sermons to twenty-five minutes, although some Psalms, Proverbs, and passages in books like James are written to be absorbed in quick sips, the majority of the Bible is actually meant to be gulped. And digested. Slowly. Deeply. Fully. As a whole.
It saddens me to know that most Christians have never sat down and read through an entire Gospel in one or two sittings. Even if you are a slow reader (like yours truly), the Gospel of John can be completed in about two hours.
The Bible is a symphony. You must sit down and be swept away by the whole of it in order to begin to understand its parts. When we read scripture, we should do it with the rest of the Bible in mind in order to receive God’s full revelation.
So how in the world can we see the big picture when we’ve never even tried to look at it?
When you get a letter in the mail, do you plan to read only ten lines a day for the next two weeks? No. You take it and soak it in! And if it is a good letter. You pull it out and read it again the next day!
When someone tells you to read a story, do you open it up and start in chapter twelve? No! Because you know that chapter twelve will make little to no sense if you don’t first have a firm grasp of the first eleven.
I challenge you to occasionally set your one-year Bible reading plans aside, and go tackle the New Testament in a week! Push through the Old Testament in a month. Read all of the Psalms in a few days. Hammer through Luke and Acts in a weekend. Read Paul’s Pastoral Letters (1-2 Timothy & Titus) through three times tomorrow. Soak up the Major Prophets in hour-long intervals.
At the end of the day, this is all about understanding what the Bible is. The Bible is a story… God’s story. And it had been revealed to you in a series of interrelated volumes that tell it piece by piece. Trace this story. Learn this story. Love this story. And recognize that your own life is a chapter of it!
Two closing remarks:
- In my next post I will lay out the story of the Bible for you in a short and succinct way that will help us all better understand where each part of the Bible fits and where we ultimately fit on God’s timeline of redemption. So no worries.
- Please do not perceive this post as an attack on your daily Bible reading plans. I understand that time is limited. I understand that two hours a day in Isaiah isn’t exactly the most enticing way to spend your evening. Continue to take-in God’s story 20 to 30 minutes at a time. Finish that year long commitment you made! It’s September! You’re almost there. But do set aside regular days or weeks in your plan where you commit to gulping, and not just sipping. It’ll add fresh levels of understanding and appreciation for the Bible that you’ve never before experienced.
DISCLAIMER: Oh yeah, and by the way, none of this Bible reading stuff matters if you don’t do it.
To be continued…