How should we read the Bible? What questions, techniques, and assumptions can we bring to allow us to infallibly discover what Scripture “really says”? There is no magic. There is no guarantee. If there was some inviolable formula, we probably would have discovered it by now. Or, since God desires for us to know the truth, perhaps he would have included it as an appendix in our Bibles.
In the last few posts, I have been examining how we read and how we ought to read. Prayerful reading is good, large-chunk “survey” reading is good, and memorizing is good, but nothing is foolproof. There are pitfalls with any approach.
I was reproved by my wife a reader after my last post for advocating practices that could promote individualistic interpretation. It was a fruitful conversation. Yes, telling people to privately pray through texts can lead to the dangers of individual interpretation. On the other hand, it can allow us to be be convicted about certain things we may not want to discuss in our small group study.
Do I advocate this method because I am an INTJ and I deplore group projects? Perhaps. I can’t deny that. I don’t totally hate working with others, but I don’t like working with others when work only occurs during the group meetings. Everyone should bring something to the table. If you’re going to be in a Bible study, do some study before you come.
Much of my writing and thoughts on reading Scripture is reactionary to what I see in the church. If I fell into a church that was heavy on private prayer for interpretation, I would likely be advocating coming together to talk about it more.
That is possibly the real key here. There is no one method; we need multiple methods. We need to hear, to read, to pray, to study, to meditate, to contemplate. Then we need to come back again later and do it all over again. Scripture doesn’t change, but we do. Our context does. We have different experiences and different struggles. Miraculously, this one book seems to have something to say about all of it.
We need the Holy Spirit, both in ourselves and speaking through others. We need the church, past and present. God didn’t give us a handbook because handbooks can be used as needed and then set aside. How often do you consult the owner’s manual for your car? Not very often, if you are like most people. Occasionally, perhaps when some new light illumines your dash or you’re trying to remember how to do something like replace a tail light.
But Scripture is not like that. It is a daily source of guidance, comfort, correction, and hope. If someone came to me asking for direction on how to approach Scripture, after finding out what they are currently doing, I would suggest they add something different.
Do you typically just read a chapter per day? Sit down on a Saturday or Sunday and read an entire book. Do you read the Bible through every year? Read a book through every week or month. Do you approach the Bible as an academic? Try more prayer and emotion.
We cannot exhaust the richness of Scripture. It informs our prayers and our conduct. Until we are perfect as he is perfect, we must keep reading and applying.