How NOT to Read the Bible
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When I first picked up a Bible, I was nine years old. I’d been given a family Bible by my dad. It was his mother’s Bible, and she’d signed it on January 18 1915. My dad signed it on 6-10-1941 when he was eleven. When he gave it to me, I signed it too ~ April 1 1967. My plan was to read the Bible from start to finish. From memory, I got through the first couple of chapters of Genesis and then got bored. I didn’t pick the Bible up again for a decade. I was nineteen and had just accepted Jesus as my Saviour. I must say, the Bible had improved dramatically in ten years.
I’ve now been reading and studying the Bible for over four decades and have learned a few things that have helped me enjoy this wonderful book. I’ve also fallen into the trap of reading and understanding the Bible the wrong way at various times, reaping the not-so-good consequences. So, let’s explore how NOT to read the Bible!
Out of Obligation
It goes something like this: “God says to read the Bible, so I better do it, even though I don’t want to.” Obligation takes all the joy out of reading the Bible. It comes from legalistic teaching that says, “you just gotta read the Bible; otherwise, God won’t be pleased with you.”
As a young Christian, I attended the seminar, “The hour that changes the world.” It taught people how to pray for an hour, breaking 60 minutes into 12 five-minute segments. You’d spend the first five minutes in praise and worship, the following five in waiting on the Lord. Then confession, praying Scripture, watching and intercession all the way through to praise at the end.
I’m sure Dick Eastman, the author of this course, had good intentions. But this seminar killed my prayer life. It changed it from a spontaneous and enjoyable time with God into a legalistic chore. Imagine me treating my relationship with Christie in this way. “Right-o honey, we’ve got an hour to spend with each other. Let’s take the first five minutes to praise each other, then we’ll wait in silence for five minutes, then….” I can just hear Christie’s response already, and it’s not good. That would be a perfect way to ruin any relationship.
It’s the same with reading the Bible. Legalism ruins our enjoyment of God’s excellent Word. “We don’t read the Bible because we have to. We read it because it’s good for us, our relationship with God, other people, and the world.”
An Instruction Manual
Instruction manual Christians view the B.I.B.L.E. as Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. It’s clever but inaccurate.
Seeing the Bible as merely an instruction manual, a handbook takes away from its status as God’s inspired Word, a holy communication from deity to humanity. The Bible is so much more than just a list of dos and don’ts. Indeed, there are dos and don’ts in the Bible, but if you spend all your time doing the dos, you won’t have time to do the don’ts.
Remember, The Law didn’t work. If it had been sufficient to restore the relationship between God and people, God wouldn’t have needed to enter the human race as one of us. God’s instructions would have been enough. Except they weren’t. God’s interested in a relationship with you. A real relationship that is not based on a to-do list!
Again, imagine bringing the “instruction manual” attitude into a relationship. Your primary communication method to your partner becomes a “To-Do List” posted to the fridge each day. Such a relationship will not endure.
God’s Answer Book
The Bible has lots of wisdom, but it doesn’t answer all questions or life situations. People who view the Bible as merely an answer book treat it like a daily horoscope. In my years in radio, I often had to play the daily stars. I’d get phone calls from listeners who’d missed hearing them and asked me to tell them what their horoscope was. One listener told me they couldn’t get out of bed until they knew what their day would be like. How sad.
I’ve come across many Christians who “read” the Bible by randomly opening it with their eyes closed and then pointing their finger at a verse. It’s a practice called bibliomancy and is basically fortune telling for Christians.
The process of bibliomancy involves:
- Asking God a straightforward question
- Opening the Bible to a random page
- Trailing a finger in slow circles until “the spirit” says to stop.
- The verse where the questioner’s finger points supposedly contains the answer.
Don’t get me wrong. God can and does lead us to specific Bible verses that speak to us in a time of need. God sometimes causes us to stumble on a verse precisely when we need the message it contains. But the Bible is so much more than just an answer book.
To Win Arguments
We all know THAT person who is ALWAYS right about the Bible and more than willing to tell you why! On EVERY occasion! People like this lack humility and grace and invariably come across as harsh, legalistic, and dogmatic.
I encourage you to spend some time this week reading and meditating on Psalm 25:4-21. The theme of this song is “How to have a teachable spirit.” The bottom line is this, “He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way.” (9)
To have a teachable spirit, we must be humble. The humble heart says to God, “I don’t know it all; I haven’t arrived yet. Please teach me; I want to learn.” The humble heart also listens to others. That is the person whom God will teach. We need to bring that heart and mind to our time in God’s Word.
Next week, I’ll share some practical ways to enjoy the Bible on your own as well as with other people.