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Bible Engagement Blog


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Reading the Bible Aloud

Reading the Bible aloud has been a Bible engagement practice since Old Testament (e.g. 2 Kings 23:2) and New Testament times (e.g. 1 Timothy 4:13), and continues today as a spiritual practice in every community of faith. But sadly, while reading the Bible aloud happens in most churches most every week, it isn’t always done well. So here’s a shout-out for reading the Bible aloud with the esteem and reverence it deserves.

There are several things we should take into consideration when reading the Bible aloud:

Christ should be the focus of all church worship and His Word should therefore be a centrepiece in the order of service. Scripture readings should be prayerfully and thoughtfully selected and interwoven throughout the service in a way that indicates that God’s Word is more important than what we say or sing about it.

A spiritual gravitas should accompany the public reading of Scripture. Every reader should take heed how they read. Adequate preparation and practice should, in every instance when Bible reading is part of the order of service, be a pre-requisite for the person(s) selected to do the reading(s). Readers should be mindful of correct pronunciation and enunciation.

An understanding of the genre of Scripture should inform the way the Bible is read. Poetry shouldn’t be read like prophecy or apocalyptic literature, a didactic passage shouldn’t be read like a genealogy, and a narrative discourse shouldn’t be read like a legal list of priestly duties.

Reading the Bible aloud requires a measure of performance. The emotional nature of the Scriptures should be communicated verbally. A lament should always be read with a sense of pathos, the miracles should always be read with wonder and awe, passages about God’s grace and mercy should be read with heartfelt appreciation, and accounts of sin should always be read with feelings that express grief or sorrow.

The aim of all public reading of the Word should be to draw the listener to Christ. We read the Scriptures to invite the community of faith to know and be known by the Word. And we should read in a way that expects and encourages God’s people to obey the Word.

Readings should be long enough to provide adequate context and understanding. When there are multiple readings in a church service, they should be integrated and connected with the other elements of the service. This requires planning, prayer and sensitivity to the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Finally, while we read the Bible to one-another, we’re ultimately reading the Word to an audience of One. When we read the Bible aloud, we’re reading it to the King of kings. Let’s keep this in mind, the One who is the Word is the One who listens to us reading His Word. So when reading the Bible aloud, picture yourself before the holy One seated on the throne, then read to bring honour and glory to Him.

© Scripture Union Canada 2018
2 Corinthians 4:5


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How are you reading the Bible?

How are you reading the Bible? Bible engagement isn’t about reading the Bible exclusively to gather facts, get guidance or learn how to be good. Satan loves it when people read the Bible for these reasons because as long as we’re reading the Bible to simply grow in knowledge, figure out what to do, or develop our morality, we’re not engaging with the Bible as we should.

God wants us to taste and see that He is good (Psalm 34:8a). The goal of Bible reading should be to encounter Christ Jesus and to engage with Him in ways that lead us to become increasingly more like Him.taste-and-see-that-the-lord_t_nv

John Piper, the pastor and theologian, says, “Bible reading that only collects facts, or relieves a guilty conscience, or gathers doctrinal arguments, or titillates aesthetic literary tastes, or feeds historical curiosities – this kind of Bible reading Satan is perfectly happy to leave alone. He has already won the battle.”

How are you reading the Bible? Do you read it focusing on the fact that it’s ultimately the Story about Christ Jesus and how he sacrificed His life in order to atone for your sin and reconcile you to God? If not, you’re not reading the Bible as God intended.

Here’s what Satan tries to hide from us: The overall Bible story centres on Jesus. It’s about His astronomical, unconditional, sacrificial, incomparable, transformational, and eternal love for us. A love that made the world right again by making it possible, through trust in Him, for our sin to be acquitted and our death sentence revoked. “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” 1 John 4:10.

