How to Read the Bible

Where will you find the Word of God?  A Jew will tell you the Torah.  A Muslim will tell you the Koran.  Many Americans will tell you you can find it anywhere and most people in the eastern hemisphere will tell you won’t find it at all.

Based on my convictions as a Christian I understand the Word of God to be discovered in many places (creation – Psalm 19:1-4, conscience – Romans 2:14-15), but most importantly the Word of God is revealed through the Bible.  The Bible is the manifest Word of God.  These words are God’s word.  The same master mind that created the world and set the universe in order wrote a book, and he wants you to read it.  God wants be found and demands that he be understood to the extent that our human minds are able.

Based on this truth, that the words of the Bible are the words of the Creator, here are four critical things to realize and remember each time you open God’s book.

 

The Bible is Inspired by God

In the same way that God breathed into Adam the breath of life turning a lump of lifeless flesh into living soul, the Bible is alive.  The Bible itself testifies to this truth: 2 Timothy 3:16-17: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”  That phrase, “is given by inspiration of God” more literally means “given by divine breath”.  In fact, several reputable translations appropriately read, “All Scripture is God-breathed…”  God’s breath is his spirit and his spirit is the origin of the Bible.

The consequences of this conclusion are tremendous.  We may see the evidence of personalities and perspectives, but this never overshadows the influence of the Spirit or degrades its divine derivation.  The Apostles Peter says so in 2 Peter 1:20-21: “knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation [that is, private exposition or personal origin], 21 for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.”  The Bible is the result of the activity of the Spirit of God.  Without God’s influence directing the minds of these men we would have no Bible at all.  The Spirit is the reason the Bible exists, and the Spirit is the reason the Bible exists as it does.

 

The Bible is Divinely Designed

The Bible is not an accidental compilation of human writings.  These are the words of God and the Bible as a whole is the work of God, perfectly planned and meticulously arranged to fulfill the will of God for you.  The Bible is divinely and deliberately assembled.  The language of the Bible is precise and purposeful.

For example, sometimes the Bible is especially clear and sometimes it’s not so clear.  Sometimes the gospel accounts clearly corroborate each other, some times they don’t.  Often we find passages that are vague, confusing, or difficult to understand.  When we find places in the Scriptures like this, remember these passages also are designed by God.  If something in the Bible is not especially clear, it’s because God designed it to be so.

The evidence that God does not always want his words to be easily understood comes from Matthew 13.  After preaching the parable of the sower, Christ’s disciples come to him and ask in verse 10, “Why do You speak to them in parables?”  He explains, starting in verse 11.  “He answered and said to them, ‘Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. […] 13 Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14 And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says: “Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, And seeing you will see and not perceive; 15 For the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, And their eyes they have closed, Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their  ears, Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, So that I should heal them.”’ 16 But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear; 17 for assuredly, I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.’”  Spiritual truths are reserved for those that sincerely seek them.  His teachings were purposefully designed to confuse the scoffers and inspire the believers.  The words of Jesus, and every word of God, are spoken in such a way that only those with open hearts will hear.

The rest of the Bible agrees with this position.  Like Paul say in 1 Corinthians 2:13-14, “These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. 14 But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”  Spiritual truths are hidden from those thinking only in human terms.

What’s the implication in this? God means what he says and he says what he means.  And, he says it exactly the way he means to say it.  Reading the Bible with this realization can completely change our perspective on the Bible and improve our understanding of the Bible.

 

Superiority of the Written Scripture

The way the words of God are written in the Bible is not incidental, and the fact that these words even exist in written form is another element in God’s masterfully planned presentation of his will.

I’ve always thought it would be good to have an apostle or prophet around to preach to us about God’s Word.  I think how great it would have been to have lived in the age where spiritual gifts like prophecy and tongues still existed.  What could be better than being that person directly inspired by God?  Actually, there is something better.  Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:31: “But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way.”  What was better than spiritual gifts?  He explains in 13:8-12: “Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail [or vanish]; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part. 10 But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.”

Spiritual gifts were given to maintain an immature church (1 Corinthians 2:4-6), but Paul promised there was something coming that was better and more complete.  Something perfect, the Bible.  When the written word was completed there was no long need for these gifts.  Nothing is better than the Bible.

The Bible was written to provide the Word of God in a way that no other medium could accomplish.  Luke mentions the value of the written word when he explains the reason he wrote his gospel.  Luke 1:3-4: “… it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, 4 that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed.”  The Apostle John says something very similar. John 20:30-31: “And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.”  The written word is foundational to the plan of salvation.  Nothing is better than the written Word of God.

 

The Bible Must not be Resisted

Jesus’ words to the Pharisees say something very important about how we should approach and apply the Word of God.  Matthew 23:23: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.”  Some teachings in the Bible have broader consequences than other, but none should be neglected or resisted.

In Romans 14 Paul closes his comments on eating meats offered to idols with this phrase: “for whatever is not from faith is sin.”  Where does faith from come from?  Romans 10:17: “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”   Even on issues that can be unclear or controversial, our conclusions must be based on faith and that faith must be built on the Bible.  In fact, faith not built on the Bible is not faith at all.  To knowingly resist any teaching of the Bible is to reject the Word of God and endanger our souls.

What then should be our conclusion?  Revelation 1:3: “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near…”

avatar About Tad
I am a member of the Riverside Road Church of Christ in Ozark, MO, where I share the responsibility of teaching and preaching with several other men. In my secular work, I am a professor at Cox College in Springfield, MO, in the department of radiologic sciences and imaging.

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