You’ve heard it said before that meaning is all in how the text is read. The law is often like that One reading may convince someone the law means one thing and another something else entirely. It takes courts to sort the various possible readings out and even then the meaning is bound up in the way the Judge thought the law should be read.
I think everyone who goes to church routinely, as a matter of conviction about the existence of the God of the Bible believes that the Bible has something important to say. I wouldn’t think that any of them think it’s a bad idea to read the Bible. But how it’s read is the important thing.
For a long time there were people who believed only those who were specially trained, who spoke and read a special language should read the Bible and then tell everyone else what it said. But now the Bible is available in just about every language known to man and in just about every conceivable shape, format, color and design. On the web, in a book, on scrolls, in an app, as an audio file, on video, it’s everywhere.
And everyone is an expert on the Bible. Everywhere you turn there is someone who for a small sum or even for free, will tell you what the Bible means or doesn’t mean. On the radio, TV, internet, in person at a church, synagogue, mosque, or meeting hall.
We listen to and read a lot of what those people say (look what you’re doing now), but do we read the Bible itself? If something purports to be the very word of the Creator of the Universe and contain the answer to Life the Universe and Everything (it’s not 42) it should at least get a quick once over?
And if we do, how do we read it? Is it a duty perfunctorily and grudgingly performed? Are we doing it as a talisman or for mystical purposes, perhaps to ward off sickness or other things we’d rather not have happen to us? Do we use it like the I Ching or a Ouija board, opening it to random passages and letting God direct us to a verse (don’t laugh, I know people who do that)?
Do we read it to justify our actions or say I told you so to another? Do we read it as an intellectual pursuit in history, philosophy or theology? Do we read it to one up others with our knowledge or prove our personal piety? Do we read it like W. C. Fields purportedly did on his deathbed, looking for loopholes?
Naturally you’d figure I would have some thoughts on how we should read the Bible and I do, but I would preface them by saying that since God interacts with us individually, he permits our differences to color how he relates to us. In other words, your mileage may vary.
If what God wants with us is relationship, for us to live together with Him as His children and share His life then that relationship will have many of the characteristics of our relationships with people. One thing people in relationships do is get to know each other by, wait for it, talking to each other. Have you asked your child if they are dating someone and they responded, “No, we’re just talking”? How successful are relationships where one party does all the talking?
Toby Keith asks that question.
If prayer is us talking to God, how are we supposed to hear from Him? How do we hear Him speak?
Now we know that through history God has spoken in many ways. He has spoken and continues to speak through nature. All of creation points to its Creator in ways subtle and grand. He has spoken through angels and through ordinary people.
He spoke to us completely in the person of His Son, Jesus, of whom it was written that the Word was made flesh and lived with us. Of Himself Jesus said that if we have seen Him we have seen the Father. In other words He was the exact likeness of God, THE complete revelation of who and what God is.
But talking with someone means we need to be able to rely on communication from them. Jesus is no longer with us in the flesh. Angels, in my experience, are rare. You can’t always trust what people say as coming from God and nature, while it shows the majesty of the Creator, leaves out a lot of detail.
2 Timothy 3:16 says “All Scripture is God-breathed…”. One’s breath is a very personal thing so I take that verse to mean that all of scripture has its source in God’s person, that it is the very word of God. There is no other place where we are GUARANTEED to hear from God.
So how are we to read the Bible? As God’s side of an ongoing conversation with us the ends of which (both His and ours) are to create and sustain a relationship that leads to sharing His life. That’s a mouthful, but its the relationship that is important. How can we have a relationship with somebody we only talk at and never converse with?
How about us? How are we reading the Bible? Are we reading it as an opportunity ot have a conversation with the Creator of everything who wants to be in relationship with us?