Christ’s love for us is why the Word we read has to be the Word we know. For this to happen we cannot rely on pastors, professors or prophets, but from spending time in the Word in order to encounter the presence of the living Word. Then, when we encounter the living Word we should ask Him to renew us through His written Word. For it’s only through encountering Christ Jesus personally and openly that our minds and hearts will be convicted and changed to live a life of love emulating Christ’s love.

So how are you reading the Bible? There are only two ways to read God’s Word. The right way and the wrong way. And the right way is to read the Word as the Word we know.

© Scripture Union Canada 2018

2 Corinthians 4:5


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You can’t worship Jesus if you don’t read the Bible!

You can’t worship Jesus if you don’t read the Bible! Now hear me out …

If you don’t read (i.e., hear, connect, engage, study, contemplate, reflect, act on) the Bible, you don’t know who Jesus is. If you don’t know who Jesus is, you can’t worship Him. If you can’t worship Jesus, then how can you call yourself a Christian?

I meet a lot of people who tell me they’re Christians. When I ask them if they read the Bible and they say “No,” or “Not really,” then I ask, “So what makes you a Christian?” They usually say, “Because I love God/Jesus.” Now here’s my dilemma. If someone says they love Jesus, but don’t read the Bible, then what “Jesus” are they loving? That’s a crucial question. For if we don’t love the Jesus of the Bible, then there’s a problem.jesus-in-bible

Forgive me if I’m blunt, but surely it stands to reason that if someone doesn’t worship the Jesus of the Bible, then that person’s worshipping a different “Jesus.” And who is this other “Jesus” that millions of non-Bible reading “Christians” are worshipping? Probably a “Jesus” they’ve created in their own minds. One who can be shaped and moulded to be whatever a person wants Him to be.

There’s a chilling verse in the Gospel where Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” Matthew 7:21. Every time I read this verse I wonder, “Who are the people who call Jesus ‘Lord’ yet don’t get into Heaven?” Well maybe they’re the people who’ve created an alternative “Jesus” who values what they value, tolerates what they tolerate, and cares about what they care about.

Here’s the rub: If you’re worshipping a “Jesus” who you can control, then you’re worshipping an idol. Jesus said, “A time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth” John 4:23. To worship Jesus in “spirit and truth” our worship must be informed, not by the non-biblical things we think we know about Jesus, but by the Word of God.

Now I know, the Jesus of the Bible isn’t a tame Jesus. He disrupts our lives, opposes our personal opinions and preferences, demands holiness, gets in the way of the pursuit of happiness, and expects us to do uncomfortable things. Let’s be honest, the Jesus of the Bible doesn’t line up with our preferred version of Him.

Little wonder that people say, “I respect Jesus, but don’t agree with everything in the Bible.” For in their heart of hearts they know they can’t do things their way if they love the Jesus of the Bible.

So which Jesus do you worship. Is it a “Jesus” shaped by your imagination or is it the Jesus of the Bible? If it’s the latter, then that’s only true if you’re reading the Bible. There is no other way. You can’t worship Jesus if you don’t read the Bible!

© Scripture Union Canada 2017

2 Corinthians 4:5


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Why We Should Read The Bible

The story is told about a youngster who found a Bible on the bookshelf. “What’s this dusty book Mom?” he asked. “That’s God’s book,” said his Mom. “Well why don’t we send it back to God? We don’t use it here, do we?” asked the boy.

The story raises an important question, why read the Bible? Of all the great books that we could read, why should we read God’s book? Here are 5 reasons why:

The first and most important reason why we should read the Bible is because it’s a God-given window through which we get the best view of Jesus (cf. Luke 24:27). And why is it important to check out Jesus? Because He claims He’s “the way and the truth and the life” John 14:6. That’s a mind staggering and potentially life altering declaration. If it’s true that no one comes to God except through Him, that Jesus personifies truth and is the source of our existence, then it’s a claim that has to be reckoned with. What Jesus said cannot be ignored or dismissed out of hand. So we should read the Bible to consider His claim on our lives.

