What Are We Reading?
Reading has its rules, otherwise, we would never be able to understand what an author was trying to communicate to us as readers. As an example, how many of you would buy a book from a bookstore, sit down and read it in the following fashion? You open it up to page forty-two and read several sentences. Then you turn to page ninety-eight and read a paragraph. You continue by turning to page two and reading the last sentence on the page. Your appetite whets, you turn to the last page and read the last paragraph. I would hasten to say that you do not read books with such an approach. You would not create in your children such a habit. Why, then, do we read the Bible in this manner?
But, if we take a step back from the rules of reading and ask what our presuppositions are about the book we are reading, we usually can identify that for most folks we think that the Bible is a rulebook of sorts. We think of it as an instruction manual that if followed we will find heaven at the end of our life. We often look at it in a fragmented way hoping to find one holy morsel planted in a verse that will solve our present problem.
The point here to be observed is that God gave us books; we should read them as such and question the way we think about it and its contents. To do so will make sense out of what has remained senseless to many. Think about how you read Scripture and, if it is in a random way, change and begin to read it as a story made up of hundreds of smaller stories. By doing so you honor the way in which God breathed his life into it. Any other way of reading may be a humanistic endeavor to outdo God’s own inspired method of delivery.
Scripture Is God-Breathed
God has revealed himself in Scripture by his acts and his words. His chief revelation was Jesus who came and showed us what God is like and what it means to live as his follower in this present evil age. It is important to think about why we think the stories/story in the Bible is God’s story. The text speaks to this issue when it offers an answer to the following question: What does it mean for Scripture to be God-breathed?
Human and Divine
It is commonly accepted that Jesus was both human and divine. So, it is with Scripture.
According to Peter Enns, there are three issues that are not handled properly by Bible readers:
- The similarities between the literature of other ancient societies and the First Testament.
- The authors of the books that comprise the First Testament have a diversity of theology.
- The writers of the Second Testament book authors use creative ways of interpretation that observe the practices of Judaism of their own time.[ref]Peter Enns Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament. 15-16.[/ref]
When you make room in your reading for the above three thoughts, one of the ways of working with the text in interpreting is what Enns calls an Incarnational model, which makes an analogy between the Bible and Jesus. “In the same way that Jesus is—must be—both God and human, the Bible is also a divine and human book”[ref]Enns. 17.[/ref].
The “human dimension” of the Bible does not find an easy home within the larger Evangelical church, according to Enns, which has “less to do with the Bible itself and more to do with our own preconceptions”[ref]Enns. 15.[/ref] of how the Bible should be.
God-Breathed: The Divine Side
There are at least two passages of Scripture in the Second Testament, which shed light on the inspiration of Scripture. The first is found in 2 Timothy 3.16 where the greater context of the verse is salvation. It reads:
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
The word God-breathed in this passage is a positive word that relates Scripture directly to God. While several translations have chosen to translate the Greek word by the English word inspired, The New International Version (NIV) has done justice to the unique work of the Holy Spirit by translating the word God-breathed, which is a direct translation of the Greek word theopneustos. (pronounced theo-NOOSE-tos). When Paul writes “all scripture” to Timothy, he means the First Testament, because that is the only Scripture that Tim knew about because the Second Testament had not yet been completely written. So, it is expedient to understand that the First Testament stands on the same ground as the Second Testament and should be read at least as often as the Second Testament.
To suggests that the human words are God-breathed surely points to their truth and trustworthiness. There is a specific goal, which these writings point toward: teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. The purpose of these God-breathed words is to bring about completeness and equipment for the people of God.
God-breathed points to an essential relationship between the breath of God and the words of men. A simple conclusion, which can be seen in this passage, is: Scripture is useful because it is God-breathed versus man-breathed.
The second passage is found in 2 Peter 1.21:
For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
For Peter prophecy is the prophecy, which is written in the First Testament. We may conclude that he is referring to Scripture or at least a part of Scripture. Peter’s words give us some clues in determining the character of Scripture.
The important phrase is from God. Prophecy comes from God, not from man. The phrase gives the dimension of authority and trustworthiness to the prophecy. The origin does not exclude the human character of it (note: men spoke). It does give the unique quality of trustworthiness that these human words have.
So, the essential understanding of God-breathed Scripture is the words of humans that were written down and carry the essential quality of trustworthiness.
Human Words: The Human Side
The question is often asked: Did the writers (humans) of Scripture know that this divine-human process was happening to them when they were writing? Here are several illustrations from the Second Testament that may help answer this question.
First, John calls the book of Revelation a revelation and a prophecy (Revelation 1.1-3).
The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testifies to everything he saw—that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.
This same kind of awareness was common in the First Testament prophets.
Second, Luke, the author of Luke-Acts, writes a description of his reason and efforts to write these books in the first few verses of Luke (Luke 1.1-4).
Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.
Notice, Luke mentions that:
- Several have written accounts.
- The material was handed down from the eyewitnesses.
- Luke had carefully investigated everything for himself.
