Following on from the Ten Rules of Biblical Interpretation, below is some more good advice on how to read the bible. This is taken from Tektronics

Bible: The User’s Manual


Or, What to Do with Your Sacred Text

James Patrick Holding


A reader has made an excellent suggestion for a practical piece on “how to use your Bible”. It’s a good idea, because as this reader noted, some today use the Bible as some sort of talisman or even a roulette wheel. I recall one example of this from Pat Robertson (the very sort of person we should NOT listen to for this sort of advice) who, when trying to decide on whether or not to relocate, asked God to show him and then flipped his Bible open, landing his finger on a passage that was a military instruction to “go north” — so he relocated! The absurdity of this method is illustrated by the joke about the man who used the same tactic to decide whether or not to commit suicide, and landed on the passages, “And Judas went and hanged himself” and “go ye and do likewise”!

It may be best (and here, I am indebted to the form of the reader’s questions somewhat) to lay this out in terms of “do” and “don’t” admonitions.

Do:

  • Memorize texts. As the reader noted, David memorized the Bible so that he would not sin against God. If it’s the Word of God, or even if it’s just an authoritative text, it makes sense to do as you would for any other text you consider important, and memorize important bits of it. There’s a caveat to this, however: It’s not enough to simply be able to recite (it never is, any time, for any text) but one must also know what the text means. In fact, I’d say that it’s far more important to memorize meaning and message than it is to memorize words. Indeed, if you have a poor “playback” memory (as I do) that may be your ONLY alternative. The point is that if you are someone who has arrived at the conclusion that the Bible is an important document, memorization of it by some means (textual or conceptual or both) simply makes sense as a means of use — and it’s also supported Biblically (as noted), and reflects as well ancient use of it and other texts.
  • Check references. As the reader noted, The Bereans used the OT to check up on Paul’s teachings. This is also a common sense point for a Christian; if it’s the manual for the faith, you obviously check it when someone makes claims based on it! The caveat yet again is that knowing meaning of texts, and how to interpret, has to be part of this; otherwise we turn into Tom Paines who ignorantly accuse the NT writers of misusing the OT (not being aware of Jewish exegetical methods of the NT era), or into Unitarians who just read the text in English devoid of any context and come up with screeds against the Trinity by using decontextualized proof texts.
  • Investigate context. Read it like a newspaper? Bosh, as that advice is meant to be taken. It’s a complex document with forms ranging from a treaty to Greco-Roman rhetoric. If you don’t know who wrote it and why and to what circumstances, it won’t speak to you at all (and sadly, many prefer options in our “do not” section below to this sort of sound examination!). And if you don’t have a reasonable grip on this where any passage is concerned, then frankly, you have no business quoting it to others. (Some passages admittedly are easier to grasp than others, but the point remains the same, and don’t be deceived into thinking you have grasped a passage because you easily came up with a way to read it). What it boils down to is that you don’t show a text respect unless you know what it is saying.
  • Interact with others on what you read and determine. Iron sharpens iron. If you may be in error, do this for correction; if you are in the right, you will benefit others. This “sharing” also extends to interaction with those in the know about interpretation and exegesis (commentaries, or at the very least, more than one translation in a pinch).
  • Read it “Christocentrically”. Meaning, more or less, recognize God’s overall plan, or take a long view; and thus avoid such niggling ideas as, “Boy, OT sacrifice sure seemed like a waste of time!”
  • We all bring presuppositions to the text, it’s a necessary evil (e.g. the definitions of English words, for instance, would be presuppositions). But the diligent Bible student will, upon reading a Biblical text that conflicts with his presumptions, revise the latter to be in more conformance with the former.

Do not:

  • Treat it like a Ouiji board. This is the sort of thing Pat Robertson did. I’m not talking here about normal reading practice of flipping open just to read, but for the purpose of divining messages from the text. Not to say God can’t speak to you like that (it’s obviously possible theoretically), but is has no basis in history or precedent. This also goes for when regular reading is done and it is claimed that certain verses “jump out” at you. Perhaps they do — thanks to conscience rather than God. But don’t put the jump ahead of the careful step of exegesis and application.
  • Treat it like a telephone or like the oracle at Delphi. Yes, we do believe that the Bible contains messages received through God’s prophets; but what I refer to here is what our reader referred to as reading the Bible as “a means to experiencing a closer relationship with God.” This is a symptom of the Christian myth that God is our “buddy”.
  • Read it in bite size pieces irrelevant to context. Unless you have some reason to do so, it’s not a good idea to divide and read by chapters. The chapters were not in the original, and they only sometimes correspond with proper breaks in the story. Look for good narrative or argumentative breaks instead; that is, unless you’re one of those sorts of people (and many are) who can easily pick up reading anywhere you have left off without losing track of context.
  • Feel obliged to read the Bible “in order,” or completely over a whole year, etc. Here’s some surprising news: You can limit the amount of time spent reading books like Leviticus and Esther. These books SHOULD be read, and understood in their context, but not as often by far as those of more relevance. One of the great mistakes of current Sunday School and devotional literature is to try to fit in these books into reading programs as frequently as more impactful books like Romans. This ends up creating lessons that “force” meaning onto texts where none such is intended (since teachers struggle to make the texts relevant, rather than employing serious contextual study which may not be as relevant).
  • Force meaning into texts. This is a habit of many modern pastors who have no concern for original intent of the Biblical authors. If a text’s first context does not support a given view, it ought not be used — period. Now a caveat here is that it can be said, “Didn’t the NT use the OT without regard for context?” Yes, and that was normal exegetical method for the period. The problem is that you need a “license” to exegete that way — either prophetic inspiration or else an act of God (like the resurrection of Jesus). If you don’t have these, tread this territory at your own risk.

