Through my life of going to church, I have so often found that we read and study the Bible incorrectly. We either try to read it as if it’s a novel, or worse we jump from verse to favorite verse much like our ministers do in church trying to make a point. Far too often we lack the context of what the Bible is telling us.
In one of my first theology classes in college, I was told a story about a man that, after becoming a Christian, felt compelled to dive into the Bible and do whatever it said. So, he opened the Bible and the first verse he read was about Judas hanging himself after betraying Christ. After he read it, he wasn’t sure what to do with it. Then realizing he needed to read more, he opened his Bible to a different verse, Luke 10:37 “Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” I hope you’re not reading the Bible like this – Ouch.
Avoid Jumping From favorite Text to Text
We each have our favorite verses, and it’s easy to follow what is supposed to be a Bible study program that takes you through a book or a group of passages that follow a theme. But that’s just really skimming over the surface. Reading the Bible like this is like reading from one of my favorite books called Quote Self-Medication, by Barbara Ann Kipfer. It’s a small, colorful, thick book that has a subtitle of “3299 mantras, tips, quotes, and koans for peace and serenity”. It’s a great desktop book and helpful for thinking about things before meditating. You can crack open a page, look down and find some great truths for daily living. Just a few examples are:
- “Are you living with the consciousness of your own mortality, valuing each day, hour, and minute.”
- “Avoid extremes. Too much or too little both cause illness.
- “Nothing is fixed, everything flows”
- “even the simplest acts can bring a powerful sense of presence and grace to your life.”
- “Zen is a way of being happy. – TAO SHAN”
- “listen to your heart, maintain a sense of humor and follow the middle way.”
As you can see, these are great quotes or mantras and they can help center yourself in your daily living and help with your thoughts during meditation. Some quotes can even be used to help guide your prayers. But studying the Bible and understanding God’s word requires us to go deeper.Try to Understand Context
The Bible was written over a span of thousands of years, the books, letters and verses were written to specific people, at specific times in history, dealing with issues that faced God’s people; even nations; in the Bible. To truly understand the Bible beyond just reading it we need to create context.
Context is created by asking critical questions like:
- When was a book or chapter written?
- Who wrote the book?
- Is the chapter a letter, poem, song or Psalm, a prophecy, a proverb, a story or allegory, a parable, a lament, or history.
- Was it conveyed orally or through written word?
- Who was the book or passage written to?
- What were those people going through?
- What were the surrounding national issues facing the audience from other people countries or nature?
- What was the role of the author to the reader? Was the subject a recent issue, or a repeated problem.
- How did the people react to the information?
Recognize the who, what, where, how, etc.?
A Simple Example
Genesis 1 and 2 are poems. Poems that lived within the Israelite oral tradition for countless generations and were recorded by Moses as part of the Torah. These oral traditions were created while the Israelites were in captivity in ancient Babylonia. Ancient Babylonian’s creation stories of their gods that created the earth that were violent and supported of the world view of conquering others. Conquering other people and enslaving them allows Babylonia to achieve the great civilization that prospered for thousands of years. The Israelites that live under the rule of the Babylonians, had a unique creation story. They had one God that created a world rich in nature, full of life and growth. It was complete, a paradise, and it was pleasing in God’s eyes. It was a place where God and man could live in harmony. It’s not a historical record, there are no firsthand observers, and the date time is unknown.
Application to our Current Age
The Bible can help give us guidance in our current age, but not all things written in the Bible were made to be applied to us. For example, it’s not appropriate to compare the rebellion of the children of Israel in the desert under Moses guidance to wayward teenagers. There is a much broader story to be learned from this story than applying it to your rebellious teenager.
Research Other References for Context
If you truly are interested in studying the Bible, delving deeper into this meaning, you will find you need other resources. You can’t go to any one book, or source to help you do it. There are many books on the history for each of the chapters or stories of the Bible. From my research most fall short of giving you all the context information listed above. It’s probably a result of the authors trying to create some brevity in their works which prevents them from covering all the aspects that need to be addressed.
Additionally, if you do find a book that can help you with context, remember that is just one person’s point of view or opinion. Looking for a simple solution to this is likely not to be found, and if you did you would miss out on the joy and enlightenment that you get out of doing it yourself.
Diving Deeply Into God’s Word With Others
Another way to learn more is to join a group that is like-minded that truly wants to study the Bible and are willing to do the homework. You can have fun having different people assigned to a different aspect of understanding a passage from the list above. It is import to remember to have an open mind, be none judge mental then the discussions can be quite enlightening. Please don’t look to one person or a pastor lead. Yes, they may have spent many years studying the Bible, but the best learning is still self-learning and sharing with other. When you share with others, you bring your thoughts together in a way that makes what you learn deeper and more permanently. Only looking to leaders or pastors to give us the word of God can leave us weak like infants, unable to defend ourselves against false teachings.
My Challenge to You
Look at this as a lifetime pursuit, as opposed to something that is “once and done”. I enjoyed fly-fishing when we lived in Pennsylvania, but I accepted the fact that I will always have something to learn, and I will never be an expert. Enjoy the challenge of diving deeper into the great truths within the Bible and make it a lifelong devotion. Today we have so many things competing for our time, work, family, church, social media, friends, home, entertainment, and of course the internet. Putting God and your spiritual life into that mix is a challenge today that takes daily discipline.
Ask God to Help You Each Day
Start the day with a brief prayer to God to thank him for another day to serve him and ask God to help you find time in your day to read, study and learn more of the Bible. Remember that the part of the Lord’s prayer says, “Give us this day our daily bread” Jesus knew that we could not just live on physical bread. Jesus quoted the Old Testament when he was starving and temped by Satan, when he said “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Matthew 4:4.