How should we approach the Bible?
So if the Bible is indeed an old and at least in part strange and challenging book that was written by very intelligent people who were inspired by God himself, what does that mean for us as readers?
It means, first of all, that we should approach the Bible with great humility and respect, recognizing that as sinful human beings we need divine help as we read and study it. Let me say it again: we should approach the Bible with great humility and respect!
Fair enough, you say. But what does that look like in practice? Here are some ideas:
- Rather than thinking we can understand the Bible on our own, we recognize our great need for divine help.
- Rather than thinking that we know the Bible or a certain text, we recognize that we still have much to learn.
- Rather than judging biblical texts based on our opinions and/or prejudices, we come ready and willing to listen and to be taught.
- Rather than reading biblical texts only in a casual, superficial way (or not at all), we read them carefully and respectfully.
- Rather than taking texts out of context, we seek to understand them within their context.
- Rather than using the text for our agenda, we seek to discover the author’s agenda.
- Rather than rushing to apply the text as quickly as possible, we take time to actually study it.
All of this may seem obvious to you. But unfortunately (at least in my experience) this way of approaching the Bible is, generally speaking, more the exception than the norm. Way too many people and even believers do not approach the Bible like this. It’s a real problem! A HUGE problem! But here’s the good news: it doesn’t have to stay that way, because YOU can do something about it. If you haven’t read the Bible like this before, you can start today. And you can motivate others to join you. Come humbly! Respect the text!
As I already suggested, one way of showing respect for the text is to take time to read and study it. If the Bible is indeed a very old and sometimes foreign book written by highly intelligent people and inspired by God himself, we need to spend serious time with it in order to understand it correctly and to discover really amazing things.
Check out this quote:
The Bible contains all the principles that men need to understand in order to be fitted either for this life or for the life to come. And these principles may be understood by all. No one with a spirit to appreciate its teaching can read a single passage from the Bible without gaining from it some helpful thought. But the most valuable teaching of the Bible is not to be gained by occasional or disconnected study. Its great system of truth is not so presented as to be discerned by the hasty or careless reader. Many of its treasures lie far beneath the surface, and can be obtained only by diligent research and continuous effort.
Ellen G. White, Education, 123
Did you catch that? There’s a grand system of truth in the Bible! There are treasures in this book! And it’s possible to find them!
But here’s the thing: most of the time, we won’t find these treasures in passing. We usually won’t find them after five or ten minutes – especially if we’re just starting to read the Bible attentively. We need to invest time and effort. Again and again. In other words, we need persistence. And we need patience. Not super popular, I know. Patience is not “in” these days, because we’re used to getting things fast and without much effort: fast food, fast computers, fast internet, same day delivery, on demand video and music, instant access, instant messaging, Instagram. The faster the better.
But if we want to find treasures in the Bible, if we want to discover the incredible beauty and depth this book has to offer, if we want to find the God this book is all about, we have to slow down. We have to take time for the text. We have to be patient.
Sounds hard? It can be, if we’re not used to it. But the more we do it, the easier it becomes. Especially if we have a deep desire to know and understand more. It’s a desire that expects more from the text, that is not satisfied with a superficial knowledge of the Bible. This desire can be like an engine that keeps us moving even when we don’t understand everything right away, when things don’t make sense (yet). It helps us to humbly and patiently press on as we seek to understand God and His Word better and better.
If this desire is like an engine, what’s the fuel that keeps it running? I believe the fuel is a daily relationship with the ultimate Author of the Bible. If God is an important part of my life, then I will be interested in the Bible as well. If I take time for God, I’ll take time for the Bible. If I truly love God, I’ll naturally want to know more about what he has revealed in Scripture. I’ll develop a deep desire to understand the Bible better and better.
Spiritual things are spiritually discerned, says the apostle Paul in 1 Cor 2:14. That means that the most important prerequisite to understanding the Bible better is to be a spiritually minded person, i.e. a person that loves God and regularly spends time with him. If you don’t have such a personal relationship with God yet, I encourage you to invite him into your life. You can do so right now.
In case you need more information or you’re unsure how to go about this, I want to recommend to you the book Steps to Christ. This is a great book that will show you step by step how you can start a personal relationship with God. If you don’t want to buy the book, you can also read it online.