Step into any Christian bookstore or search for “Bible” online and you will find not only a number of translations but many editions of the Bible targeted to specific consumers—The Soldier’s Bible, The Godly Woman’s Bible, The Bible for Teenagers, and on and on. Of course, many of us no longer use a print version of the scriptures; instead, we have downloaded a version to our computer, smart phone, or tablet.
Perhaps more than ever before the Bible is readily accessible to the multitudes. The key question, of course, is who is reading it? As we read the gospels, we quickly become aware that Jesus was well-versed in the only scripture available to him—the Hebrew Bible. If we are followers of Christ, certainly we are called to immerse ourselves in the Bible as well.
In 2 Timothy 3:16-17, Paul writes:
“Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us.” (The Message)
Paul, of course, was referring to the Hebrew scripture, but his intent certainly can be applied to the Bible we read today. How do we read the Bible?
Robert Mulholland in Shaped by the Word suggests two primary ways of reading scripture—for information and for formation. Although he identifies a sharp distinction between the two, both have their place in the life of the believer.
Informational reading deals with the who, what, when, where, and how questions: Who was the writer? Who was the audience? What was the context in which it was written and addressed? What does the text say? Where does it fit in biblical history? What does it mean? What does it mean for me today? How can I apply this in my life? And, as a corrective, what does the Bible say about this topic or concern in other places? This is a very linear, didactic approach to reading designed to give clarity and application.
Formational reading calls for us to immerse ourselves in the text, hearing it as God’s message to us, and allowing God to speak to us as we dwell on the scripture passage. There are many ways to do this. One approach taught by Benedict of Nursia to his followers is lectio divina or “holy reading.” Lectio encourages us to hear, meditate, pray about, and contemplate a passage of scripture, letting God speak to us through it. Another approach encouraged by Ignatius of Loyola challenges the reader to immerse himself or herself in the passage through the use of one’s imagination, opening up to the deeper meaning that God may give the believer. The goal of such approaches is to hear the voice of God through the reading of scripture.
Whatever approach we use, Paul’s words in the text above point us to the primary purpose of studying the Bible—guidance for pursuing a Christ-like life. Paul would appear to be more concerned with orthopraxy (right living) than orthodoxy (right belief). The primary goal of engaging the Bible is more to live right than to practice sound doctrine.
Here are some questions you might consider as you reflect on your study of the Bible:
· In what ways have I engaged God’s written word, the Bible? Daily Bible reading? Bible study privately or with others? Reflecting and meditating on scripture? What works best for me?
· What’s the latest spiritual insight I have received from reading the Bible?
· Am I pursuing a plan for regular devotional Bible study?
· How can I make my personal study more informative and more interesting?