I’m constantly amazed at the way’s many people read their Bible.
I’ve posted a few blogs on how to get the most out of reading your Bible.
However today I’m going to point out a huge mistake that many of us fall into when reading the Bible.
This mistake has a negative effect on what we get out of the Bible and ultimately our Christian walk. Be it the way we see ourselves, the way we see God, the way we see others or the way we see our circumstances.
Here it is… You might not have had this broken to you before so brace yourself…
The Bible is NOT God’s love letter to you.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that phrase.
Aside from it being a bit on the silly side it’s also really damaging to the way we read the Bible.
The Bible quite simply was not written to you.
The Bible consists of many authors writing to many different groups of people.
And you are NEVER one of those groups of people.
Consider Paul writing a letter to his friend and disciple Timothy. He would never have thought people 2000 years later would be reading this letter. Not to mention them thinking “I must apply every word of this directly to my life.”
And in fact we kind of know this… I mean how many of you are trying to fulfil 2 Timothy 4:13?
“When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments.”
That’s quite the pilgrimage to try and fulfil!
So in some ways we know the Bible wasn’t written to us. We know that not everything would be applicable in exactly the same way to us as it was to the original audience.
But I’m not so sure we have that at the forefront of our minds as we turn to the Bible as we should.
Now hear me straight here.
I am NOT saying that we shouldn’t read the Bible. Nor am I saying it doesn’t have application in our life. God will speak through it and we can apply the truths of scripture to our lives.
But we must read it knowing that it was written to someone else and we must discover the context in which it was written first and foremost.
Know the historical context
When you turn to scripture if you don’t understand the context of what was going on, in both the author and the audience’s lives, you will always misinterpret the Bible to some degree.
These are the very basic steps one must take to properly interpret the Bible:
- Research who the author is and what was going on in his life.
- Research who the audience is and what was going on in their lives.
- Read the passage in light of 1 & 2 and try to figure out what the author was communicating from God to the people at that time.
- Ask God what you can learn from the message He was giving to these people. How does the message translate into today’s world.
There are many more steps I could add to this list but if you don’t do these 4 things I guarantee you will get yourself in trouble.
Reading the Bible outside of it’s historical context is one of the cornerstones of bad theology and cults.
Please, please, please don’t mishear me!
I’m not saying the Bible is irrelevant or that God will not speak through it. I believe the Bible to be extremely relevant and the penultimate way that God speaks to us today.
BUT I’m saying if you don’t understand this basic principle of interpretation you are going to find that you read the Bible incorrectly.
This leads to us staying the Bible says things it just doesn’t say, and on the flip side we dismiss often what the Bible truly is saying.
I don’t know about you but I want to read the Bible for all it’s worth!
So how do you start?
You might be thinking… “well that’s all well said and done but I’m no historian. How do I know what was going on in people’s lives thousands of years ago?”
Here are a few options:
- Just google it. There are loads of great resource out there to discuss the context of scripture.
- Grab a good Bible Commentary – I recommend these “Bible Background Commentaries” for the NEW and OLD testament.
- Study. Go deeper… there are some great free classes you can take online in Biblical History. Here is one a friend sent me yesterday that Yale make available for free! Introduction to New / Old Testament
There is no excuse to fall into this trap. In this day and age there are too many resources available at our fingertips for us to remain reading the Bible in ignorance.
So here is a question for you…
What historical fact have you heard about that gave you context to a scripture and changed your understanding of it?