So what is it about this book, the Bible, that is so complicated? Is it really that difficult to understand? Is it really relevant for today? What is going on with all the sex, drunkenness, murder, and naked people?
For many of us, perhaps we have learned that the Bible is supposed to only be opened on special occasions. Or you only turn to it when you want to feel good. Better yet, maybe you can just rip a verse out of context and make it mean what you what it to mean (hello, Jeremiah 29:11, anyone?).
It wasn’t until the Lord opened my heart to seek out truth that I discovered the life found on the pages of Scripture. And that’s when the paradigm shift happened: I learned that it’s not just if you read your Bible, but how you read it that will change everything. I learned three truths and lie about the Bible that helped me understand who God is and what His plan is for us.
Let’s start with the lie.
Lie: The Bible is all about me.
While the Bible is certainly for you, it is not all about you. It’s about God.
When we read the Bible, it’s to know and love God more. It isn’t to pull a verse out of context to apply like a Band-Aid; it isn’t to find Scripture to go around Bible thumping those “in sin”; and it isn’t to fill your head with more knowledge. It should produce a deeper understanding of God, greater love for Him, and lead us into worship.
Reading the Bible in a way just to “get something for me” is like only eating dessert at a meal. It is the thing we all want and tastes delicious, but if we only read for application, our diet of God’s Word will be insufficient. We need to observe what is happening and discover the meaning of the text to properly apply it.
What a paradigm shift from what is sold to us in Christian bookstores: “Read this devotional for five steps to a better life!” Those types of things distort what God’s Word is really for: to tell the redemption story of God’s people through the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Truth: The Bible is meant to be studied.
One of the best ways to help grow in the Word is to pick one book or section of Scripture and study it. Sit in the passage for a while, reread it, come back to it, look up words, and become familiar with it. Like a letter written to a loved one, you read it from beginning to end.
So it is with books of the Bible. Reading a book in its entirety changes how you understand it and, therefore, deepens your understanding of God and His redemptive plan. When we read, we read to observe (what do we see?), interpret (what does it mean?), and apply (how should it change me?).
When I began to study the Bible inductively (observation-interpretation-application), when I began to look for what it teaches me about God and how I fit into His greater story, it came to life. Actually, it became my life. I enjoy reading the Bible, I see its relevance for my life (and world) today, it increases my understanding of God.
Truth: The Bible has many applications, but only one meaning.
While there are many translations of the Bible, it only has one meaning. Our job is to discover that meaning. We should never ask, “What does this verse mean to me?” but we ask, “What does this verse mean?” Our job as readers and students of the Bible is to uncover the original meaning of the text, to reveal how it is relevant and applies to us today. Biblical truths can apply to us in many ways, but they only have one meaning.
Truth: The Bible is all about Jesus.
The Bible is a collection of books and stories that point to a greater story: Jesus. The Bible has 66 books, written over a time span of 1,500 years, by 40 different authors, in three different languages, on three different continents, about one message: God’s rescue mission for His people through the person and work of Jesus Christ. The Bible is a story meant to be read that points to One who makes the unrighteous, righteous; the unclean, clean; the outcast, redeemed; the sinner, a saint.
This paradigm shift helped me to understand the Bible and, therefore, to better love and understand God and live in obedience to Him. What has anchored me in times of pain and suffering has not been a verse I ripped out of context to chant when I’m anxious or afraid, but studying God’s Word in a deeper way. It’s knowing His character through understanding the big picture of Scripture from beginning to end that helps me (and all of us) endure suffering.
How we read the Bible matters — reading it will change your life and shift your paradigm completely.