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Stop "Studying" the Bible

A brief look at how we approach this ancient book...and what it was meant to be.

We’re currently in a series at , during which we’re spending four weeks teaching through a specific book of the Bible. (James, in this case.)

Whenever we do something like this, we try to inspire our people to be reading the Bible on their own along with the series. So this got me thinking about the idea of reading the Bible, and I realized we (meaning “myself at times,” “some Christ-followers,” and “some churches”) end up missing the point.

So here are a few thoughts I want to challenge you to consider when it comes to the Bible—and these are not meant to be critical of others in any way, rather they are things that I have personally learned and ways that my own perspective is changing as I continue to grow as a Christ-follower.

Let’s start with the “why” question—why do we read (or feel like we should read) the Bible?

Not-very-good motivations for reading the Bible:

1)    So I can show-off how smart I am when I go around quoting verses all the time.

2)    So I can use it as a weapon when I attack people with Bible verses & stories that I know.

3)    To get rid of that awful feeling of guilt.

4)    To make my pastor happy.

5)    To earn extra “Jesus-points” with God.

Much better motivations for reading the Bible:

1)    To get real practical wisdom and direction for real situations going on in my life.

2)    To get to know better this God that I follow.

3)    To get the words of God into my mind as steadily as I fill it with other things, so it can begin to better influence how I live.

4)    To understand more what God wants for me and how to align my life with Him.

We can also get it wrong when it comes to how we approach reading the Bible.

Not-very-good approaches to reading the Bible:

1)    I should study it like a text-book, tearing it apart verse-by-verse and word-for-word.

2)    I should always study it alone, like in private “quiet times” by myself.

3)    I should flip around and read random passages and stories.

4)    I should read as big of a chunk as I can in every sitting. (So I can get through it in a year!)

Much better approaches to reading the Bible:

1)    I should remember that it’s not a text-book to be studied, but rather a collection of stories, songs, poems, real historical accounts, parables, and personal letters. So I should read each part as it was meant to be read.

2)    While it’s great to have a regular practice of reading it alone, I should also be intentional to process it in community with other people (which is actually how the first Christ-followers always heard it—never alone, since nobody owned personal copies, but always in the company of others, where it could be discussed together).

3)    When I sit down to read it, I should read however much it takes for me to hear from God—sometimes that’s just one single verse that I can ponder all day long, and sometimes it means reading an entire book in one sitting so I can better understand the big picture of what the author wanted to communicate.

Now all this being said, I realize there are still some common barriers that keep people from engaging with the Bible more and making it a regular part of their lives. I don’t underestimate these, they are all common—and they have all been my barriers at some point—but here are a few thoughts on them:

1)    “I don’t know even where to start when it comes to reading the Bible.”

Try starting with one of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, found at the beginning of the New Testament), because these are the stories of Jesus’ life, and everything else in the Bible points to Him. Or for something shorter and super-practical, start with one of Paul’s letters (again in the New Testament), like Galatians, Ephesians, or Philippians.

2)    “When I read the Bible, I just don’t get anything out of it.”

There are lots of translations available, so find one that is easiest for you to digest. There are some that come with notes (“commentary”) about the verses that can often help you understand them better. And remember that you don’t have to always read it alone—find a small group or even a single friend to read and discuss it with.

3)    “I’ve already read a lot of the Bible and I’m pretty bored with it.”

I like to try different translations (like “The Message”) to keep it fresh. Or go through a book that I’m discussing with a small group, so add new motivation. Or read some books I’ve spent the least time in. 

I’d love to see what can happen when we are able to shift our perspective of the Bible away from being a guilt-ridden “discipline” or a textbook/owner’s manual to study. And instead, we move toward seeing it as God’s grand story of the world, a story meant to be experienced and engaged with, a story that calls us to fit our own story into it, and a story that ultimately reveals its author to us in a personal way.

Theophile July 24, 2011 at 03:23 PM
Personally I prefer the KJV, as a text file, this allows finding words or phrases for comparison. For instance if You search the word faith, You find Paul uses the word with nearly three times the frequency of the other writers combined. You also learn that Jesus and God seem to consider having faithfulness and being faithful as more important. Paul preached faith, which does seem kind of strange, seeing his conversion was undeniably supernaturally accomplished, with several witnesses, hearing the voice from heaven, sidestepping any need for belief in things unseen. James seems to of realized this and contends with Paul's version of faith, even calling it dead without proof.

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