This is the final post of our series on tipping points in the Christian life (a tipping point is “the one small step” that can lead to a “giant leap” forward in an area of life or field of study).
Today’s tipping points are small steps that can yield major leaps in understanding the Bible.
There is so much to understand in the Bible. Many of us are just scratching the surface when it comes to understanding the Bible. Others are intimidated by the Bible, feeling that the theological, cultural, and historical obstacles of the Bible are difficult to surmount. But we can see breakthroughs in the way we understand the Bible if we are willing to adopt certain perspectives and practices in our Bible study.
1. Read the Bible according to its design and intent. See the Bible as the God’s disclosure of his character and his plans for us and for this world. The Bible is not simply a record of thoughts about God. God speaks through the prophets and apostles who wrote the books of the Bible. When we read the Bible we are dealing with divine revelation. The Bible is also not simply God’s instruction manual for how we are to live life. In the Bible God speaks primarily to reveal himself and what he has done, is doing, and will do in this world, through Christ and by his Spirit. There is no more valuable pursuit than knowing our God: “Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let those who boast boast about this: that they understand and know me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice, and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 9:23-24, TNIV).
This tipping point gives us the motivation we need when reading the Bible. We are learning about God himself, and we are encountering the good news of how he is re-implementing his reign over this world, through the sacrificial and saving work of Christ. Moreover, we learn that the God who reigns is also our Father, since those who have faith in Christ have been adopted into God’s special family and are in a permanent and intimate relationship with him as his plans for the world move forward. This ought to give our Bible study a sense of urgency and excitement.
2. Read words, sentences, and paragraphs within their greater contexts. Words are intelligible as parts of sentences, sentences are intelligible as parts of paragraphs, and paragraphs are intelligible as parts of entire books of the Bible (particularly in keeping with the genre of each book). The Bible contains discourse that is coherent rather than disjointed. The parts support the whole, and the whole gives clearer meaning to the parts. Since we know that the Bible communicates coherent discourse, we can study the Bible with persistence and hope. When the meaning of a passage is not immediately evident to us, we can be confident that additional examination of the context can yield more insights and uncover fresh connections within the text.
3. Read the Bible with covenantal sensitivity. God interacts with the world and the people of the world according to various covenants – from the covenants with Noah, Abraham, Moses and the Israelites, and David, to the new covenant in Jesus. God does not change in his character, but he relates to people differently according to his covenant relationship (or lack thereof) with them. Understanding how the relationship between God and his people is defined in any given setting helps us make sense of each scene of the Bible. Without an awareness of the covenantal structure of the Bible, some of God’s actions, commands, promises, and responses will seem arbitrary and confusing (think of some of the conquest passages in the Old Testament, for example). Another way of looking at this is that we need to understand the overall, unfolding story of the Bible (which is carried along by covenants implemented by God) in order to see how the individual books of the Bible fit together as part of the bigger picture.
4. Read the Bible with the right outcomes in mind. This brings us back to the first tipping point in this post. The Bible is given to us to help us know God. He has chosen to reveal his heart in the words of the Bible. Our response each time we read the Bible should be to believe, worship, and obey God. God wants us to experience life-change when we hear his words, to be the wise builders of Matthew 7:24-27, or the observant mirror-gazers of James 1:22-25, or the emotionally responsive crowds (first mourning then celebrating) of Nehemiah 8:8-12.
Reading and studying the Bible can be a joyful and enriching lifelong practice. Reading the Bible as God’s purposeful revelation, according to its literary and covenantal context, and with a prayerful longing for life-transformation helps us break through barriers of aimlessness, confusion, passivity, and apathy in our Bible reading.