Hands of a person raised together in prayer with bibleThe second reason why we should read the Bible is to see how God sees us. Most Westerners, due to Existentialism, view life as meaningless, apart from the meaning they choose to give it. But that’s not how God views us. The Bible indicates how God places a high value on every life of every person. We are loved by God and created for a purpose. When we read the Bible it soon becomes clear that it’s a love letter from the Creator to His creation. As God says, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'” Jeremiah 29:11.

The third reason why we should read the Bible is for our deepest needs to be met. Most of us (Nihilists are the exception) want to know why we exist. Is there meaning and a reason for my life? The Bible, by virtue of its content, is the book of life. It reveals God’s meaning and reason for our lives and how we can possess and enjoy fullness of life (cf. John 10:10). Jesus says, “The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life” John 6:63. Did you hear that? The Bible is “full of … life.” Even if the other reasons for reading the Bible didn’t exist, this should be reason enough to read it.

The fourth reason why we should read the Bible is for our health and growth. As I look back over the course of my life I can see how I’ve matured. Do you want to grow in wisdom? I’m thankful that I no longer think and act like a child or youth. And I’m thankful that since I started reading the Bible, the Scriptures have made me “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” 2 Timothy 3:15. My reality can be anyone’s reality. “For he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things” Psalm 107:9. So read the Bible because we were not meant to “live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).

The final reason why we should read the Bible is so that we can learn how to love and accept love. The sad litany of many people’s lives is that they don’t find, receive or love others adequately. Or worse. Many people never encounter the love that surpasses knowledge and fills us with the fullness of God (cf. Ephesians 3:19). The Bible tells us that “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). To know love, the real thing, we must be Bible engagers. That’s because the primary way to know Love is in and through reading His Word.

There are many more reasons why we should read the Bible. But we’re not going to consider them now because good reasons need to be coupled with right actions. So let me ask, “Are you reading the Bible? I mean really reading it?” How you answer this question can make or break you. I don’t say that lightly. It would take a book to spell out all the benefits of Bible reading. So please understand why I close by urging you to truly get into God’s Word and discover the joy that comes from having the message of Christ dwell in you richly (cf. Colossians 3:16).

© Scripture Union Canada 2017

2 Corinthians 4:5


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Bible Engagement in Small Groups

Getting together with a micro-community of believers to read/hear God’s Word is an effective way to get to know God and understand how to live in a vibrant relationship with Him. Here are ten ways to strengthen Bible engagement in small groups:

Bathe everything in prayer. Pray before, after and during the time spent together. When you begin, pray something like, “God we’re going to be reading your Word. Help us to engage it actively, but also to listen attentively. You are the Teacher and we’re your students. Please convict, guide and transform us. Amen.” For the duration of the gathering be prepared to stop the dialogue to pray the Scriptures into personal needs or situations. When you close, pray something like, “Thank you Lord for the way we’ve met you in and through your Word. Help us apply your Word in everything we say and do. For your honour and glory. Amen.

Get to know each other. Create time and space for building relationships. Strong relationships are needed for heartfelt/meaningful dialogue. Foster an environment that’s friendly, respectful, and builds trust. Look for practical ways to love, encourage, and celebrate life together.

Read the Bible in multi-sensory ways. Be creative and three-dimensional, i.e., move beyond the printed page. For example, when reading about the Lord’s Supper/Eucharist/Communion in 1 Corinthians 11, have a fresh loaf baking in a bread maker so that the smell pervades the air. When you finish reading the passage, eat the bread while discussing the text.

Teach public reading of Scripture. When we read the Bible together we should aim to read it well. Some basic instruction will help people read more confidently and meaningfully. For more information check out the Bible Engagement Blog post, Reading the Bible Publicly.

