Do you have trouble reading the Bible?

17 Jul

Do you feQuestions signpost in the skyel lost in the Bible’s pages? Do you find it hard to understand the general flow and sequence of events? Do you often wonder what one story has to do with the big picture? Here are two common reasons for the trouble you are having and two simple solutions to help you grow in your understanding of God’s Word and, hopefully, in your relationship with Jesus Christ.

  1. LACK OF TIME SPENT IN THE WORD

Whether baseball or biology, math or mechanics, relationships or a RubixTM cube, the more time we spend engaging something, the better we understand and appreciate it. If you want to understand the Bible, then you must spend time in its pages. Read it. Think about it. Meditate on it. Talk about it. Ask about it. Learn about it. How much time are you spending with God in his Word? …with God’s gift that reveals his nature, heart, his Son Jesus, and his will for you?

Scripture unmasks the problems in the world and in our souls as well as the solutions to them. Scripture is a treasure to be mined (Psa. 119:72).  Do you treat God’s Holy Word as a treasured gift or as an inconvenient duty? Do you see it as drawing you nearer to Christ, revealing your sin, offering hope (Psa. 119:43, 49), peace (Psa. 119:165), comfort (Psa. 119:76, 81), and the power unto salvation (Rom. 1:16), or do you see it as a few nice stories with a lot of stuff in between? Do you recognize that Scripture is God’s own Word of unerring truth (Psa. 119:142, 151) and purity (Psa. 119:140) sufficient for your life (2 Tim. 3:16–17), or do you treat it like any other book that can be set aside, neglected, and only casually considered?

We would better understand God’s Word if we treated it the way it is meant to be treated, as special, holy, divine, profitable, and sufficient—if we treated it as the treasure it is, praying and cultivating a hunger and love for it daily. Many know the large, complex worlds and details of Halo, Minecraft, and Call of Duty (popular video games), or the ins-and-outs of the characters in Downtown Abbey or our favorite novel but know little of the world and people of the Bible. This should concern us as Christians. We can all grow in our love and appreciation of God’s Word. Let’s be committed to doing so.

  1. THE WAY YOU ARE READING THE BIBLE

Part of the trouble might be the way you are reading the Bible. Perhaps you know the what (the Bible), the why (growing in relationship and obedience to Christ, for starters), but have not been taught how to read Scripture.

You would not pick up your favorite novel and start in the middle, skip 4/5 of the way through, go back to the first page, turn to the end, then read a paragraph from 1/3 of the way in. You would be confused. You would not know how all those pieces fit in with the big picture. That might work for a cook book, a comic book, or for a math textbook (maybe), but not for a story. Yet, that is the way many read the Bible, treating it as a list of platitudes or quotations randomly assembled.

The Bible is unique. It is the Word of the one, triune God breathed out (2 Tim 3:16) through roughly 40 different human authors as the Holy Spirit moved them (2 Pet. 1:21; Heb. 1:1–2).  It is composed of 66 different books made up of 1189 chapters. It has sections that can, on some levels, stand alone as general principles of wisdom, e.g. much of Proverbs, and others that unfold and depend more heavily on their narrative style, e.g. Genesis and Exodus. How are we then to read the Bible?

First, we need to recognize that like a novel, the Bible is ultimately one grand story being told by God from Genesis to Revelation. It speaks of who God is, how he created all things, how creation was corrupted by sin, how God redeems a people for himself, how he restores creation, and how he deals with evil and sin, all the while pointing to Jesus Christ. It is okay to skip around the Bible to focus more deeply on particular sections, events, or truths, but if you do not understand the overall story and flow of the Bible, skipping around will leave you in the mist. In other words, without understanding where and why a part fits into the whole, your understanding of that smaller section will be limited and perhaps even wrong.

If you want to better understand the Bible, read or listen through the Bible at a quicker pace to get the big picture. Sound too daunting? Do you know that there are 1,084,170 words in the Harry Potter series and only 788,258 in the Bible? It is doable. And I recommend an easier and clearer way for just getting the big picture. Read or listen to the books of the Bible that focus on the overall narrative: Genesis—Esther, Luke, Acts, and Revelation). If you are a visual person, follow up with some timelines that highlight the major events in the big redemptive story of the Bible (search the web for “Bible Timeline” and you’ll have plenty to choose from). Then go back and make sure you do not skip any portions of God’s Word; they all speak of Christ, and they are all precious. No part of God’s Word is to be ignored (including the genealogies). This will help you better understand the Mosaic Law. This will help you understand the Prophets writing before and after the people go into exile. This will help you understand what the wisdom and poetical books are referring to. This will help you understand how the New Testament Epistles fit in the big story.

Understanding the big picture of the Bible is key to being able to better understand and enjoy God’s Word. There are two main ways to read the Bible: quicker and in larger swaths to get the overall story, and slower and in smaller pieces to dig deep into the truths. I encourage you to be in the habit of both; the first is crucial for understanding the second, and the second is necessary for better understanding the first.

If you have a hard time understanding the Bible, committing to these two, simple solutions will go a long way: (1) spend more time in God’s Word recognizing it for the treasure it is, and (2) make sure you understand the grand narrative of the Bible without neglecting any portion of Scripture.

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