This started out with a comment from Sipech on Twitter, where he was asking what to blog about. So we set out to each do a blog with the same title :
How I read the Bible
Back in July I blogged on The Bible – What is it? This is more about how it is read.
There are a lot of people saying lots of things about how the Bible should be read. And there is a lot of conflicting advise out there, which i hardly surprising, as there is no definative right way to read it.
What I am writing is how I read the Bible. which is easier said than done as I use different methods at different times. But there are things they have in common:
Find time to read the Bible and stick with it.. Some of the advice says daily, but I don’t do it every day. I have found that two or three days of quality time is better than a few snatched minutes daily. Quality is better than quantity. Find a time that is right for you. Most of the advice from evangelicals is that first thing in the morning is best. Again this is not for me. These people are larks, I am an extreme owl sort of person. When I wake up I wander around like something from the Living Dead. The time when you are alert is the best time to read the Bible, and late evening is a time when my mind is alert and I want to think about something that is not work. That is when I choose. Your mileage may vary. Do what works for you.
Turn off the TV and radio. Disconnect the telephone land line and put the mobile on silent. When away from home my Bible is in a Kindle app an a tablet computer. Removing distractions means closing down all other apps (especially games, they can be very alluring) except for the Kindle app and a word processor, I take notes.
If something comes into my mind that distracts I write it down. That way I do not have to worry about it.
I sometimes read a passage of the Bible then run a bath. Baths are great ways for removing distractions in order to contemplate things.
You are going to be say in one place for some time. Too uncomfortable and you will figit, too comfortable and you will fall asleep if tired. Something in the middle is fine. I read with my feet elevated, but that is probably more proof that I’m weird.
I nicked this from Lectio Divina. The speed of reading is important, and I find that the best speed for me to read things is at the speed of human speech, so I slow down, no speed reading for me. get to this speed I had to read aloud, but now I can read slowly without having to resort to that. The exception of that is that before I study a book of the Bible I sometimes speed read through the book. Just a scan through it to give me the gist of what it is about. This works with smaller books like a Minor Prophet or Paul’s letters, though I have yet to speed read through something longer, like Isaiah. Maybe this could be a new project.
Read it all
Don’t read only the bits you like, find a way of reading the whole Bible, Old Testament and New Testament. You can follow a lectionary if you are disciplined enough to commit a significant amount of time each day. Or use Bible notes, there are a lot of these out there, including on line. I work through the Books of the Bible in a random way. So it is not too much history, or all epistles. But it is systematic, based on what I have not read Anything to get you away from just reading only your favourite bits is good.
What am I reading?
Ask questions about what you are reading, Very important this. The Bible is not a consistent book from one end to the other, there are passages that contradict especially in the historical bits. So think about what you are reading. The Bible is a library rather than a book. It was written by a number of authors over thousands of years and contains history, poetry, philosophical writing and a whole lot of other stuff. You have to bear in mind the culture of the time, so it is significant that the Philistines had iron chariots, because Israel only had bronze for their metal weapons. The story at that time is a struggle against a far more technologically advanced enemy, which is not apparent from a simple reading.
So ask, what am I reading. Is it history or is it poetry, if the latter how far does poetic licence need to be taken into account. Is the writer being ironic or sarcastic is very important, if they are, the passage should not be taken literally. Talking of literal, should apocalyptic literature and parables be taken literally anyway.
What is important
What is important? Well the numbers aren’t important, not to a personal Bible study, ignore them. They only matter if a passage is being read in church to get people on the same page. What is important too is that reading the Bible is about listening to what God is saying through the Bible to you. It is an exercise in listening to God. So I try to find what is the key to the passage, what was the writer trying to say then how that applies now.
Do not over analyse
This is where I fall down often. I love to analyse just about everything. As a child I used to pull toys apart to see how they worked — the result was they didn’t work. Over analysing is like that, it breaks things. It breaks the link between myself and God and becomes a purely intellectual exercise. The focus in reading the Bible should be about relationship. The Bible is not a neat book about theology, it is a story of a relationship between God and a people: First with a few people and then with a nation and then a church. It is also the story of those people’s relationship with themselves and other people outside. I have to keep on reminding myself that relationship is where it is at when it comes to scripture.
Do I need to do something about it?
The last thing is what St Ignatius called the resolve. It is not about what I do when reading the Bible but what I do with the rest of my time. Does what I have read make me aware of something I have done wrong? Or that my relationship with someone else is not in line with what the Bible teaches. Or does what I have read lead me into praising God, to carry on where a psalmist has left off. Or — and for me this is more often, — I just do not understand what the passage means. All of the above lead on to an activity do I need to confess to God or to another person that I have *ahem* slipped up, or to ask someone else what the passage means. Whatever it is, what I am saying that unlike reading novels, biography or history that reading the Bible should have consequence in the rest of our lives.
Just do it
Basically, if any of the above are getting in the way for some reason I ignore them. The important thing is that we do it.