Don’t reduce the Bible to a sourcebook for finding the right answers. The purpose of a small group Bible study should never be ‘knowledge about the Bible’. Bible knowledge isn’t an end in itself, nor is it a means to an end. The aim isn’t right answers, it’s knowing the One who is the answer. Interact with God’s Story in ways that our stories (as individuals and as a group) are formed and transformed by His Story.

Use open-ended questions. Allowing the formulation of any answer, rather than a selection from a set of predetermined possible answers, will help people press into God’s Word. Ask questions like, “What stood out for you?”, “Did it raise any questions for you?”, “Do you see the Father, Son or Holy Spirit in the text?”, or “Why is this in the Bible?” As a discussion progresses, direct people back into the Word. Ask, “Where do you see that in Scripture?”, or “Is there something in the text that informed your perspective?”

Make the main thing the main thing. Spend more time reading the Bible than reading books, commentaries, curriculum, or study guides about the Bible. It’s not a Bible study if the main thing is reading someone’s book about the Bible, listening to someone preach/teach on a topic from the Bible, or watching a video series about the Bible! God’s Word, read/heard, should be the primary text/content, and the Holy Spirit should be the ultimate teacher.

Discuss the uncomfortable/difficult passages. Be prepared to struggle with the ‘hard’ Scriptures, even when you don’t find satisfactory explanations. Wrestle with different points of view in a respectful and mature way.

Aim to read/hear the Scripture through the voices/ears of the whole group. Recognise how your own view of Scripture is limited, and that the fullness of Bible reading comes into its own when God speaks through different people.

Listen beyond your traditional theological grid. Allow God’s Word to challenge your presuppositions. Be humble. Be aware of the limitations of your insight and understanding. Be open to how God works mysteriously and powerfully, in and through His Word, to redeem and restore your life, and the lives of everyone in the group.

Using different methodologies may also be helpful. Try implementing one of these strategies:

The “Book Club” approach. Ask group members to read a whole book of the Bible prior to getting together, or read a big chunk when you are together (an entire story). Then open it up for dialogue. Discuss the writers intent, themes, plot, characters, what people liked or didn’t like, and so on.

The “Visual Arts” approach. Read a portion of Scripture, then view art forms (from different cultures and centuries) such as ceramics, drawings, paintings, sculptures, stained glass, wood carvings, and such, that illustrate the text. Discuss the artists context, how s/he interprets the biblical narrative/event, and how it may or may not be true to the text.

What would you add? Share your tips for strengthening Bible engagement in small groups.

© Scripture Union Canada 2017

2 Corinthians 4:5


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The Death of Reading

I recently read Philip Yancey’s article in The Washington Post titled “The death of reading is threatening the soul.” While Yancey’s article isn’t specifically focused on reading the Bible, it got me thinking about how the death of reading is having an adverse effect on Bible engagement.

Yancey’s premise is that reading books (“deep reading”) is dying out. He suggests this is due, in large part, to our brains being rewired by the internet to read only a paragraph or two (shallow reading).

In the book Saving the Bible From Ourselves: Learning to Read and Live the Bible Well, Glenn Paauw promotes reading the Bible in “slower, smarter, deeper” ways as a prerequisite to reading the Bible adequately. I agree with Paauw. Our spiritual formation is significantly hampered if we’re not in the habit of concentrated reading of big chunks of the Bible. As I said in the book Bible Engagement Basics, “When Christians subsist on a diet of Scripture snacks, they’re not feeding on the Word! Bible reading is more than a catchphrase, more than a shortStudy-of-Death-300x208-lived inspirational text, and more than samplings of texts isolated from their historical, literary or cultural contexts.”

So if deep reading of the Bible is essential for spiritual formation, how do we do this when our brains may no longer be attuned to deep reading? Or to phrase the question differently, Is there a way to overcome shallow reading and develop deep reading skills?

