You Read That Wrong


The Princess Bride is one of my favorite movies. There is so much to like about it, but the interactions between the grandson played by a young Fred Savage and the grandpa by Peter Faulk are a key part to the movie’s charm. The first time Grandpa reads that Buttercup and Humperdinck were married, the Grandson objects.

Grandpa: “The King died that very night, and before the following dawn, Buttercup and Humperdinck were married. And at noon she met her subjects again, this time as their Queen.”

Humperdinck: “My father’s final words were:…”

Grandson: “Hold it, hold it, Grandpa. Y-you read that wrong. She doesn’t marry Humperdinck, she marries Westley. I’m just sure of it. After all that Westley did for her, if she didn’t marry him, it wouldn’t be fair.”

Hold that thought. Now, grab this as well:

You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.

John 5:39-40 (ESV)

Allow me to paraphrase. “Hold it, Pharisees. These scrolls, you’re reading them wrong. They aren’t about you, they are about me.” And perhaps we make the same mistake. The Scriptures are not about us, but about God — the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit — and his work. We search the Scriptures for lots of information, but not all of it is to be found in the manner we wish. The Bible is not a reference book or an instruction manual. It is more than a collection of historical stories.

The critical upheaval of the last century has convinced the layman that the Bible is a subtle and difficult book, put together piecemeal, out of all chronological order, repetitive, contradictory, and translated through two or three languages at least. Yet he is still glibly exhorted “to read it,” just like that. He is still offered the delusion that there is a kind of devotional magic about “Bible reading” and that to read it through from Genesis to Revelation “once in the year” is a sure passport to heaven. When the “Word of God” was unfamiliar to the English laity, when vernacular Scriptures were new, and when they were supposed to consist of simple propositional truths about daily conduct, then “reading the Bible” was the logical thing to do. But if the Bible is an immensely complex record of God’s revelation of himself to mankind, then just “reading” is surely inadequate. How is it to be read, studied, approached, or used, for lay devotion?¹

Are we reading it wrong? There are compelling cases out there that indicate we may be. How can we read the Scriptures properly for personal devotion? How do we approach our own sacred text in a manner that is both appropriate and worthwhile? The questions we ask when we approach a book will dictate what we find within it. Are we bringing the right questions? Or are our questions leading us to find what may not be there?

Thornton suggests, “…the faithful Christian, reading his Bible, should ask: ‘What does this tell me about my prayer, which is the basis of my life?'”² Notice, the question is not, “What does the Bible tell me about prayer?” but about my prayer. I want to spend some time over the next several posts considering this question and some answers he gives.

¹ Martin Thornton. English Spirituality: an Outline of Ascetical Theology. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1986 p. 31

² ibid. p. 39

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