There is nothing more important to the health of a Christian than a regular and consistent intake of the Scriptures. It is so important to spiritual vitality that I would go to say that it is near impossible to grow in Christ-likeness without the Word of Christ. However, every Christian knows the importance of reading the Bible, yet it continues to be difficult for us.
The Bible can be a very intimidating book. For one, it is big! Sixty-six books can be intimidating to us in which the most many of us read are short blog posts. To crack open the Bible to read it can feel overwhelming. As a result, due to a lack of discipline and priority many just avoid the Bible all together. We know we should be reading it and we don’t really even know how.
Get Off the Training Wheels
Enter the plethora of bible study booklets. There seems to be no end to Christian publishers creating new Bible Studies for Christians. They have bible studies marketed towards teenagers, men, women, moms, dads, senior adults, college students, and well the list goes on and on. We shouldn’t condemn these books, as they can be very helpful. Yet we must call them what they are, training wheels. You remember training wheels don’t you? When you are first riding a bike they are the wheels that you can attach to your bike to help keep you balance. Sure you can ride a bike with the training wheels, but every kid wants to get them off and keep balance himself. So although these bible study books can be helpful, we should be eager to take the training wheels off and get into the word of God on our own.
So how can you read the Bible for yourself? Well recently I taught a class to a bunch of teenagers answering that exact question. I put together a series of random but practical advice that has been helpful for me in my own discipline of reading the Word. So let me give you 15 tips to help you read the Bible for yourself. I'll give you the first seven today and I'll put the rest up in a second post!
1. Pray that God Would Give You Understanding
We greatly underestimate prayer, especially in the study of the Word. You would thin we would ask the Spirit that inspired the writers to pen Scripture for help in understanding it, but more often than not we just barge into the Bible filled with fleshly self-confidence. Yet, Spiritual truths are spiritually discerned. If we are going to read the Scriptures, we need the Spirit’s help in understanding them. Therefore, the best way to begin to read the Bible for yourself is to get on your knees each time you open it and ask God for understanding.
2. Know the Plot-line of the Bible
We must not think the Bible is a bunch of random and disconnected stories and books. The Bible tells one grand story or a meta-narrative. If you don’t understand the plot line of the Bible you will find it difficult to see how Ruth fits with the rest of the Bible. A failure to miss the grand narrative of the Bible will cause you to miss the forest for the trees. Although I don’t have time to flesh out the whole plot line of the Bible in this post, the plot line follows four basic movements:
Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration
I preached a 4-week sermon series a while back on the plot-line of the Bible. If you want to see how the Bible fits together you can listen to them here.
3. Understand the Different Genres of Scripture
If you pick up your favorite classical music albums (anyone have any of those?) what would you except? Well you’d expect complex music filled with the grandeur accompaniment of a orchestra. If you grabbed a good jazz album what would you find? A repetitive yet complex chord structure filled with extended improvised saxophone or trumpet solos. If you picked up your favorite rap album what would you find? Well a heavy beat, with quick and rhythmic beat. I think you get the point.
Each of these are musical genres with their own different style of music. You would do yourself a great injustice to listen to R&B in the same way you listen to a country song. They are two completely different categories often focusing on different themes and instruments. Just as there are many genres of music, there are often many genres of literature.
The Bible features all sorts of different genres from poetry, to lament, to narrative, to law, to epistle, to apocalyptic, and the list could go on. If you try to read the book of Leviticus like a poem, you just are not going to understand the book. In the same way if you try to read Song of Solomon like the book of Acts you will misunderstand it. Know the different genres of scripture and study how to interpret them better.
4. Learn the Historical Background of the Books
The books of the Bible were written to a particular people in a particular context. If you ignore the original context you will lose a great deal of meaning or worse misinterpret the text. It is important to learn the historical background of each book. For example, if you are reading one of the minor prophets, at which point is the writing taking place in the history of Israel? Is it before the exile or after?
Another great example is Lamentations. You might read that book and you might begin to wonder what has this guy so bummed out? Well Jeremiah is writing shortly after Jerusalem has been destroyed by the Babylonians. He is in mourning and in grief. If you don’t know the historical background what you read will largely make little sense.
Well you might be asking, how can I learn the historical background of the different books of the Bible, well that leads us to the next point.
5. Get a Good Study Bible
A good study Bible can be a great tool for anyone trying to read the Bible. I still regularly consult mine for help. My study Bible of choice is the ESV Study Bible. It is a great resource. A good study Bible will tell you the background of each book your reading including the setting and even a basic outline of that particular book. It can be helpful for you to catch the big picture before you start reading the individual verses.
In addition, study Bibles provide brief commentary underneath the text of Scripture. This can be helpful, especially if you are just completely confused about a verse, but be careful not to use it as a crutch. The goal is to get off the training wheels, not replace them with a newer model.
6. Read a Book on How to Interpret the Bible
If you are trying to take your Bible study seriously, why not read a book on how to read the Bible? A lot of what I’m discussing in this post is described in much greater detail in other books. The field of biblical interpretation is called hermeneutics. In addition to some great academic works there are also a few easier books written for the lay level. I’d recommend to you How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth and Grasping God’s Word.
Come back tomorrow for part 2 of this post!