The answer to the above questions is that we can all develop deep reading skills. But determination or discipline won’t get us there. According to Yancey who quotes Quartz, “willpower alone is not enough.” We need to build a “fortress of (new) habits” if we’re going to break free from shallow reading. And how are a “fortress of habits” that facilitate deep Bible reading developed? Here are some suggestions:

  • Claim God’s promises. You can develop deep reading skills because you can do all things through Christ who gives you strength (cf. Philippians 4:13)
  • Ask God to renew your mind (cf. Romans 12:1-2, Ephesians 4:23). If the internet can wire our brains to read one way (shallow reading) surely God can reprogram our brains to read another way (deep meditative reflective reading).
  • Change your lifestyle. Replace bad habits with good habits. We should make no provision for the flesh (cf. Romans 13:14). If you continue to spend most of your time on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and reading emails you’ll never develop deep reading skills because you’ll continue to get a dopamine rush (the neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers) from your shallow reading.
  • Ask mature Christians to help you (cf. Proverbs 15:22, 19:20, Galatians 6:2). Don’t try to battle this out by yourself. Invite instruction from Christians who have strong daily devotional Bible reading habits.
  • Spend time in prayer (cf. Mark 11:24).

Have your say. What would you add or subtract?

© Scripture Union Canada 2017

2 Corinthians 4:5


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State of the Bible 2017

Since 2011 the Barna Group has conducted an annual survey concerning the state of the Bible in the USA. The survey is commissioned by the American Bible Society and aims to gather insights into the multifaceted relationship that Americans have with God’s Word.

This year’s findings revealed the following:

  • Two-thirds of Americans read, listen to or pray with the Bible (16% daily, 21% once a week or more, 7% once a month, 6% a few times a year).
  • Bible usage is highest among Black American practicing Protestants who live in the South.
  • The average Bible user reads the Bible for 30 minutes during each sitting.
  • Lower income people (less than $50K annually) read the Bible more frequently than higher income people (more than $100K annually).
  • While the KJV is the most popular version it’s usage is declining (down 14% since 2011).
  • The NIV is the second most popular version followed by the ESV.
  • The primary reason why two-thirds of Bible readers connect with the Bible is because it “brings them closer to God.”
  • Nearly 60% of adults indicate that they want to read the Bible more frequently.
  • Bible reading increases when it is seen to be an important part of a person’s faith journey.
  • Bible reading declines when people are too busy with the responsibilities of life, start doubting their faith, face trauma, or leave the church.
  • There is a decline in Bible reading among Millennials.
  • Favourable emotions when reading the Bible included feelings of peace (49%), hope (45%), happiness (29%), and intrigue (19%).
  • Unfavourable emotions when reading the Bible included feelings of being overwhelmed (13%) or confused (12%).
  • Nearly half of the Bible readers give a lot of thought to how the Bible applies to their lives.
  • Most people prefer to use a printed Bible (91%) for reading the Scriptures yet they also use non-print formats (smart phone, apps, podcasts, internet, audio) for reading the Bible (92%).

For more information click here to download the whole report.

© Scripture Union Canada 2017

2 Corinthians 4:5


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Reading the Bible Publicly

If you sit in an average church service on an average Sunday you’ll probably hear an average reading of God’s Word. That’s heartbreaking. Lacklustre public reading of the Scriptures is a discredit to God’s people and a slight to God! An average reading of God’s Word isn’t good enough. When we read the Bible publicly we should read it well – very well! It is, after all, God’s Word. And God’s Word, invested with the life giving power of His Spirit; is dynamic, transformational, and alive. So let’s read it like we believe it. Let’s read it energetically, passionately, thoughtfully, dramatically, inspirationally, and motivationally. Let’s read it like it’s coursing through our veins and pounding in our hearts. And let’s make sure that we never ever read it in a boring, nondescript, half-baked way.

