There is so much I could say about how we read the Bible.
I’ve blogged about it many times before and I will no doubt blog about it again.
This week I want to just post a few brief points though to challenge you on how you are reading your Bible.
They may be completely irrelevant for you but I often find myself guilty of falling for some of these obvious mistakes when it comes to how I read the bible.
So here are 6 common mistakes many of us Christians make when reading the Bible.
1) We think it was written to us
Believe it or not but the Bible wasn’t written for you.
I know we taught that it’s God’s love letter to us, however the truth is it’s not.
It’s the writings of many people over hundreds and hundreds of years. And not one of them ever anticipated billions of people 2000+ years from then reading their writings on an iPhone.
If we don’t ask “who was this written to?” we will always run the risk of misinterpreting the Bible.
Take away: read about the audience of the original text. Ask God what common message is applicable and what parts of the message are maybe not as applicable because you aren’t a goat herder in the wilderness 7000 years ago.
2) We forget that the Bible is not a singular book.
The Bible is an amazing collection of books. Some of the books are commentary on God’s exploits, some are historical annals, some are poetry, some are songs, some are prophecy, some are proverbs and some are letters.
The danger is in reading the Bible as a singular book and therefore reading it all in the same manner.
When we read a poem/play like Job (I’m not saying it didn’t historically happen just that the book itself is recorded as a poem/play) we should not be reading it the same way as we would Paul’s letter to Timothy. In the same sense we should not read a historical piece like 1 Kings in the same way we read a personal lament like Lamentations!
Take away: Ask yourself what it is you are reading, what medium is the author using in communicating God’s message? Now ask yourself are you possibly missing that message because you are reading it as something else?
3) We don’t consider who wrote the bible
Directly tied to the previous point we must always consider the authorship of the Bible.
I know this might come as a shock to some of you but the author of the Bible is not God. In fact not one page of the Bible attributes itself to being God’s handiwork!
God inspired the authors of the Bible and made sure His message is communicated through the Bible and because of that we look to the Bible in our Christian lives.
However, when we make the author God we end up misinterpreting the Bible. We must ask in our minds at all time “who is the author”?
A piece written by Paul will read different than a piece written by Luke.
Even pieces written by the same author in different seasons will take on very different meanings.
Solomon in his prime (Proverbs) reads a lot different than Solomon in the midst of a breakdown (Ecclesiastes).
Take away: Ask yourself who wrote the book I’m reading right now? What was their background, their personality, why did God choose them to communicate the messages and what parts of their humanity leak into the message that God has them sharing?
4) We don’t read it in its context
Man are we guilty of this one!
I call this the Christian Ouija board approach.
We love to just pull verses out of context don’t we?
The truth is God can speak to us through the Bible outside of the original context all the time – I don’t have a problem with that overly. But I do think it’s important to know that He is doing so.
One of my Bible teachers in Bible school taught:
“It’s ok to use scripture out of context so long as you know the original context and that you are doing so”
You see we are far too guilty of cherry picking our bible verses to support our own theology. When we read the scriptures in context it becomes a lot harder to do so!
Whenever a verse jumps out at me I always take a step backwards to get some perspective.
What was the paragraph it is found in about, how about the chapter, ok, now what about the whole book.
When we do this we can see quite quickly if we are taking scriptures out of context. In fact if often breathes fresh life to the verse as we see it in its correct context!
Take away: Make it a practice in your Bible reading to take steps back regularly to remind yourself of the context in which you find your text.
5) We don’t bother asking what’s going on outside of the text
One thing I never really realized I was missing out on was the historical context of the Bible.
I always read the Bible as a book in a vacuum – if there was some important information to the story it would be there. But the truth is there are lots of things that simply aren’t recorded in the Bible which have huge bearings on the actual text!
The audience and writers at the time were all aware of the political climate or of recent wars or about other religions in the region. There was no need for the author to explain these. We however thousands of years later are less so well informed!
It’s really helpful when reading the Bible to ask ourselves what is going on in the world of the audience and the author.
Nothing occurs in a vacuum. While God’s truths are timeless, understanding the situations people were in as they heard and delivered those truths will help us understand how to apply those truths in our equally important and unique situations.
Take away: When turning to a new book of the bible do a little bit of research on the book to find out more about that group of people and the world they found themselves in. Keep the things you learn about the culture, religions, politics and everything else in your mind as you read through the book.
6) We don’t read it through the person of Jesus
This one is the biggest of all. I’ve wrote a little about this already here – Nobody has ever seen God… Really?
You see we for some reason seem to forget that Jesus came to correct a lot of misunderstandings about God. Many of which the people got and continued to teach from the scriptures!
When we read the Bible without first and foremost holding Jesus to be the perfect image of God then we are going to find ourselves in trouble.
Because there are times where on the surface of things God looks very much nothing like Jesus. In those moments our interpretation of the scripture must bow to the ultimate interpretation of God… Jesus.
If our interpretation of the Bible leads us to a conclusion about God that is at odds with the Father Jesus came to represent then we must change our interpretation.
This might be a big leap for some of you but it doesn’t make it any less true! Jesus Christ is the perfect image of God.
Nothing shows the nature of God and His will more clearly than Jesus… Even the Bible!
Take away: When faced with difficult passages about God, His actions and His will, ask yourself first and foremost – what did Jesus show to be true of God? From that place, approach the scriptures and allow yourself to interpret them through the person and life of Jesus.
What about you?
What mistakes have you made over the years as you approach the scriptures? And what have you changed in that area that has allowed you to get all that God intended for you to get out of the Bible?
Please leave a comment below and let me know :)
A few more resources on the Bible on PhilDrysdale.com: