What About the Bible? (week 3, Back to Basics series)

The video for this session can be watched at the bottom of this page.
The supporting article for this week can be found here.

The Bible reading for this Sunday did not get recorded.  The reading was 2 Timothy 3.

There are countless ways to talk about the Bible. On the extra material this week I’ve tried to discuss the more academic questions that tend to arise. Of the myriad remaining options, I’ve chosen what I think will best help us in this series.

How should we use the Bible, and what should we expect of it?

This is, of course, dangerous ground. Everyone present no doubt already has an opinion about the Bible, and no doubt some of you aren’t about to change those opinions cheaply.

When we read from the Bible together, we have a little saying – “This is the word of the Lord.”

Some may think that it means God dictated the words to people who wrote them down, and so the Bible’s author really is God.

Other may think that the Bible was inspired by God. That is, God triggered both the thoughts and the decision to record them, though the words themselves are the choice of many authors over a long history.

Others may think the Bible is an historical document, while others may think it’s anything but that. Others may think it is symbolic in nature – not history, but pointing to truth. For them, stories have to be interpreted.

I am all of these people, because I believe the Bible contains all of these things. One task is to work out what kind of book you’re reading.

The Old Testament contains 39 distinct books; the New Testament 27 – 66 in all.

There is absolutely history in the bible. Archaeology has proven that beyond doubt. But that doesn’t make the whole bible history.

There is absolutely symbolism in the Bible, though debates rage over many parts about whether they should be taken symbolically or literally.

There is poetry in the Bible; there are songs; there may even be a play. There is direct teaching; there are laws; there is foretelling of coming events.

There are these many different forms of writing in the Bible, often mixed inside a single book. So it is not a simple business of picking it up and knowing automatically how to read and understand it.

It helps a great deal to know as much as you can about what is known of the Bible. But still you can pick it up and read it while knowing none of this? How is that possible?

I tell newcomers to the Bible to read Mark’s gospel first. It is short, direct and maybe the least complicated writing in the bible. After that I say to read John’s gospel, mainly because it includes so much that Mark doesn’t. Then I say to read the book of Acts – the story of the earliest church, because it is just that – a story.

And I believe that by reading these you will have taken in more than enough to know how much God loves you, to what means God was willing to go to reach you and bring you into his family.

And I believe something else – that God interacts with us as we read the Bible. Some people say that the Bible speaks to us. It doesn’t really; but God really does.

Many people have testified to being drawn to God through reading the Bible, in a way that reading no other book has affected them.

Seriously, that is because God really is real, and really is seeking to reach you for an eternal relationship. This I believe with my whole being, and in my limited way I have experienced it myself.

This same drawing can be felt sometimes when praying, sometimes out in nature, sometimes watching a movie, sometimes watching people in a shopping centre – it is the Holy Spirit nudging us towards God, prodding us with the suspicion that God is really here.

So how do you read the Bible? I beg of you, don’t start at Genesis unless you’ve read all the rest. You’ll surely get stuck in Leviticus, Deuteronomy or Numbers – most likely Leviticus, somewhere around chapter 2. Unless you have a particular reason, these books will neither help you nor inspire you.

If you’re new or returning to the Bible, I recommend reading the New Testament first. The stories of Jesus (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) are of primary importance, as I believe is the book of Acts. Then the remaining books of the New Testament discuss many things, some of which will be clear and others not so much. But take them in your stride and don’t let them bog you down. Some will become clearer later, and some never will.

The final book – Revelation – is interesting reading, but don’t panic. It is a complex book written at a difficult time for Christians, and it is mostly instructions on how important it is to stay true to Jesus, despite Rome, and how much more glorious Jesus is to the Roman Emperor. But it is interesting reading.

That is how I think you should start. After that you can proceed as you think best; you are no longer a beginner.

But most importantly, don’t just read the Bible like a book. Pray that God will speak to you through it. Read it more like a gateway through which God might draw you into his eternal kingdom; a gateway through which God’s life might come to you.

From God’s perspective, I believe this is the true value of the Bible – not just as so much knowledge or understanding – but as one bridge towards life.

In church we read the Bible both for understanding and also for life. Don’t forget that. And always, we should ask God to open our eyes to hear the call.

You will learn that God loves you enough that Jesus would take your sin to the grave. We discussed that last week. Now dare to pray that God will show you, convince you, that it is true.

And when you pick up the Bible next, pray that God will open your eyes again, show you what is true, convince you of it, and make you his own son or daughter.

For among all the beautiful and terrible things in the Bible, this is without the most wonderful.

Video of week 3 of Back to Basics – What about the Bible? runs 19:33.

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