Related Post

Ten Rules of Biblical Interpretation,

Advertisements
Comments
  1. Louis says:

    Personally, I feel that it should be read as mythology.

  2. jfranklin6 says:

    No, the Bible is the True, infallible, inerrant, God-Breathed Scripture.

    But as to the post, I agree with all but:

    “Feel obliged to read the Bible “in order,” or completely over a whole year, etc. Here’s some surprising news: You can limit the amount of time spent reading books like Leviticus and Esther. These books SHOULD be read, and understood in their context, but not as often by far as those of more relevance. One of the great mistakes of current Sunday School and devotional literature is to try to fit in these books into reading programs as frequently as more impactful books like Romans. This ends up creating lessons that “force” meaning onto texts where none such is intended (since teachers struggle to make the texts relevant, rather than employing serious contextual study which may not be as relevant).”

    All scripture is relevant, all scripture is about Christ. All scripture preaches the Gospel, even Exodus. Leviticus is great bedrock and MUST be understood or you will miss the majority of the new testament, remember they only had the old. I would like to recommend to you Dr. Fee’s “For All It’s Worth” plenary sessions, as he explains quite well why this is so.

    http://www.uu.edu/centers/biblical/events/2005/schedule.htm

  3. Alan Higgins says:

    jfranklin6 thanks for your comments. I agree with you but I dont fully understand your comment. I dont think it is saying that you dont have to read it because I think you have to read the old testament books like leviticus to understand the new

    • michael m says:

      Allan as you mentioned Leviticus this could illustrate your point if it is correct.
      The reason why ‘ there was no room at the Inn ‘ (or space in the room ) is often shown as just because of the pressure on space due to the census .?.
      But if we read Leviticus 12: 1 and 2 we find the Law had rules for women who gave birth . A separaton was required because she deemed ‘unclean’.
      If we look at Leviticus 15: 19 – 23 if a woman has an issue of blood then other reasons for separation and also complications for others if there is contact with them and items she uses and furnishings . Giving birth also brings issues of blood ?.
      So their was a need to be separate from others and probably a convenient room used at times as a stable was clean and available as the animals may have been out . ?

      What do you think ?. I owe the line of thought to the publications of the Open Bible Trust and the Bible as I had to do my own research and to God as He provided both !.

  4. jfranklin6 says:

    What I mean to say is that no part of Scripture is to be given priority over another. The Bible should be read in its entirety, over and over, so that we become so familiar with it that our very patterns of speech and illustrations form from it. Also by reading it in order, note that I would recommend the original Jewish old testament order of books, it helps in our interpretation of the Word.

    If however we read more heavily, or only, in a certain part of Scripture or type of literature, we then have an unbalance view and/or belief of Scripture and therefore of God Himself.

    I would also agree with Dr. Fee that you should read each book in one sitting, yes this is a bear with some, so that you get a better idea of the flow and thinking of the book. Then you can go back and study individual parts in order so as to not take anything out of context.

    Basically it is like exegesis within a larger exegesis of the whole of the Bible. We must understand the flow as well as the content of redemptive history in order to systematize the information from it.

  5. Alan Higgins says:

    I agree with you and disagree with you (only slightly). For example I am sure you do not spend the same amount of time in the geneolgies as say, the epistles or the gospels or other old testament texts. It is not that these are less important in any way but I totally understand where you are coming from

  6. jfranklin6 says:

    While you have a good point about the geneologies, that is not to say that it should be so. Both are God’s Word, it is more a matter of how are we to meditate on both the riveting and the boring, in our tainted view, so that we are more conformed to the mind of Christ.

    And yes, this is a goal to which I still must strive, I think until Christ will send for me, or His return, whichever comes first.

  7. Alan Higgins says:

    I suppose even the geneolgies have a lot of life that our natural minds may not comprehend and it is only through the Holy Spirit that we can access the treasures that lies therein

  8. Douglas K. Adu-Boahen says:

    I’ve been following a series by a good friend of mine, Duncan Forbes, on how to read the Bible. He does a very good job working through the Old Testament. You can find the series on Google Video, and I posted the first part here:

    http://blackreformingkid.wordpress.com/2008/07/19/how-to-read-the-book-of-genesis/

  9. michael m says:

    There is sooooo much in the Bible that should keep the spiritual man happily occupied in a lifetime. But , if you like me read and reread and occupy in the familiar parts we miss much what the Bible has to say TO us , even though parts may not be ABOUT us . But , as is said , ALL the Bible is FOR us ; for our learning about God and about ourselves .
    .
    How about this then . I read an article a preach concerning and headed ‘Ziba and Mephibosheth’ . I wonder what you might make of that if asked to speak about it or them or the lesson to be learned ?. Many things in the Old Testament are types and shadows of realities that were to come ?.
    As an example if you look at the list of subjects covered by http://www.SGAT.ORG built up over years by men immersed in the Bible, it might make you/me realise there is so much more of the word of life to feed on and keep us satisfied . ?
    And we might not be like so many young people who say they ‘are bored ‘ or worse old people who say ‘there is nothing to live for ‘ .
    I think the worse which I hear so often is from an older person is, ‘ There is nothing to live for ; no future ; all I want to do is go to bed and never wake up ‘ It’s so sad ; and worse , there appears nothing I can do to help because at some point in her life she may have made a sad choice and her only or usual mention of the God as she imagiins, is railing against or bordering on blasphemy .
    How different this could be if she had faith and Christ in her heart and the word of God to bless her daily . ?.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s