Three Approaches to Reading

➡ Average Reading Time: 3 minutes

From the beginning of the printed story to its end, God is a speaking God (Gen 1.3ff.; Rev 22.10.ff). Early in my bachelor’s education, I heard a professor say, as he held up his Bible, “God has spoken, but what has he said?” Therein lays our dilemma. For most readers of our sacred text, what God is saying in many places in the sacred text is not all that clear. So, to understand what God is saying, we must establish what he has said.

God has spoken, but what has he said?

As an illustration: In the Gospel of Mark (Mark 10.17-29), Jesus tells a story about rich folks and the kingdom of God. In that story, he uses the phrase: “the eye of a needle.” Most likely somewhere in your sermon hearing, you have heard a pastor or teacher expound on this story.[ref]When I searched for the phrase “eye of the needle” on Google, it turned up 8,990,000 returns (January 23, 2013).[/ref] Those interpreting this text usually reveal the difficulty of how a camel can go through a small gate in Jerusalem named the Needle’s Eye. The hearer is often assured that just like the camel’s difficulty of getting through the gate; it is also difficult for us to enter into salvation. The whole of this kind of interpretation is built on the belief that there was a gate called the “Needle’s Eye” in Jerusalem during the time of Jesus. It may come as a surprise, but there was never such a gate there by that name or any similar name.[ref]Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. 3rd Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003), 21. [/ref] The earliest known comment about this gate in the history of the church is in the eleventh century by Theophylact. He must have had a similar difficulty in interpreting this passage as we do when we read it, namely that it is impossible for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. But that is precisely the point of the story that Jesus was telling: it is impossible for one who trusts in his riches to enter the kingdom of God. When riches rule, God does not! We can see from this simple illustration that we must establish what the text says before we have a chance in interpreting what the text means. To establish the text, we should first establish what approach we use when we read the Bible.

I looked for a Q Tips to clean out my ears thinking that I had surely heard that wrong.

There are several ways that we have been taught to read the text of Scripture. What lingers in many quarters of the church is reading Scripture in small fragments/verses, which is reinforced by the form most daily personal devotions follow. This kind of reading is like taking a little “Bible pill” to boost our spiritual energy for the day thinking a “verse a day will keep the devil away.” Recently, I heard that a church educational system was asking folks to memorize verses and then quote them back on a final exam. I looked for a Q Tips to clean out my ears thinking that I had surely heard that wrong. But, alas, it was true. Personally, I can’t think of anything more damaging to a person who is trying to follow Jesus than to memorize small fragments of the sacred text. If memorizing is to be helpful, it might be better to get folks to memorize the stories in the Bible. However, if we are going to be serious about reading the Bible, we must give attention to the whole story presented in the Bible. Here are several ways we have approached reading the Bible.

  1. A Historical Approach
  2. An Individual Devotional Approach
  3. The Best of Both Interpretative Approaches

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Read Me First


Throughout these sessions, I have used the word ecclesia (singular) for the usual word church and ecclesiae (plural) to indicate a church in a particular geographic place, i.e., the ecclesiae at Corinth, meaning the whole of the many smaller ecclesia that met in homes in Corinth. This is to distinguish between the Institutional Church model (IC) and ecclesia that meet in cities and towns around the world. The ecclesiae written about by the authors of the Second Testament were not the same as what the “church” has become over the years of its existence. Usually, but not always, folks think of a church as a place where they go to a building and set in rows of pews and listen to music and sometimes sing and listen to sermons by a pastor or senior pastor. The ecclesiae of the Second Testament time did not invoke this model.


I have discovered over the years that if you want to try and change minds about something special, you have to venture out and reword it in order to grasp a foothold for a new refreshed understanding of the idea presented by the word. Such is the case between "church" and "ecclesia."


Happy Reading!

Read Me Second


Referenced verses in the text of this study are not used to prove some point of view. They are merely markers where the subject matter is referenced by other books and authors. To gain a larger view of each quote, a serious student of the Holy Writ would take the time to view the reference and see what the background is. The background provides tracks on which the meaning of a text rides. So knowing the context of a referenced passage would help the reader to gain a more thorough understanding of an author than just the words quoted and marked by a verse number that was not a part of the original author's text, which as you might remember was performed on the text in a random fashion many years later.


Happy Reading!

Read Me Third


The verses that are referenced in these sessions are not meant to prove a point. They are simply pointers to where the idea being written about may have a correlation. In order to see if they accomplish the thesis presented by the original author, a student should read, at a minimum, the chapter in which the verse is found as well as trying to ascertain what the original author may have meant to say to the original audience.


Of course, this is a lot of work but it is beneficial work. If one does not understand what the author meant when it was written and the audience could not have understood by what was written, then the words on the page can mean anything that a present reader may assign as a meaning, thus distorting what God was inspiring for the original writer to write to the original audience to hear.

A great and recent book by N.T. Wright and Michael F. Bird entitled The New Testament in Its World would be a wonderful addition to your reading helps.


Happy Reading!

Jesus Followers


There are many synonyms to use for the word believer, which is the most common word for a person who has "converted" to follow Jesus. I have chosen "Jesus follower(s) or follower(s) of Jesus instead of the word believer in these presentations to allow the reader an opportunity to move away from the idea of believer which conjures up the possible thought of "ascent" to a set of doctrines that have been assembled by different groups over the centuries and show up in this day and age as a set of statements posted on web sites and other written material. These sets of beliefs are suggested by many as the ones that one should ascent to so that upon death the one who assents can go to heaven, i.e., just believe and you are good to go. Jesus followers/followers of Jesus suggest an action that one should take. Remember, Jesus told his disciples to follow him. Yes, belief is important, but one must move beyond belief to action.


(See "Discipleship" Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. 182-188.)