How I Read the Bible, And So Can You! Part 1

Fingers on open Bible

This was going to be an easy article on “How I Read the Bible.” It was going to be a numbered list of things that over the years I have almost subconsciously learned to do when I read a passage. A few things with short explanations. A easy, short-hand guide to help people read Scripture more deeply and meaningfully.

That’s what I intended.

So I wrote down six things I do as part of my interpretive process, which is a lot for this small space to give much of an explanation.

The List

Here’s what I wrote:

  1. Throw out all my assumptions
  2. Question everything I was taught
  3. Give the biblical authors their voices back
  4. Look beyond what the writers are saying to what they want to accomplish
  5. Compare the resulting interpretation to Jesus’ teaching
  6. Adjust

That’s not a bad list. They each, however, they beg for further explanation.

So I started with the first one, and that’s when I realized that either I’m completely incapable of writing something as uncomplicated as a simple list, or this is a subject that resists such a simplified format.

I’m going with the latter, although the former may very well be true.

When I looked at the assumptions I throw out, I realized that the first one I throw out is…

Okay, see, I’m actually a little afraid to write it.

(Deep breath.)

Okay, here we go.

The first assumption I throw out is the assumption that what I’m reading is the inspired word of the living God.

Put down those pitchforks and tar and feathers!

It’s not so much that I throw it out as that I suspend it. I bring it back at the end, at point #6.

But it’s unhelpful at the beginning because it brings in some other assumptions that prevent me from really getting at what the passage is about.

It brings in assumptions about inerrancy and infallibility and convictions about what God would or would not say.

It causes me to too quickly discard what the text is clearly saying because “God would never say that!”

Or it causes me to attribute some pretty horrible things to God because, well, it’s in the Bible, God’s inspired Word, so it must be true, even if I don’t want it to be.

It also allows me to put God’s stamp of approval on my own prejudices toward women, immigrants, refugees, the poor, the wealthy, various ethnic groups, the unemployed, right-handed people, the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Yankees.

All I have to do is find a verse or two that support what I already believe, and now I have the backing of the inspired word of God itself.

In other words, bringing in on the front end my conviction that the Bible is the word of God causes me to exclude certain readings that should not be excluded and include certain readings that should not be included.

When I do that, I don’t let the Bible say what it wants to say, which is the goal of interpretation.

Let the Bible Speak

So I try not to do that. I temporarily suspend that belief so that I can approach the Bible with all the interpretive tools available to understanding any ancient text and get, to the best of my ability, a clear understanding of what the text is saying.

Then, and only then, do I say, “Okay, this is what it says. Now what do I do with it?” That’s where #6 comes in, where I adjust my thinking and my living. At least that’s the goal, though I often fall short of it.

I ask myself, “Now what do I do with it?” because of my conviction that the Bible is the word of God and therefore has authority over how I live my life.

But note that I only bring it back in after #5, when I compare and contrast my reading to the life and teachings of Jesus.

He is, after all, the only true Word of God.

(The next few posts will cover the rest of the list. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6. Part 7.)

Image by © Can Stock Photo / justinkendra

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