- It seemed good for him to write also.
Third, Paul, in the letters, appears to show no awareness that this God-breathed process is going on when he is writing. He could even have a secretary help him write (Romans 16.22).
I, Tertius, who wrote down this letter, greet you in the Lord.
Finally, It is Peter who sees the writings of Paul as somehow within the same category of authority as the First Testament (2 Peter 3.14-16).
So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.
The apparent answer to the above question may be that some were aware of the process while others were not.
How Should I Be Reading
The God-breathed message that God provided for us in the Bible is told in individual books that were written by human authors, which can be stand-alone reads. By, this I mean that one can understand the Gospel of Mark without any of the other Gospels (Matthew, Luke, or John). One can understand First Corinthians without Second Corinthians or Ephesians. God has delivered his masterpiece in the form of many books that have been collected into one storybook, which is a matter of convenience, not inspiration. So it becomes imperative that we learn to honor his method of delivery and begin reading books from beginning to end and not only the small fragments (verses) that we are so accustomed to reading, meditating on and using to prove some point in an argument.
So how should you be reading Scripture? The almost universal way is to read three chapters a day. The problem with this is that the folks that divided up the books into chapters do not start and stop at the correct place. Remember that the chapter dividers are artificial and added to the inspired text at a later time for convenience. Find a Bible like The Books of the Bible, which was created as a reading Bible. You may also look at the new Immerse Bible....I mean that one can understand the Gospel of Mark without any of the other Gospels... Click To Tweet
Here’s my suggestion, read the Bible as a story.
Story: A Thumbnail
Why is the concept of Story important? Because Story is the design God picked to call us to our vocation, which is partnering with him in the redemption of his creation. Scripture provides for us God’s Story of creation and re-creation. It is within that Story that we look to discover how we improvise as we become “truly human” as God intended his human creation to be. We seek to live within the Story that understands the Triune God as Creator and Ruler of all things.
We can see his Story by thinking of a six-act play. Beginning in Act #1: Creation of the drama “there was a time when God spoke all things into existence… (Genesis 1-2). However, humankind, the crown of God’s creation, decided to worship what God had created instead of worshipping the Creator of the Universe (Genesis 3). True humanity became distorted and could no longer see God’s image clearly (Act #2: Chaos).
As the Story continues (Act #3: Covenant [the rest of the First Testament]) God creates and calls a people, Israel. It was God’s desire to have a people that would be the light of the world, to demonstrate what God was like within a pagan society. Israel’s vocation, bestowed by a missionary God, occurred with four great events. First, the Exodus/Redemption of Israel in which God brought a slave from the slave market. Second, the Covenant, a national charter to help Israel to understand how to be the people of God regardless of circumstances so they could demonstrate what being truly human was all about. Third, the kingdom where vocation was passed from nation to individual with a forward view toward the coming one who would be “truly human.” Finally, the Exile/Return from Exile, a time when Israel had all but lost her sense of vocation. For the next four hundred years, Israel understood herself as living in exile waiting for the “promised one” who would bring them freedom.
In the fullness of time, Jesus arrived on the scene of human history proclaiming the kingdom of God in this present evil age. God honored his covenants with Israel and his promise by sending his Son Jesus into the world born truly human as God intended humanity to be. The Story of Jesus is the apex of God’s Story (Act #4: Christ [the Four Gospels]). He called Israel to “Repent and Believe” and stop trying to be God’s people via quietist military means, or compromising ways, and begin living as he would show them to live by his words and works. Jesus came telling the Story in his own words (what it means to be an authentic disciple) and demonstrating the Story with his works (healing the sick, casting out demons, and raising the dead).
Act #5: Church of the Story of God is the re-creation by the Spirit of the church as God’s re-created humanity living in as a community. The church’s focus, like Israel before her, is to be the light to the world empowered by the Holy Spirit who releases his gracelets to accomplish his work. The story of her struggles to be the people of God are shared in the Second Testament’s Acts of the Holy Spirit and the rest of the books of the Second Testament.
There are a few clues about how the Story ends (Act #6: Consummation, which are displayed in the Olivet Discourse, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, Revelation, etc.)
We are now living in the sixth Act, between the times as it were, as the people of God who need to be thoroughly impregnated with the Story of God from which we now improvise as his “new humanity” so that we can be effective agents of his kingdom, news to this present evil age.
So, our desire should be to soak up the Story of God for his fame and the benefit of others.
For a full reading of the Story and its six acts, see my book God’s EPIC Adventure.
|Living into the Text!
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 read Scripture with the same kind of rules that you would use when you read any other kind of literature?
- Why is reading from the beginning to the end of a book more important than skipping around?
- How does skipping around within a book or over several books cause a misreading of what God said?
- What do you think about the idea that the writers of Scripture did not know that they were writing Scripture?
- How would the belief that each book within the Bible is a stand-alone book affect the way you read and understand Scripture?
- How does the overview of the Story in the Bible help you see your way clear to read it as a story?
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.