Understanding the Bible: An Introduction

“Read your bible!” 

We hear it over and over again at church, and if we’re in a position of service to the church, as a pastor or teacher for instance, we find ourselves saying it over and over again, “Read your bible!” The question is, why do we have to keep saying it? If the bible is what many believe it to be then why are we not aching to find time to devour the text regularly? Why do Christians have to work to find time to read such a powerful text, rather than feeling compelled to steal even 5 more minutes of our day in some remote corner where we can pour over its God-breathed words like a treasured letter from a lover?

The answers may be many, but one of the central reasons seems to be the fact that when we pick up the bible and start reading it we find that it is incredibly difficult to get our heads around. This is often expressed by the exasperated statement, “I just don’t know where to start!” Which begs the question, why would a person not start at the beginning? Many of us do start at the beginning, and then as we read, we come upon things that make us scratch our heads. This part seems out of place, or that part seems to be talking about something that already happened, and what about all these laws that conflict with modern sensibilities? Goat is not an item on many menus in our culture so why should I even bother about not boiling it in its mother’s milk? All of this is compounded by the constant tug that this is supposed to be the book that tells me how to live as a Christian, and the reality that people all over the world have tried to follow it and have found themselves fighting with one another and splitting what is supposed to be a unified body over the very task of reading the bible.

What are we to do?

These questions and more lead us to the place of asking, “Can someone help me read my bible in a way that makes sense?” Well I want to give it a shot. Over the next few weeks I am going to give it my best shot to help others approach the scriptures with reverence and with respect, but with minds that engage the text and trust that it can withstand the questions that come its way. This is a series of studies that I did with a few students in our youth group. They seemed to respond positively to the approach so I thought I would share it with a broader audience. For that group I used the five following lessons as an overview to reading the bible.

  1. What sort of book is the Bible?
  2. Context, context, context, context.
  3. Reading through Jesus.
  4. Reading the Old Testament: All things move toward Jesus.
  5. Reading the New Testament: Making sense of Jesus.

I would love questions and feedback as we go, and if there is interest I might break some of these sections up into more specific categories.

I want to close this post by saying that I am not writing from a stance of having figured out the magical way to read the bible and make the whole thing make sense. In fact, I struggle to understand much of the bible on a regular basis. There are days I begrudgingly open the text and end up finishing my reading no better than when I started, and there are days I neglect to read the bible all together. The questions above are questions I continue to ask as I read, and I am asking you not to bask in my wisdom, but to join me as I try out what has been the most helpful approach that I have found in my own journey of studying the text. Hopefully, we will all be better equipped to read the bible and to live out God’s will for our lives when we are finished.

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5 Replies to “Understanding the Bible: An Introduction”

  1. Joe I look forward to hearing your approach to this, because I could definitely use the help. Raised in the religion I was we really never read the bible, it was preached to us, but I never really understood it. I have tried numerous times to sit and read the bible, but become confused with the wording and context of what is written. I recently bought some bible study books to do on my own to help me understand the pieces better, but would greatly appreciate insight to read and better understand this great work.

    1. Thanks, and if you’re following along and feel like you want to add some of your wisdom as we go please do. You are far more gifted in the area of biblical interpretation than I am that’s for sure.

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