How do we read the Bible well? Part I

1. The Goal

It usually goes without saying that, when it comes to the Bible, the goal of most Christians is to read it well in order to understand it correctly. The question that logically follows is: How can this best be done?

2. Considerations

In replying to that question I want to focus on a series of considerations—those subjects and concerns most likely to impact how anyone, and perhaps Christians in particular, approach the Bible.

These considerations arise out of such questions as: What is the Bible’s nature, and how important is to understand that nature in order to read the Bible it well? For example, how important is it to understand the original language, the genres and literary structures, the word plays and vocabulary, the historical setting and context, and any logical arguments of the Bible?

Indeed, How important is it to understand about the original texts upon which our current translations are based? Or, what about the process by which the books were written, and the process by which they were selected—or canonized—to be part of the Bible? What about the books that were “left out” of the canon?

Still more questions include: How important are you as the “reader” of the Bible? What is your role in the process of reading and What responsibilities do you have in reading (leaving aside for now the matter of appropriating and applying what you read)? Further, what is the actual process of reading? And if there is more that one way to read, how do we determine which are better (and worse)?

I want to propose to you that these questions (and many others) are important, and that their importance means that, as Christians, it is necessary to investigate and be knowledgeable about all of them, even though very few Christians will need to develop specialized knowledge about them, much less “expertise.”

Competent Bible reading takes time to develop the required skills, dispositions, and knowledge. More importantly, while competent Bible reading requires a variety of skills (such as the use of our intellect, emotions, imagination, our will, etc.), as a Christian my own aspiration to read the Bible competently is actually not intellectually motivated. Instead, competent Bible reading is motivated by a desire to enhance my relationship with God—to know and love God more.

In other words, because I view my relationship with God to be a “love relationship based on truth,” where my “pursuit of truth is oriented by (and toward) love of self and other,” so competent Bible reading helps me love God better, just as loving God better informs and orients my pursuit of truth (and so allows me to engage with myself and others more rightly).

Yet as Christians we need not be anxious about the task of becoming more competent readers but can instead eagerly anticipate good things, alongside of the hard work and sometimes frustration, as we rely on the one who inspired the Bible’s authors to come into clearer focus and fuller relationship.

So where do we start? I want to propose that the crucial starting place when considering “how to read the Bible well and understand it correctly” is ourselves. Next post I explain why.

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