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Reading 1: It’s Not the Book That’s Dull!

Reading with Both Eyes Open

Far too often we read the Bible with one eye closed. Try this little exercise. Close either eye and look at the page you are reading. Then switch eyes. Normally, you should notice that the words on the page shifts. With one eye you get only one perception. Unfortunately, the one eye that you read with serves like a presupposition; you only see stuff from one point of view.

When it comes to reading the Bible that is usually the view of the ones that taught you to read the Bible, i.e., family, church, school, etc. One of the predominate ways that we were taught to read the Bible was in fragments, i.e., verses. We will say more about that anon. Another way we were taught to read was to defend some supposed doctrine, i.e., to form an apology for what we were taught to believe.

Several years ago I was visiting with a friend and he told me he was having a difficult time reading the Bible. He found himself reading verses and thinking, yep, that would help me make this point for what I believe. I suggested that he disband that form of reading and just pick a book, like Mark, and read for the pleasure of reading. I suggested that he read it several times watching for how the author told his story. I also suggested that he find a Bible without verses so he would not be stymied with the crude interruptions. He told me that he had never thought about just reading the text for enjoyment. A month of so later I saw him again and he told me he had tried what I had suggested and that he had gained a fresh view of reading the Bible text.

Stop for a moment and reflect on how you have been taught to read the Bible. Now think about this: The purpose of Reading the Bible with Both Eyes Open is to offer you some ideas about reading that you may have never seen with only one eye, i.e., the way you were taught to read. Think about the color of the lens you read through. Take a look at what I have written about colored lens here.

The Bible is an Exciting Book!

It is true, the Bible is one of the most exciting books in the world to read. However, sometimes it is difficult to read and understand. There are several reasons for this. First, the Bible was written to a different culture in a different time frame. People spoke, thought, and lived differently. Second, because of the way it is printed—in chapter and verse—we tend to read incomplete portions of Scripture instead of whole stories. Third, we don’t know where it came from or how it developed. Fourth, we overlook the part that man played in God’s plan to share his words with us. This introductory reading is designed to help you discover that Scripture, though years in the making, is built on the communicative strength of God choosing humankind to write them down and share them. It is my greatest hope that when you read Scripture that you are encountered by its message so that you can know and have allegiance to the faithfulness of God.

Interpretation Happens Automatically

The very first process that occurs when you pick up a book to read and begin scanning the words on the page with your eyes is interpretation. You are trying to understand what the author of the book is saying to you. Hearing an author is like hitting the bull’s eye of a target. It is fair to say that the genre of the book that you choose to read also has a lot to do with how you will interpret the book you are reading. As an example, you would not read a John Grisham thriller with the same set of rules that you read a piece of poetry by Robert Frost.

What is true of your everyday reading is also true as you read Scripture. God has seen fit in his bountiful creation to choose many authors and many types of literature to express his Story to us. It is incumbent on us as twenty-first-century readers and interpreters to honor him by taking the time to understand the way in which he chooses to send us his Story.

In order for you to acquire a good Bible reading skills, you must know some of the basic kinds of literature and how to understand them in order to help you appreciate value, and hear God’s voice through the pages of Scripture.

The very first process that occurs when you pick up a book...is interpretation Click To TweetIt is my opinion that there are two basic groups within the church when it comes to the reading and interpreting Scripture: first, those who believe that God now only speaks through the words on the pages of the Bible and maybe by “a still small voice.” Second, there are those who believe that God speaks in the various ways that he spoke in Scripture, as well as speaking through his written Word.

Those who are in the first group miss the rich variety of ways that God has chosen to communicate to his children. What a shame! On the other hand, those in the second group often pay lip service to hear God’s voice in the pages of Scripture while spending most and in some cases, all of their time, trying to hear God speak through many other vehicles while ignoring his written Story.

Content With Fragments

The Bible was designed by God to be read. It is not a dull book! While it is the best selling book of all times, it is often the least read. In the State of the Bible 2017 commissioned by American Bible Society and conducted by the Barna Group only 38% of those surveyed were classified as Bible-friendly. 1

Bible Friendly (38% of the population) includes the most US adults. They believe that the Bible is the actual word of God or the inspired word of God, without errors, but read the Bible less often than four or more times a week. On average, Bible Friendly adults are 5 years younger than those who are Engaged, at 47 years old. Like Bible Engaged adults, nearly half have never attended college, are more likely to be married, have children under 18 at home, and reside in the South and Midwest. Half of Bible Friendly adults are Christians who do not have a practicing faith. While two in five attend church weekly, nearly one-third (32%) are unchurched. About half of them are notional Christians (49%), that is, they call themselves Christian but do not believe Jesus died for their sins. About one-third of Bible Friendly adults are Catholics. Three out of five (60%) report reading the Bible at least three or four times a year (State of the Bible 2017. 6).

