As Christians, we love the Bible. Many of us even have quite the collection—from that old King James Bible we used as a kid, to that new ESV Journaling Bible we received as a gift. One of the first apps we download on a new mobile device (whether out of devotion or guilt) is usually a Bible app. We love posting Bible verses on social media, sharing typography that moves us or a landscape that captures the beauty of a psalm. And while we know that some of the Old Testament and Revelation can be hard to grasp, for the most part we believe that all Scripture is profitable for our spiritual growth. So, we make it a point to read our Bible(s) often.
Superstition Ain’t the Way
Yet when we actually sit down to read the Bible, we often do so in a way that is all wrong, and even dangerous. We might say that Scripture is “God’s Word,” but we easily forget that behind the sixty-six books and forty-or-so different authors who wrote across a period of over 1500 years stands one divine Author telling one glorious story. J. I. Packer explains:
“When you read a book, you treat it as a unit. You look for the plot or the main thread of the argument and follow it through to the end. You let the author’s mind lead yours. . . . You know that you will not have understood it till you have read it from start to finish. If it is a book you want to master, you set aside time for a careful, unhurried journey through it.
“But when we come to Holy Scripture, our behavior is different. To start with, we are in the habit of not treating it as a book—a unit—at all; we approach it simply as a collection of separate stories and sayings. We take it for granted that these items represent either moral advice or comfort for those in trouble. So we read the Bible in small doses, a few verses at a time. We do not go through individual books, let alone the two Testaments, as a single whole. We browse through the rich old Jacobean periods of the King James Version or the informalities of the New Living Translation, waiting for something to strike us. When the words bring a soothing thought or a pleasant picture, we believe the Bible has done its job. We have come to view the Bible not as a book, but as a collection of beautiful and suggestive snippets, and it is as such that we use it. The result is that, in the ordinary sense of ‘read,’ we never read the Bible at all. We take it for granted that we are handling Holy Writ in the truly religious way, but this use of it is in fact merely superstitious.”[i]
The Bible Tells a Story
The Bible is not simply a collection of motivational sayings or unrelated stories. God did not give us a box of inspired fortune cookies to dig through and crack open, ignoring what seemingly doesn’t apply to us and acknowledging only what makes us feel good inside. He gave us a book to read—a book that tells a story.
The Bible is the story of God’s saving acts in history to redeem sinners and restore all things for his glory. It is the story of a King and his kingdom. It is a story that begins at the very beginning of history, ends at the very end of history, and explains everything in between. “It is a single, coherent story, planned and executed and recorded by a single omnipotent, omniscient God.”[ii] And it is a story of grace that is ultimately centered on the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Yes, there are several different literary styles that make up the story of Scripture, but it is still telling one story of redemption. Yes, it is a collection of books composed by many human authors, but it is still the inspired word and the self-revelation of one divine Author. Once we begin to approach the Bible with this understanding—and with the eyes of our hearts enlightened by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:18; Rom. 12:2; 2 Cor. 4:6)—we will begin to read the Bible as it ought to be read.
Take Up and Read!
So, how do we put this understanding into action? First, it means actually reading the Bible through from cover to cover. Begin to familiarize yourself with God’s story of redemption. When you’ve finished, do what you do when you come to the end of your favorite television show or your favorite record album: go through it again! Sometimes it’s good to go slowly through the Bible, mining all of the riches we can out of each and every verse. But “binge-reading” the Bible can be just as fruitful.
Second, remember that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the main theme that unites the whole of Scripture together. Don’t get discouraged when reading about the borders of the twelve tribes in Joshua or the bizarre imagery in Ezekiel. Instead, keep your eyes on Jesus and the primary themes that run throughout the Bible: promise and fulfillment, creation and new creation, faith and obedience, sin and sacrifice, offspring and kingdom, and so on. You may not understand how every part of Scripture relates to the whole the first time through, but as you prayerfully keep your focus on the gospel of Jesus Christ, you will slowly but surely grow in your understanding and appreciation of God’s holy word.
Third, take advantage of your church’s teaching ministries (assuming you attend a Bible-preaching, gospel-centered, Christ-exalting church). Attend Sunday School classes; sit under the preaching of the word every week; join a small group Bible study. Additionally, go to your pastor(s) with your questions and concerns! Instead of doing a Google search, ask your pastor about any books or Bible reading plans that he recommends. He is a devoted student of Scripture and spends every day familiarizing himself with the story of redemption for your benefit. He prays for you and knows you better than some other guy’s blog ever will.
And fourth, rinse and repeat as necessary. Take up and read!
[i] J. I. Packer, “The Plan of God,” in God’s Plan for You (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2001), 18–19.
[ii] Michael Lawrence, Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church: A Guide for Ministry, 9Marks (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 30.