Reading the Bible

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. 2 Tim 3:16-17 ESV

Even if you think Christianity is not for you, historians frequently return to the Bible as a reliable source of history. Politicians, and moralists recognise the Bible as an astonishing source of wisdom and guidance.

Praying before you read is a great start, most people pray whatever their beliefs. If you’re new to the Bible or the concept of Christianity try praying to God. Take a risk with this Holy book and message, and with a sincere heart ask God to open your heart and mind. The Bible talks a lot about wisdom, so clearly God want’s people to have their faith rooted in understanding.

Lectio Divina; a dynamic way of reading the Bible has been happening since the first century.

It is a four-step approach:

  • Reading
  • Meditation
  • Prayer
  • Contemplation

After which (with an open heart) you will start hearing God's voice.

Lectio Divina enables you to mull over God's words quietly, slowly and intently until you begin to understand the mind of God and respond to what God is saying. Vitally it connects your life's joys, struggles and hopes with the heart and mind of God.

Getting Stuck in.

Find an easy to read version like the Good News version or the Message (these are 'dynamic relevance' versions which are explained in the section on Bible translations). Reading the text with an open mind may present you with information you didn’t previously know, and it will certainly challenge your ideas about the way many people live today. After this you might want to try less of a summary styled Bible and explore the English Standard Version (ESV) or the New International Version (NIV). If you have a background in reading 16th Century English the KJV or NKJV are excellent ‘formal relevance’ versions. Be mindful that they contain many nuances that would be much more understandable and unambiguous to a 16th Century reader, than a modern English reader today. 

If you get stuck (as everybody does) it will probably be because of your hermeneutical method or to do with context or customs and behaviour in the Bible that doesn't sit well in our modern cultures. Topics like sexual diversity, war and the role of men and women. Find someone you trust in a church that displays what is called the 'fruit of the spirit'. This simply means they show evidence for what the Bible teaches us to do: to love, pray, worship, heal and support others. Simply being a nice polite gentle person is no indication of spiritually. Consult your the vicar, pastor or church leader(s) and ask about any questions you have with the text and ask for suggestions regarding methods for reading, as well as relevant cross reference passages from the Bible, that help to frame the subject your asking about. Hermeneutics is a complicated word that simply means the way we interpret. This is explained in the glossary. In very simplified terms (from an orthodox perspective) the following points show clear, encouraging, safe and reliable methods of interpretation (which relate to the interpretive principles taught by Jewish scholars):

Read the text and try to understand it in the simple way that it has been written. A kind of, 'it is what it is' and it 'means simply what it says' kind of way. This is the foundational reading level and can not be contradicted. Jews call this the Peshat (plain) level of exegesis.

If a passage from the Bible makes you think about something else that is related, but is either allegorical or metaphoric to the passage, it is generally ok to take this as a valid reading and even share your ideas with another person; just as long as it doesn't conflict with the first simple reading above. This is related to the Hebrew Remaz and Deresh levels of exegesis, these are to do with metaphor, allegory and homiletic levels for deeper enquiry.

Lastly if you feel God is actually speaking to you through a passage or the text, that’s great - on one condition: that it does not conflict with the previous methods of reading or the principles of the Bible. In other-words Jewish scholars agree that God never is in conflict with the text.

Studying

Relax! Some people find it difficult to remember 'chapters and verses' or even to read at all. It is important to understand that the Bible is actually an aural tradition, not necessarily a written one. Also, chapters were added to the Bible (Vulgate) by Stephen Langton in the 12th/13th Century and then later into verses in the 16th Century. So if you are non-technical or logical thinking person don't worry verses are not really that important, except for referencing. It is far more important to understand the message of the text, to have it as a living and organic body of knowledge within your heart. In truth any old fool can quote scripture, without understanding the heart of God on a matter. One of the most important ways of learning is to listen to the Bible, and today is this is very easy indeed. You can do it now, by clicking on the resources page and selecting one of the third party Bible programs.



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