Sometimes without knowing it, we have been fashioned by the sayings of Scripture. Which of us has not said or heard, “…out of the mouth of babes” and knew that we were quoting a part of a verse from Psalms 8.2? Have we not spoken of a person’s attitude as being “holier than thou,” and knew that we were quoting a few words from Isaiah 65.5? Some of the greatest speeches in the world have quoted Scripture. One famous line from Abraham Lincoln was, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” He was quoting a line from the pen of Luke (Luke 11.17). Parents have told their children to “beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing.” They are quoting Jesus or misquoting him (Matthew 7.15). While we know some of the classic sayings of Scripture, we are often still illiterate of its meaning and power. We have focused on learning the smallest part of Scripture, its verses, being content with collecting fragments. By doing so we become mentally poorer in knowing its overall meaning.

The Bible is a wonderful book to read. However, in order to glean its riches, we must begin by reading. We are too often driven to study the Bible before we have learned to read it well. Even when we study Scripture it is often with misplaced American presuppositions about topics such as love, grace, mercy, hell, heaven, and the list goes on. Rather, what God gave us is a group of books, which came to us over several hundred years, written by many human authors, and guided by one spiritual author, which present a Story made up of a  beginning, middle, and end. These many and books, think literary pieces, have smaller stories

For the modern reader, we have the added distraction of a chapter and verse format in our Bibles. A long time ago, the books of the Bible were broken down into chapters and verses. You may wish to note that the original human authors of these inspired texts did not read or write in such a way. Chapters were added about A.D. 1250 and verses were completed in A.D. 1560. We might also note that the church did without these little sometimes-annoying additions for a millennium and a half. Reading chapters does not present a difficulty for the modern. From our earliest reading experiences, we learned to read in chapters. The books of the Bible follow this tradition even though they often break in funny places (the end of Genesis chapter one should be at 2.4a others suggest 2.3). Verses, on the other hand, pose a different obstacle. While verses are a convenient way to look up our special, loved passages, they often only add to the confusion of trying to read and understand what God has said to his people. Most verses are often only part of a sentence. There really is no rhyme or reason for where the verses are numbered the way they are. It would be like you reading this sentence:

3 I love the sound 4 of your voice in the springtime.

Then, for some unknown reason, you decide to memorize only verse 4, “of your voice in the springtime.” Doesn’t make much sense, does it?

Remember, verses in Scripture are often only part of a complete sentence. The church has taught us to memorize Scripture verses. 2 Memorizing verses equips believers with the bad habit of quoting verses. Usually, when we do so we are only quoting a part of what God has actually said. Folks that hear us practice quoting verses may come to believe from these “quoting sessions” that God doesn’t know how to speak in a complete sentence. In addition to this, we often quote the passage out of its context. If one wants to memorize, maybe a paragraph or a chapter would be a good place to begin.

It Means What?

Nothing has real meaning in Scripture outside of its historical and grammatical context. This is not to say that God will not apply passages of Scripture to us in our personal reading. He does and will continue to do so. An edifying moment, however, is not meaning.

We all know of people who have the “finger pointing” approach in Bible reading. Here is one such story.

Tim was in a hurry one morning. He had been depressed for days over his family life. He hurriedly took his Bible, opened it and pointed his finger to a passage. The passage read, “So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.” “This can’t be from God,” Tim reasoned. So he shut his Bible and opened to another passage. Tim’s finger landed on the last part of Luke 10.37, “Go and do likewise.” In his Bible, it was in red. He believed that this was the very word of Jesus for him. What was God trying to tell him to do?

While we may look at this example with some humor, it is not uncommon for thousands of believers to look to God for guidance in their lives in this way. Many of you may hear stories which attest to God actually giving guidance in such a fashion. God can do what he chooses to do. But, experiencing his guidance in this fashion does not mean that this is his primary way of his guiding us and speaking to us.

The meaning of Scripture only comes from its context. As we journey from week to week, this little axiom will become clearer to you. We will help you understand some of the guidelines that are useful to use when reading Scripture. It really is not the book that is dull!

Living into the Story!

It is always important to live into what you have learned. Pause at this point and ask for the help of the Holy Spirit to meditate on and put into practice some or all of the following.

  • Why is it important to know that the Bible was written to a different culture in a different time frame where people spoke, thought, and lived differently than we do?
  • Why do you think that there are so many different interpretations of any one passage of Scripture? Does that bother you?
  • Why do you think that we often read the Bible in such a fragmented style instead of reading the stories as a whole?
  • If you knew the background history and some of the meaning of words that are in Scripture, how do you think that would change the meaning of some of your favorite passages of Scripture?
BibleInfoResources!

The articles below come from various Bible Dictionaries and other sources. The posting of these brief articles are to introduce some readers to the vast amount of information that is provided to enhance your reading of the text of the Bible with a hope that it will lead to a better understanding of the text and will lead the reader to an improved praxis in his or her community of faith and personal life. You might read the articles offline in a number of different Bible Dictionaries. If you do not own a Bible Dictionary, I would recommend New Bible Dictionary 3rd Edition. If you like lots of color pictures, try Revell Bible Dictionary. Revell Bible Dictionary is no longer in print but is available from Amazon. One of these should suit your personal needs. Another option is Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, which is one of the most useful and practical theological reference books online. With bibliographies for most entries, further reading help and study is very practical.