From its inception the Bible was given to us to be read aloud and heard. So how do we devote ourselves to the public reading of Scripture? (cf. 1 Timothy 4:13). Here are some pointers for reading the Bible publicly:

  • Prepare, practice and pray
  • Use a script and identify who is speaking
  • Become the character
  • Help the listener hear it for the first time
  • Read from your heart and then from your lips
  • Convey the meaning of the words (not just the sounds)
  • Use pauses and break up the text so that it’s easy to hear
  • Highlight the meaning of a text through tone, modulation and emphasis
  • Read with dynamism (the Bible is not a telephone directory!)
  • Bring freshness and vitality
  • Let the text inform how you read it

And here are some common mistakes that should be avoided:

  • Inadequate preparation
  • Reading too slow or too fast
  • Using a sing-song or preacher voice
  • Speaking too loud or too soft
  • Reading in a monotone
  • No feeling or too much feeling
  • Trailing off with words or sentences
  • Not looking up (use a music stand to get the right height)
  • Not reading like a town-crier or with passion

There’s awesome power in God’s spoken Word. When we’re reading the Bible publicly let’s read every passage like we’re hearing it for the first time. Let’s read the Scriptures believing that they’ll bring salvation, comfort, understanding, discomfort, remorse, joy and all manner of life-changing encounters with the living God. And let’s be done with the humdrum reading of the Word. Yes, we’re inadequate for the task, but God’s grace is sufficient for everything we do. So let’s go for it! Let’s ask God to empower us in our weakness. Then let’s read God’s Word with stirring voices and enthusiasm – expecting God to engage people’s hearts, minds, wills and souls.

Recommended books:

Max McLean and Warren Bird, Unleashing the Word: Rediscovering the Public Reading of Scripture, Zondervan, 2009.

Clayton J. Schmit, Public Reading of Scripture: A Handbook, Abingdon Press, 2002.

Jeffery D. Arthurs, Devote Yourself to the Public Reading of Scripture: Encountering the Transforming Power of the Well-Spoken Word, Kregel Publications, 2012.

Recommended articles and apps:

Glen J. Clary, The Public Reading of Scripture in Worship: A Biblical Model for the Lord’s Day

Scott Newling, Devoted to the Public Reading of Scripture

Bible Audio Pronunciations – Confidently Read any Bible Verse Aloud

Stefano Russello, Biblical Pronunciations

BibleSpeak

© Scripture Union Canada 2017

2 Corinthians 4:5


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Bored With The Bible?

Why are some Christians bored with the Bible?

While doing some Bible engagement polling, I asked a woman in her fifties if she read the Bible. She said, “Yes, many years ago, from cover to cover.” “Do you still read it?” I asked. “No”, she said, “I much prefer a good novel or something stimulating. Frankly, the Bible is boring, and reading it once, was more than enough.”

On another occasion, after I’d preached a message from Hebrews 4:12, a young man said to me, “Pastor, I know the Bible is a good book, and I know I should be reading it, but it’s really difficult and confusing. And to be honest, I find it boring.” His words pulled me up short. I’d spent 30 minutes passionately speaking about how the Bible is living and active, and yet the reality for this earnest millennial, was that the Bible was wearisome and disinteresting.

Then there’s my own reality. Since the late 70’s when I became a Christian, I’ve had seasons where I’ve passionately loved reading the Bible. It’s been exciting, engaging, transformational, and so much more. Then there’s been times when Bible reading has been a hard slog – dry, dreary and depressing. And occasionally, I’m just not there – more interested in opening my browser and going to Facebook, than in opening up the Bible.

Reason argues that it’s impossible to be bored with the Bible. After all, the Bible is God’s Word – the Voice of life, truth, hope, wisdom, grace, salvation and so much more. Surely what comes from the heart and mouth of God can’t be boring.

If God, in and of Himself, is not and cannot be boring, then the reason why some Christians are bored with the Bible must lie elsewhere.

When I fell in love with Karen, I loved to listen to everything she said or sung. We’d talk for hours on end and I’d hang on every word, delighting in every inflection in her voice.

