How To Read The Bible
The story is told of a young lady who was lent a book by a close friend. She tried very hard to read it through, understand and enjoy it, but failed completely. Then one day she met a young man. They became acquainted, fell in love with each other, and were soon engaged to be married. It turned out that he was the author of the book she thought was so dull and difficult! With a completely different outlook she again took up the book, discovering that her changed relationship with the author made the book both interesting and understandable. Furthermore, where the book was not clear to her, she could consult the author as to the meaning.
To begin to understand and appreciate the Bible you must first come to know and love the Author through the new birth (see John 1:11-13; 3:3 and 7). Then, always and at any time, you can consult Him about the meaning of His Word.
However, even to many Christians the Bible is a dull Book, and it is our present purpose to suggest how the Bible should be read in order that it might become to YOU personally the Living and Powerful Book that it is.
First of all, the Bible should be read
How many meals do you have in a week? Two? Of course not! Generally, we all have three meals a day and often some in-between snacks. Now, just as we daily, and at set times, minister to our physical needs, we should in a similar way minister to our spiritual needs by feeding on the Word of God, and thereby to feed on Christ Himself, the “Bread of Life” (see John 6:51-58). Some people just enjoy the Bible on Sunday, but such are not by any means strong Christians. If we would be strong Christians we must daily, preferably at the beginning of the day, feed on God’s Word. To get a few snacks through the day as time permits and then to close out the day by reading some portion from it will serve to further enlighten, enrich and enable us in our individual life in Christ (cf. 2 Pet. 2:2). The Bible alone is the Book to live by, and it is the only sure and safe written Guide in life, especially in this present day and age when there are so many false guides abroad throughout the world.
Then, the Bible should be read
The moment a sinner is born again through simple faith in Christ the Holy Spirit comes to forever indwell him, and He it is who is our Teacher to “guide … into all truth” (John 16:13; see also 14:16, 26; 16:12-15). We should be completely yielded to the Spirit of God and ready to hear His voice when we open God’s Word, and our reading should be characterized by at least three things. First, we should read with reverence. In other words, we should respect and regard the Bible for what it is —the WORD OF GOD. Secondly, we should read with expectation. There is an old saying which goes something like this: “Blessed is he that expecteth nothing, for he shall not be disappointed.” This adage may have its place in some areas of life, for instance, in the area of political promises made by vote-conscious candidates, but it has absolutely no place in the life of the Christian as he opens the pages of his Bible. When we come to God’s Word it should always be with the realization that it is His revealed will, the Word of Truth, and to read and receive it in an attitude of simple childlike trust, expecting the Lord to speak to us. Finally, we should read with prayer. Christ has promised, “Ask, and it shall be given you …” (Matt. 7:7), and the practically-minded James has chided, “… ye have not, because ye ask not” (Jas. 4:2). A good verse to prayerfully use upon opening the Word of God is Psalm 119:18: “Open Thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of Thy law,” a familiar text to the members of “The Scripture Union.”
Next, the Bible should be read
By this we mean slowly. Plenty of time should be allowed for reading the Bible. To read it hurriedly is like rushing through a meal —it is but half digested and assimilated (see Isa. 1:3). Learn a lesson from the cow. She slowly chews her cud, passing her food from one stomach to the other for digestion. Slow digestion of God’s Word is necessary. True, it is a good idea to read the Bible through every year by taking two chapters in the Old Testament and one in the New Testament every weekday, and three of the Old and two of the New on Sundays. But it is more important to read it slowly and systematically in small portions, and thereby avoid haphazard, random reading.
One of my university professors once told us about an older man who to him seemed especially wise in all his ways. When he asked the elderly man his secret the old gentleman said that during his life he had read the Bible through several times, meditating at least a minute on every verse.
Fourthly, the Bible should be read
Particular care should be taken in our reading of God’s Word. Just as a scholar ponders a weighty and impressive looking secular textbook, so the Christian must carefully ponder his sacred Textbook, the Bible. The Bible is not all bread and milk; much of it is “strong meat” (Heb. 5:13-14). Therefore, in our reading of it, surely no less diligence should be applied than in our reading of textbooks dealing with mathematics, chemistry, physics, the Classics, language study, and the like (see 2 Pet. 3:16).
Also, as we read, it’s a good idea to keep a notebook in order to jot down at least some of the fruits of our reading. I have learned the hard way that “the world’s worst ink is better than the world’s best memory.”
Still further, we should read the Bible
It has been rightly said that “A text without a context is a pretext.” Always seek to read the Scriptures with the context in mind. It was John Wycliffe who, in the 14th century, expressed it this way:
“It shall greatly helpe ye to understande the Scripture,
If thou mark
Not only what is spoken or wrytten,
With what words,
But of whom,
And to whom,
At what time,
To what intent,
With what circumstances,
Considering what goeth before
And what followeth.”
Sixthly, read the Word of God
Always seek to obtain God’s message to you personally. Like Jacob of old, who wrestled with God at the brook Jabbok, we also need to, as it were, wrestle with God. Do not cease reading or meditating on the particular passage before you until the Lord has spoken and given you something to think about and fortify you through the day, keeping in mind an especially important truth as you read — namely, that the Old Testament is God’s illustration book of the New Testament lesson book (see 1 Cor. 10:11).
Finally, we should read the Bible
When God has spokent to YOU in and through His written Word, remember, it is your responsibility to obey and thereby carry out His Word in your everyday conduct and conversation.
Over the past decade or so there has been a virtual avalanche of new translations of the Scriptures, and they are still coming off the presses. On my study desk I keep no less than seven translations, plus my Greek New Testament. In Christian circles, at least, the question often comes up, “What is the best translation of the Bible?” Unequivocally, the best translation of the Bible is a man or woman living a godly life in obedience to God’s Word (see Heb. 5:8 with 1 Pet. 2:21). Also, let us remember that as we carry out His Word, the Lord Jesus Christ always goes with us (Matt. 28:20; Heb. 13:8).
In response to the questioning of a young Christian who earnestly confided to G. R. Harding Wood of Great Britain that he found the Bible dull, Mr. Wood came forth with a splendid yet simple answer centering around four of the many relationships the believer enters into with the Lord Jesus Christ at the moment of salvation. To all, whether or not this young person’s problem has been yours as well, he has suggested that we should read the Bible:
1. COMPLETELY, as Part of the Bride of Jesus (just as a bride reads a love-letter).
2. CONSTANTLY, as A Traveler to the Home of Jesus.
3. CAREFULLY, as A Scholar in the School of Jesus.
4. CONSCIENTIOUSLY, as A Soldier in the Army of Jesus.
The saintly and gifted F. B. Meyer gave this word of advice:
“Read the Bible, not as a newspaper, but as a home letter. If a cluster of heavenly fruit hangs within reach, gather it. If a promise lies upon the page as a blank check, cash it. If a prayer is recorded, appropriate it, and launch it as a feathered arrow from the bow of your desire. If an example of holiness gleams before you, ask God to do as much for you. If the truth is revealed in all its intrinsic splendor, entreat that its brilliance may ever irradiate the hemisphere of your life.”
— from “Choice Gleanings” Calendar
If these, along with the other suggestions we have given on how to read the Bible, are really put to use and into practice the reading of the Bible will not be dull, or a duty, but truly delightful, resulting in genuine spiritual dividends.
G. R. Harding Wood, Enjoy Your Bible, pp. 17-21.