Wednesday, January 16, 2013

How to read the Bible

The Bible is the highest selling book every year, and in my opinion the most interesting book ever. The Bible is actually composed of 66 books, 39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament. The Bible was written over a period of about 1,500 years, and by over 40 different authors, all from different backgrounds, socioeconomic status, and time frames.

But how do we read it? How do we understand it? The Bible presents a lot of different challenges in our pursuit to understand it.

Whenever we read the Bible we read it through a modern, western mindset, and that is fine. Everybody has a worldview that they have developed and it dictates how we interpret everything that we see and experience. But the Bible was written from an ancient, eastern mindset. They had a completely different worldview than what we do. So when we read the Bible we cross a lot of boundaries. One of the main ones is the language barrier. The Bible was written is Greek, Aramaic, and Hebrew. Most people I know do not speak any of these languages. Do I believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God? Absolutely! However, it would be ignorant of us to not make ourselves aware of the fact that this inspired word of God had to be translated by normal people just like you and me that are subject to mistakes. It is very difficult to translate these languages into English. If you know anything about the Hebrew language, you know that most Hebrew words have at least 3 different meanings.

Also the Bible is filled with cultural influences that show up in all of the writings. Obviously, since we are not Hebrew, these cultural things don't make much since to us. So, how do you translate all of this into English? It is a challenge. Also, a lot of the bible (the creation story in Genesis, the Psalms, and other writings) are poetry. This is extremely difficult to translate into English without losing the message. If these poems were literally translated word for word, it would make no since to us. So the challenge for people who translated the Bible was to put the message into English, where we can understand and still maintain the integrity of the original Hebrew writings.

The Bible was written in a literal place at a literal time. If we don't understand the historical context in which the book was written, again much of the Bible will not make since to us.

In one of the Bible stories in the book of Acts we read that Phillip comes across a man who is reading the book of Isaiah. Phillip ask the man if he understands what he is reading. The mans reply is that he will not be able to understand it, unless he has someone teach him.

This man came from the same culture and spoke the same language of the book in which he was reading, and still needed help in order to understand it. My point is that if this man needed help to understand the scriptures, then certainly we need to also.

Finally, most of the New Testament writings are letters that were written to specific Churches for a specific reason. What I want you to realize, is that when you read these letters, you are basically reading someone else's mail. If I went up to some stranger's mailbox and read their personal letters, obviously a lot of the information (although I could read the language) would not make any since to me, since I would not know the context of the letter. The New Testament Letters were not written to you. (Note: I'm not trying to imply that the New Testament is not for us or beneficial to us. I'm simply noting that these letters were not written to us. We were not alive yet. :) )

For me personally, when I was growing up I would tend to shy away from the Old Testament writings (and still do some) simply because it did not make any since to me. Also, I noticed when for myself I started to look up the original Greek and Hebrew meanings for words that are commonly used in Christian circles, that these words took on a sometimes new or at least much deeper meaning than it did before. For example, I commonly used words like grace, repent, salvation, heaven, and Hell. These are basic words in the Bible to which I thought I had a clear picture of what they meant. So I thought....

Back to the original topic, How do we read the Bible? I want to post a few ideas on how to better read the Bible so that it will be more beneficial to you.

1. Research words you find in the Bible, find out the original Greek or Hebrew meaning of the word. This will help you to better understand what the original people that heard these words understood when they heard the message.

2. When you research, use a variety of resources, and try to stay away from people's personal opinions on what these words mean. Stick to the proven facts.

3. Figure out the historical facts of the writings that you are reading. Who wrote the book that I am reading? What time period was it written during? Who was the original audience? What was the original language it was written in? What was going on historically when this book was written?

The Bible says in Acts 17:11 "... these people searched the scriptures daily, to see if what Paul and Silas were saying was true."

It is not convenient to do all this research, I know that. But I believe that the Bible will come much more alive and easy to read if you take the time to figure out what exactly it is that you are reading. Don't just take the word of whoever is preaching to you on Sunday. Take the time to look for yourself.

God bless you as you open up his word to try to know him better!

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