How to Read the Bible

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Wednesday, November 8, 2017 1 comments

by David Odegard

There are three approaches to understanding the Bible: the unthoughtful approach, the thoughtful approach, and the hyper-critical or unfaithful approach.

Mark contrasts the attitude of little children with that of the rich young man in the tenth chapter of his gospel (10:13-31). On the one hand, Jesus praises the simple faith of the children saying, “To such belong the kingdom of God.” But on the other hand, Jesus shakes his head in sadness as the young man walks away because he could not put his faith in action thus exposing it as not real faith after all. The young man could not take the step of faith; he had to remain the captain of his own ship so to speak. He walked away from the greatest opportunity ever presented to him (vss. 21-22) because he couldn’t let go of control.

A child does not captain his or her own ship. It is an act of faith to get into a boat of which you are not the captain. You are on someone else’s time table, you are not in charge, and you can’t leave. A child is constantly waiting for someone else. Life revolves completely around another person’s goals and values. Childhood is one aspect of my life that I am glad is over.

And yet, won’t I always be a child in at least one way? Won’t my maturity always be infinitely less than God’s own maturity? Won’t there always be an infinite gap between all that I know and can know and what God knows?

Faith is the first thing. Rene Descartes did not begin there, however. His philosophy of foundationalism began with “I think, therefore, I am” (emphasis added). Descartes began with a recognition of his own consciousness and used that to justify all of his beliefs. (I don’t want to demonize Descartes entirely because I myself ascribe to a modest form of foundationalism. Look here and here for more information.) But the Bible does not begin where Descartes did; the Bible begins with faith—an assertion that God is there. “In the beginning God…

Children express faith easily. I love watching all the town kids come to the church on Wednesday night and ask Jesus to come into their hearts. When children hear the Word of God, they accept it without thinking. In fact, this is the first way we learn to read the Bible, but it is the unthoughtful approach.

The unthoughtful approach to Scripture fails to recognize the difference that context makes when reading a passage. It doesn’t understand or recognize the difference between the Old and New Testaments. It doesn’t see any nuance at all. It lacks historical context and perspective. The words of Peter might as well come from David or Moses; it makes no difference to the unthoughtful reader of Scripture. The poetry, the nuance, the beauty of Scripture might as well read like a list of legal prohibitions because the unthoughtful reading cannot grasp the difference.

Some might call this a Sunday School knowledge of the Bible. It is an immature view of the Bible, but it is at least faithful to God in that it carries and implicit trust in God and His Word. Alas, however, what we Christians have been slow to recognize is that this unthinking approach to Scripture has left our children unable to withstand the gale force societal onslaught against the Christian worldview.

Therefore, each person who has a childlike faith is going to have to adopt one of the other two approaches.

The second approach is a thoughtful and faithful approach to Scripture. This is reading the Bible while fully aware of the metaphor, poetry, and ultimate message of overall Scripture—with an intent to obey it! Faithful mature Christianity deeply studies the Bible so as to understand how we ought to live out a life of obedience to God through His Word and how to rightly love our neighbor.

The third approach is also thoughtful, but in hyper-criticism of the Bible. This approach imports and alien distrust of the Word to the text. It has neither faith nor obedience in sight. Rather, the individual intellect is held in higher authority than the Bible. Each person decides for himself whether what he or she is reading in the Bible is worthy of acceptance. This is completely foreign to how God expects us to read the Bible.

“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways” (1 Corinthians 13:11).

“So we should be finished with the beginning lessons about Christ. We should not have to keep going back to where we started. We began our new life by turning away from the evil we did in the past and by believing in God. That’s when we were taught about baptisms, laying hands on people, the resurrection of those who have died, and the final judgment. Now we need to go forward to more mature teaching” (Hebrews 6:1-2).

I recommend to you a faithful, thoughtful, mature reading of Scripture.

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Charlie said...

I like what Eric Ludy has to say on this topic. He gives three approaches to the Word of God.

Above it: Where you are the authority over Scripture, looking down on it, even with a compassionate gaze as though it needs your help to get its message across.

Equal to it: Not above, nor below. It's your buddy and acquaintance where get you along with it and play with it, but when you are done, you put it away and don't think about it until you want to play again. And it has no authority over you.

Below it: The Bible has the authority and you submit to it and conform your life to match what it says.

Sounds rather similar to this post.