  • Bible
  • Chapters and Verses
  • Luke

EndNotes:

  1. American Bible Society and Barna Group. State of the Bible
  2. ChurchWorld.org. The Toxic Use of the Bible and Its Antidote.

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Bible

The word Bible is the English form of the Greek name Biblia, meaning "books," the name which in the fifth century began to be given to the entire collection of sacred books, the "Library of Divine Revelation." The name Bible was adopted by Wickliffe, and came gradually into use in our English language. The Bible consists of sixty-six different books, composed by many different writers, in three different languages, under different circumstances; writers of almost every social rank, statesmen and peasants, kings, herdsmen, fishermen, priests, tax-gatherers, tentmakers; educated and uneducated, Jews and Gentiles; most of them unknown to each other, and writing at various periods during the space of about 1600 years: and yet, after all, it is only one book dealing with only one subject in its numberless aspects and relations, the subject of man's redemption.

 

It is divided into the Old Testament, containing thirty-nine books, and the New Testament, containing twenty-seven books. The names given to the Old in the writings of the New are "the scriptures" (Matt. 21:42), "scripture" (2 Pet. 1:20), "the holy scriptures" (Rom. 1:2), "the law" (John 12:34), "the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms" (Luke 24:44), "the law and the prophets" (Matt. 5:17), "the old covenant" (2 Cor. 3:14, R.V.). There is a break of 400 years between the Old Testament and the New.

 

The Old Testament is divided into three parts:, 1. The Law (Torah), consisting of the Pentateuch, or five books of Moses. 2. The Prophets, consisting of (1) the former, namely, Joshua, Judges, the Books of Samuel, and the Books of Kings; (2) the latter, namely, the greater prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, and the twelve minor prophets. 3. The Hagiographa, or holy writings, including the rest of the books. These were ranked in three divisions:, (1) The Psalms, Proverbs, and Job, distinguished by the Hebrew name, a word formed of the initial letters of these books, _emeth_, meaning truth. (2) Canticles, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Esther, called the five rolls, as being written for the synagogue use on five separate rolls. (3) Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, and 1 and 2 Chronicles. Between the Old and the New Testament no addition was made to the revelation God had already given. The period of New Testament revelation, extending over a century, began with the appearance of John the Baptist.

 

The New Testament consists of (1) the historical books, viz., the Gospels, and the Acts of the Apostles; (2) the Epistles; and (3) the book of prophecy, the Revelation.

 

The division of the Bible into chapters and verses is altogether of human invention, designed to facilitate reference to it. The ancient Jews divided the Old Testament into certain sections for use in the synagogue service, and then at a later period, in the ninth century A.D., into verses. Our modern system of chapters for all the books of the Bible was introduced by Cardinal Hugo about the middle of the thirteenth century (he died 1263). The system of verses for the New Testament was introduced by Stephens in 1551, and generally adopted, although neither Tyndale's nor Coverdale's English translation of the Bible has verses. The division is not always wisely made, yet it is very useful.

 

Easton's Bible Dictionary: Luke

Chapters and Verses

The books of the Old and New Testaments were divided into chapters from an early time. The Pentateuch was divided by the ancient Hebrews into 54 sections, one of which was read in the synagogue every Sabbath day (Acts 13:15). These sections were later divided into 669 sections of unequal length. The Prophets were divided in the same manner into passages. In the early Latin and Greek versions of the Bible, similar divisions were made. The New Testament books were also divided into portions of various lengths under different names with titles and heads or chapters. In modern times this ancient example was imitated, and many attempts of the kind were made before the existing division into chapters was fixed.

 

The Latin Bible published by Cardinal Hugo of St. Cher in A.D. 1250 is generally regarded as the first Bible that was divided into our present chapters, although it appears that some of the chapters were fixed as early as A.D. 1059. This division into chapters came gradually to be adopted in the published editions of the Hebrew Bible, with some few variations, and in the Greek Scriptures. The division into verses came in A.D. 1551 when Robert Stephens introduced a Greek New Testament with the inclusion of verses. The first entire English Bible to have verse divisions was the Geneva Bible A.D. 1560.

Luke

Luke, the evangelist, was a Gentile. The date and circumstances of his conversion are unknown. According to his own statement (Luke 1:2), he was not an "eye-witness and minister of the word from the beginning." It is probable that he was a physician in Troas, and was there converted by Paul, to whom he attached himself. He accompanied him to Philippi, but did not there share his imprisonment, nor did he accompany him further after his release in his missionary journey at this time (Acts 17:1). On Paul's third visit to Philippi (20:5, 6) we again meet with Luke, who probably had spent all the intervening time in that city, a period of seven or eight years. From this time Luke was Paul's constant companion during his journey to Jerusalem (20:6-21:18). He again disappears from view during Paul's imprisonment at Jerusalem and Caesarea, and only reappears when Paul sets out for Rome (27:1), whither he accompanies him (28:2, 12-16), and where he remains with him till the close of his first imprisonment (Philemon 1:24; Col. 4:14). The last notice of the "beloved physician" is in 2 Tim. 4:11.

 

There are many passages in Paul's epistles, as well as in the writings of Luke, which show the extent and accuracy of his medical knowledge.

 

Easton's Bible Dictionary: Luke

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