Reading and understanding the Bible is different from reading a textbook or piece of literature. A tome of rich historical depth, layered with details, dates, truths and statements, it is also one that speaks deeply to our human hearts, shows us who Jesus is throughout the expansion of time, and if we allow it to, it will transform you.
How are we to understand this book, that is far more than just any other book?
The Bible becomes immensely personable once we realize that God Himself inhabits the words on the page. The Bible reveals Him.
For those looking to understand the Bible and its richness, here are seven keys that we have found most helpful:
1. Have an open heart
Come to the word with a humble and open heart. Take a moment to quieten your heart before Jesus, ask the Holy Spirit to be your reading companion as you journey through each story, proverb and parable. That way your reading of scripture is Trinitarian in nature and you are able to build a holistic picture of who God is. There’s no better way to read His very word than to involve Him by being open-hearted!
2. Read to be transformed, not to be informed
God gave us His word not simply to inform us of Him, but to transform us from the inside out. His mission is, through relationship, to transform us into His-image and to become more Christ-like. He seals the beauty and glory of Jesus in the Bible as well as in Spirit so that when we read it we not only learn about Jesus but we become more like Him.
3. Remember that God did not write a book, He spoke a book
20th-century philosopher and writer, A.W. Tozer famously remarked that God “did not write a book and send it by messengers to be read at a distance by unaided minds. He spoke a book, and lives in His spoken word.”
The Bible becomes immensely personable once we realize that God Himself inhabits the words on the page. The Bible reveals Him. He lives through the stories between each page, testimonies of His nature, His works and ways are captured through history and through each people group. Understanding the Bible, therefore, is less about interpreting a historical book or even a series of events, but asking ourselves: “what does this reveal about God? What message might He be trying to communicate to His people, whom He longs for on every level, through this passage?”
4. Use it to build the Kingdom
The mechanics of the Kingdom are righteousness, peace and joy (Romans 14:1) amongst other things. The Bible is best used when in establishing and building the Kingdom of God since it was meant to be used in action and force! Therefore use the Bible not to puff up your own knowledge as the religious leaders did, but to grow your inner world, to love those around you and to expand God’s Kingdom.
5. Don’t fight the tensions, sit in them
The human mind often longs for simplicity and comfort. We love to make sense of things! Our love for His word, however, transcends the false comfort of simplicity, especially once we discover the many apparent textual inconsistencies and contradictions. The Bible contains many stories that go beyond natural law or human reasoning, or even appear to be at odds with each other. A professor once told me “search for the gold beneath the tensions.” What we’ll find at a deeper level is not contradiction but a revelation of the consistency of His nature and character, that feeds both truths.
6. Read slowly, read widely
Taking time to read the Bible slowly. Spending time on each verse and even each word, thoughtfully chewing over their intended meaning, asking the Holy Spirit for guidance will make a huge difference to a “rushed reading.” Another key to reading slowly is to read widely. Write the verse out, highlighting which parts stand out to you, read around the passage and delve a little into the historical context. Ask questions of the text:
Who is writing it, what might their bias be and why? For example, why is Paul writing a letter to a slave-owner, pleading for a slave to be set free, whilst a captive for the Gospel? Could this be he understands true freedom is an in-ward job, not outward?
7. Involve others
Welcome the input and discussion of scripture from trusted friends in your life. The Bible can be used beautifully during devotional and meditational times. Grasping the word on a deeper level however, is accelerated when we discuss it with people who we trust and whose spiritual maturity we aspire towards.