I’ve been happily married to Karen for more than three decades, but I have to admit that I don’t always listen to her with the same enthusiasm as when we first fell in love.

Maybe that’s what sometimes happens with our Bible reading – we’re not really listening. The problem isn’t with the Word, it’s with us.

If being bored with the Bible is a listening issue, then the remedy is possibly found in learning or re-learning how to open our spiritual ears. Here are three things we need to do to hear God’s Voice:

  • Confess sin (cf. James 1:21). Un-confessed sin is like spiritual earwax – if it’s not removed it eventually makes us deaf.
  • Remove distractions (cf. Luke 8:7). Don’t let video games, music, banter, busyness, cares, or concerns of the world keep you from hearing the Voice of God.
  • Lean in (cf. Jeremiah 29:12-13, James 4:8). The closer we are to God, the better we’ll hear Him.

Now it’s your turn to have your say. Why do you think some Christians are bored with the Bible?

© Scripture Union Canada 2016

2 Corinthians 4:5


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Reading the Bible in Context

When I was learning to read, I was taught to open the first page of a book and read from the beginning to the end. I didn’t start in the middle, skip to the end, or just read the juicy bits. That wasn’t allowed. The emphasis was on reading to understand the entire story, and our comprehension tests reinforced the importance of coming to grips with the characters, plot and other details as they related to the whole.

In my early adult years I was given a Bible and told, “Start reading in the Gospel of John”. I opened the first page of the book, but it was called Genesis, not John. I was a little confused. Searching through the Bible I eventually found John toward the back of the book. I wondered why my friend had suggested I skip everything that came before John. Were the other parts of the Bible not important?

I started attending church services at much the same time as I started reading the Gospel of John. The way the pastor read and spoke about the Bible left me befuddled and bewildered. Most of the time he used isolated texts that he seemed to pluck at random from the book. It was like playing hopscotch – we jumped here there and everywhere.

Then someone gave me a Promise Box. It contained little cards with random Scripture verses. All my Christian friends were using them. We’d pull a new card out in the morning and carry it around with us during the day. Sometimes we’d quote it, chat about it, memorize it, or give it to someone. Now I understood. Obviously the Bible wasn’t meant to be read like other books. It was something you mined for nuggets.

Fortunately, that’s not the end of my story. Maybe because I’m inquisitive, or maybe it was the prompting of the Holy Spirit, but I wanted to read the Bible from the beginning, one book at a time, until I got to the end. So I did. And I found out that the Bible is much more than a collection of people’s favourite verses. It truly is God’s Story, and like any story it has characters, settings, plots/themes, conflicts and resolutions.

Reading through the Bible opened my eyes to something very important. I discovered that many of the texts I’d been learning, in isolation from their context, could be manipulated to say, or be applied in ways that weren’t true to the story as a whole. In fact after reading through the Bible it became evident that some of the verses I’d heard from the pulpit or learnt from my Promise Box, sometimes meant something entirely different when read in context.

Context is vital for biblical interpretation. In a culture that values instant access, instant answers, and instant everything, it can be tempting to take short-cuts with how we read the Bible. But if we do, we do so at our peril. When we read the Bible we must correctly handle the word of truth (cf. 2 Timothy 2:15). And the correct way to handle the truth is to read all of it.

Here’s my concern. If we separate texts from their context we can undermine the authority of Scripture and are more likely to misunderstand the Bible. Or worse, when we use texts isolated from their context, we can distort the truth and justify almost anything we want to say or do.

So here’s a shout-out for reading the Bible in context. Be diligent. Take time to understand each text against the background of its immediate text and the book within which it’s found.

Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scripture to be given for our learning, grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life which thou hast given us in thy Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen. (Anglican Prayer)

Recommended article: Not Everything in the Bible is Biblical, Jeff K. Clarke

© Scripture Union Canada 2016

2 Corinthians 4:5