Spiritual Disciplines Series: Reading Scripture

Reading Scripture on a regular basis has always been a cornerstone of the Christian faith. Christians are “people of the book.” If you grew up in church, you are likely familiar with pastors and teachers saying how important it is to be reading the Scriptures on a regular basis. You may have even heard sermons about the reliability and trustworthiness of the Bible or the Bible’s inerrancy and infallibility.

It is, of course, crucial to know that the Bible is a trustworthy document, but this doesn’t necessarily help us understand what the Scriptures mean. I don’t know if you have noticed, but there is some pretty weird stuff in the Bible! I mean, really, why should we keep going back to an ancient book full of sordid stories, strange poetry, and letters written to other people in far-off, unfamiliar places?

Without a clear answer to this question, reading the Bible can become a dull, difficult ritual that we practice because we know “it’s the right thing to do,” or we hope that God will bless us for checking off a box on our Bible reading plan. In short, Scripture reading becomes an attempt at earning God’s favor.

Many Christians are made to feel guilty because they spend more time every day watching TV than they do reading their Bible. So, we double our efforts to please God. Maybe you made a New Year’s resolution to read through the entire Bible this year. You downloaded a Bible reading plan. You made it through the exciting and controversial book of Genesis, you blazed through the Exodus story and even managed to trudge through those repetitive chapters on the building of the tabernacle. You’re feeling good. Then you hit Leviticus. You read a few chapters, you’re weirded out, and you turn to Numbers hoping for more stories, only to run into more strange rituals and genealogies. You decide that maybe it’s best to skip to the New Testament. It’s all about Jesus anyway, right? Or maybe you just give up.

If the above paragraph describes your Bible reading experience, you are not alone. As it turns out, most of us have probably read Genesis and Exodus several times, along with scattered bits of the New Testament, while leaving out most of the Old Testament. If you’re feeling guilty right now, let me just stop for a second and say, “Good job!” Seriously, I mean that. Don’t beat yourself up. If you’ve made it through Genesis, Exodus, and at least some of the New Testament, you are well on your way. Genesis and Exodus are foundational for understanding the story of Jesus in the New Testament.

That said, if you skip most of the Old Testament, your understanding of who Jesus was and what he came to do will be stunted. It would be a little like watching Avengers Endgame without having seen any of the other films in the Marvel series. Of course, you could get a decent grasp of what’s going on, but your understanding of the characters and the actions they take will necessarily be limited because you have missed a huge chunk of the story. Part of the reason it can be hard to read the Bible and find it relevant to our lives is that we haven’t yet grasped it as one big story.

We all live and act out of the story that we think we are part of. According to Alasdair MacIntyre in his book After Virtue, “I can only answer the question ‘What am I to do?’ if I can answer the prior question ‘Of what story or stories do I find myself a part?”¹ The story that I believe myself to be a part of influences the way I think about what I should do in the world.

Scripture is not just a record of what God has done. It is an ongoing story of which we are a part. We go back to it over and over to remember who we are, to remember who God is, and to learn about what he has done, is doing, and will do in the world. The Scripture is, according to N. T. Wright, the “family story.”² And to live meaningfully in this world, we need to find our place in that story. The Bible is the story where God forms us and shapes us into the truest version of ourselves—that is, his image-bearers, reflecting his life to the world.

So, how do we make Scripture reading a habit beyond our New Year’s resolution? Here are a handful of suggestions to help you engage with the Bible.

Pick a good translation. There are many translations available, from the easily accessible The Message, to the enduring high language of the King James Version. Broadly speaking, there are two types of Bible translation philosophies. “Word-for-word” translations (Interlinear, NASB, etc.) attempt to capture the literal wording of the original Greek and Hebrew. The trouble with this philosophy is that sometimes the meaning gets lost and the reading becomes very clunky. “Thought-for-thought” translations (The Message, CEV, etc.) attempt to capture the meaning of the text. The danger here is that sometimes the literal wording gets sacrificed. Translations such as the NRSV, NIV, and NLT tend to fall somewhere in between both philosophies.

You can find more detailed information about Bible translations at Christianbook.com
Check out this brief video by Tim Challies on Bible translations.

Do what is best for you. Some people recommend reading two or three chapters of the Bible every day. Others find this approach too fragmented and prefer to read whole books in one sitting. Still others prefer to read a chapter—or a section of a chapter—in order to ruminate on each idea fully. However you choose to do it, the point is to engage with Scripture regularly, whether that means reading a few chapters a day or sitting and reading for a couple hours once a week. If you find reading difficult, try downloading an audio version of the Bible (such as “The Bible Audio App”) to listen to as you drive or work out.

Check out Bible Reading Plans. There are several Bible reading plans listed below, but first, a word of caution: One of the easiest ways to get bogged down (and eventually give up on reading through the Bible) is feeling like you have to make up any days you miss. Lots of things get in the way of Bible reading plans: maybe you were sick, you overslept, or you just had a busy day. Life happens, don’t sweat it. Just continue reading where you left off and don’t feel the need to “catch up.” It’s not a contest. If it takes you two or three years to get through the Bible, that’s perfectly fine.

  1. The Bible Project has created a free Read Scripture app that takes you through the Bible in a chronological sequence. It also includes videos for each book of the Bible to help you understand the context and major themes.
  2. Bible Gateway has several free Bible reading plans that you can utilize based on your reading habits.
  3. The Book of Common Prayer includes a lectionary for reading through the Old Testament once, most of the New Testament twice, and the Psalms six times in one year.

Find helpful resources. You don’t have to be a scholar to understand the Bible, but utilizing the many tools and resources that are available can help you get a better understanding of Scripture. Check out some of the resources below.

  1. Reading a short book like How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth will help you better understand the different genres of Scripture and give you an introduction to the science of Bible interpretation. If you’re looking for something a little meatier, check out Grasping God’s Word.
  2. Check out animated videos from The Bible Project on books of the Bible, word studies, and major themes.
  3. Commentaries are a more advanced way of studying Scripture. Some commentaries are technical and require advanced knowledge of Greek and Hebrew. However, there are many accessible commentaries that do not require this advanced knowledge. Check out The New Testament for Everyone / The Old Testament for Everyone or The Bible Speaks Today series (commentaries can be purchased individually or in a set).
  4. Summit also offers resources on Bible Reading, including:
    “Five Reasons to Study the Bible”
    “10 Steps to Study the Bible”
    “Help for Reading and Understanding the Bible”
    Podcast: Hermeneutics and History
    Glenn Paauw videos on Reading Scripture
  5. And just for fun, check out this periodic table of the Bible by Tim Challies.

Hopefully, the above resources will be an aid to you as you study the Scriptures. There is more to come in this series as well, since we are instructed not just to read and study Scripture, but to actively meditate on it. How do we meditate on Scripture? That’s what we’ll cover next week.