Approaching the Bible can be daunting. It records thousands of years of human history in relatively few pages, but does so mostly through the stories of specific people in specific eras of history.
Yet with a few tips and tools, it can be completely accessible, even to novices.
One of the keys is to read the Bible like you would normally read anything. You naturally assess “Who wrote this?” “Who did they address it to?” And “What was the occasion that prompted them to write?” As well as “What did they intend to convey?”
If you read an email written by Party A addressed to Party B, you naturally and automatically assess what you know of Party A, and that they are writing to Party B. You immediately recognize whether they are conveying lyrics from a song they heard, a poem they wrote, a story they heard, or an event they witnessed. Without that context, it is difficult to assess the intended meaning. With the context, you can assess what was intended to be conveyed.
The Bible is unique because it is like a message written by Party A to Party B, but it is also a message written by God to each human, including each one of us. The way to fully access what God is saying to us is to first understand what the human writer was saying to the human audience in the time of its composition.
Sometimes the writer was conveying a historical record, in order to train and instruct. As Moses did in recording in Genesis the history of humanity and of the family of Abraham, who founded the tribe and nation of Israel. And as Luke did to tell the story of Jesus and the founding of the Christian church.
Sometimes the writer is recording instructions, such as Moses recording laws for the people of Israel to live by, as in Exodus and Deuteronomy. Or instructions on how to live by faith, as the Apostle Paul in the New Testament. Sometimes the writer records a song for people to sing, to help remember their past, and retain lessons learned, which occurs throughout the Old Testament.
On other occasions prophets warn people to repent, to live justly and treat others rightly, or suffer adverse consequences, as in the Prophetic books such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Amos. The New Testament records the words of John the Baptist, who called people to repentance. Solomon’s writings recorded in Ecclesiastes, Proverbs and Song of Solomon are philosophical, and convey wisdom principles to guide productive living. The Apostle Paul’s writings in the New Testament are largely instructional and lean heavily on the writings and teachings of the Old Testament, but also contain new revelations God gave to Paul.
Thebiblesays.com is written to help place you into the historical context, see through the eyes of the writer and recipients within the immediate context in which they were written. But also to place these writings within the context of the entire breadth of scripture.
Although the Bible was written by about 40 authors over a period of 1500 years or so, it has a consistent voice and a unity of message. Like a great novel, it has many stories that wrap up into one story. The overarching story is the story of humanity. God created humanity to rule the earth in harmony with one another and with God. We were apparently a replacement for Satan, who failed in his administration. He desired more than just to rule the earth, but wanted heaven as well.
So God made humans, who were a “little lower than the angels” but “crowned them” with the “glory and honor” of being made stewards over the earth. (Footnote for Psalm 8 and Hebrews 2). However, humanity fell as well, following the path of Satan, to refuse to remain within the bounds set by God. So God set a new boundary, a limitation of lifespan. We now have a limited time on earth. Death entered the world. Who will come and defeat this horrible enemy, and redeem humanity?
Enter the great hero of the biblical story – Jesus. He is God become man, to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves, redeem us from sin and death, by becoming death for us. He defeats the “supervillains” of Satan, Death and Hades. The rest of the story is about humans reacting to the redemption offered by God. God offers the redemption on multiple levels. He offers the redemption of relationship. We can receive by faith a relationship with God as His child, freely without cost to us. Jesus paid the full cost by dying on the cross. Jesus called this being born again. A new spiritual birth. Paul calls us a new creation, created in Christ Jesus. (Footnotes for both of these)
God also offers the redemption of purpose. As new creations in Christ, we are given a new power. The indwelling Holy Spirit. This gives us the power to serve others as Christ served. To love and stand for what is true in a world still infected with envy and self-seeking. A world that defines truth as what is expedient to have its desires met. We can redeem the stewardship for which we were created. If we do, God promises to reward us greatly, beyond what we can even imagine (footnote 1 Cor 2:9). If we don’t, we lose the opportunity, and there is great loss. Not of relationship, for that is freely given. But of stewardship (footnote 1 Cor 3).
Therefore, the Bible is a story of us. We can identify with the main characters as well as the supporting characters. When we read of others, we can identify. And when we read of the great hero, Jesus, we are reading of someone who has promised to take up dwelling within us and give us His power, if we are willing to receive it. And He will flow that power through us, if we are willing to allow it.
The Bible is like the great epics that capture our imagination. Only it is true, and it is not imaginary, it is real.
Thebiblesays seeks to convey to you the keys to understanding the Bible for yourself. To empower you to learn and steward the great gift of relationship and restoration of purpose God offers to each human.
In order to get full benefit of studying the Bible, we recommend this approach:
1) First, observe what is stated. “What does this say?” Look through the eyes of the author, and hear through the ears of the intended audience. Ask yourself “If I were there, what would I have heard?”
2) Only after observing what is said, interpret what it means. As humans, we are prone to begin with what we want to hear, then interpret what is said in a manner that supports what we had already concluded. There is little to be learned with this approach. The great gifts of the Bible become trite and meaningless if this approach is taken. After observing “What does it say?” Then ask “What does it mean?” As with step one, first ask “What would it have meant to those hearing?” “What would the author have desired the hearers to interpret?”
3) Step three is to then correlate your interpretation to test and see if it matches the surrounding context. Ask “Does this fit?” Does it fit the immediate context? Does it fit the greater context? Does it fit the broad context of the entire story arc of the Bible? If not, it is good to go back to step one, and focus on a greater level of observation.
4) The final step is to apply what you have understood. To address the question “How can I apply this in my life?” The stated goal of the Bible is that we be conformed to the image of Christ, the great hero of the story. So, in each engagement you have with the Bible, you are dealing with an infinite power source that can transform you into all God created you to become. The “word of God”. When we engage with God’s written word, and allow it to transform us, we are engaging with the living word, the indwelling Spirit that teaches and transforms us.