How Do You Read Scripture?
How do you read Scripture? I’m not asking when do you read Scripture, how often do you read Scripture, or do you read from a physical Bible or a device. I’m not even asking what translation or location. I’m probing about your stance.
I recently returned from a week-long class in seminary. This class left certain impressions on my mind. Many impressions—too many for this article. So, I’ll stick to one, the one summed up by the question at the beginning of this article. As a pastor, I read the Bible continually. I study the Bible intensely. And I preach the Bible passionately. I am in the Bible all the time. So much so, that the week away exposed how often I stand over the text. I seek to figure it out rather than standing under the text, letting it help me figure me out.
These two ideas are not mutually exclusive. I need to understand what the Bible says so I can understand who I am and what I ought to do. But I must admit that I frequently approach the text with a limited series of questions. With limited questions come limited understanding. With questions only focused on what the text says, I fail to ask what is the text saying to me. So, when I ask the question, “How do you read Scripture?”, I’m really asking, “Do you read only to understand the Scripture, or do you read to hear its proclamation to you?”
As this idea has been churning in my thinking, I recently read this paragraph from Thomas á Kempis in The Imitation of Christ: “If you wish to derive profit from your reading of Scripture, do it with humility, simplicity, and faith; at no time use it to gain a reputation for being one who is learned. Eagerly ask yourself questions. . . .” Humility, simplicity, faith. Could there be a better stance when reading the Bible? I doubt it.
His encouragement to ask questions is vital to good Bible reading. To some degree, we all ask questions when we come to the Scriptures. Unfortunately, many of us are simply satisfied with only one question: what does this text say? That is a good question, a necessary question, but not the only question we should be asking of the text. If that is true, then what questions? What questions will move me from what the text said to what the text says to me?
Daniel Doriani helps move the reader of Scripture to ask good questions in Putting the Truth to Work: The Theory and Practice of Biblical Application. He offers four questions that every reader should ask. Not every text answers these four questions, but becoming a good reader of Scripture requires we ask these four questions. I have found these questions very helpful in both my preaching and reading of Scripture. The questions are the following:
1) What should I do? The focus of this question is on my duty.
2) Who should I be? The focus of this question is on my character.
3) Where should I go? The focus of this question is on my goals.
4) How can I distinguish truth from error? The focus of this question is on my discernment.
How do you read the Bible? Are you over the text or under the text?