Reading and Misreading the Bible

If you’re a Christian then you likely read the Bible, or at least you should. It’s important. But do we ever consider to how we read the Bible?

My Christian heritage, the Churches of Christ, have helped instill the value of reading the Bible, which is a good thing. I know the Churches of Christ are not alone when it comes to the value of knowing what the scriptures say. But how the Bible is read makes a big difference in how we live as Christian people . . . people who confess our faith in Jesus Christ.

How We Read the Bible Matters!

You might recall a couple of years ago evangelist Harold Camping predicting that the world was going to end on May 21, 2011. He based his prediction from making calculations on his interpretation of certain biblical prophesies but, as time proved, he turned out to be wrong.

Camping illustrates one of the ways in which Christians can read the Bible poorly, leading sometimes to disastrous and potentially harmful results. Let’s call this approach the Doom’s Day Bible Reading. People who read the Bible like this always seem to be reading scripture as though it has some cryptic message that needs to be solved like a puzzle. Typically, their conclusions alway point to current events and public figures as the sign of bad things to come, even the end of the world. In my experience, such people don’t seem as interested in talking about Jesus as they have in talking about their latest doom’s day whims.

Another tragic way of reading scripture is that of those who read scripture just to prove their dogma. Let’s call this approach the Religious Dogma Bible Reading. People who read the Bible like this are reading the scripture as though it is legal writ and some how they happen to have a perfect understanding of scripture . . . or at least a perfect understanding of all the “essential” matters. Typically, they become self-appointted guardians of sound-doctrine (=their dogma), ready to pronounce judgment on all who disagree with their views. In my experience, they collapse following Jesus into following doctrine (=their dogma) as though there isn’t any difference between the two, making scripture the goal so that Christianity is about following the Bible rather than following Jesus.

“You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”

– Jesus, the Gospel of John 5:39-40.

Sadly, there are still people who read the Bible, searching the scriptures diligently, but seem to miss Jesus. And if our reading of scripture doesn’t lead us to Jesus and shape us to be more like him, then we are the ones who read scripture but miss Jesus!

When We Read the Bible…

How do we read the Bible then? I have two suggestions, one of which I have already hinted at, that I believe is the beginning place of reading scripture.

First, read the Bible with humility. We all are still sinners and human-beings with a finite mind. Because we’re sinners, we sometimes are tempted to read scripture with self-serving agendas. Because we are humans, we still make mistakes and don’t understand everything as we would like. To put it bluntly, sometimes we are still wrong! So rather than reading the Bible as though we know it all, we should read it with an humble awareness that we could be wrong. Our interpretations could be wrong! Besides the need for humility, that should remind us of our need for God’s grace.

Second, read the Bible as a window to Jesus. When we look out the window of our house, the window is never the point. It would be a shame to spend all day starring at the window and never notice anything beyond the window. Likewise, it would be a shame to read the Bible and never really notice Jesus as so many “Doom’s Day” and “Religious Dogma” Bible readers seem to do. There is so much more that needs to be considered about how we read the Bible to live as followers of Jesus and not dogma. However, we must start with the realization that scripture is pointing us to Jesus, to see then where Jesus is presently at work, and then to join him, by the power of the Holy Spirit, in that work as his follower. This doesn’t mean that we’re reading the Bible to keep reinventing the wheel, so to speak, but to be a living expression of Jesus Christ among our world. If we don’t read the Bible like this, I fear that we’re missing the point of the Bible.

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12 responses to “Reading and Misreading the Bible

  1. “making scripture the goal so that Christianity is about following the bible rather than following Jesus”. Your going to have to explain to me, how do I follow Jesus without following scripture? The two cannot be separated. Remember Hebrews 1:1. John 5:39,40. The scripture that they searched was the Old Law. They refused to obey Christ and find life. Had they paid attention to those prophets of old, they would have understood who Jesus was. In other words they rejected what the prophets said. If we want to know who Jesus is, we must listen to what has been revealed. We do that by reading and understanding God’s revealed and divine word. The New Covenant is legal writ, it is the law of Christ, the law of faith, the perfect law of liberty. Not that we have liberty to do as we please but liberty from the old law of sin and death. If there is no law, there is no sin. You say God’s word is nothing more than a window, that we must look beyond the window (the scriptures) to really see Jesus. And do what, day dream? 1 Cor 4:6 Paul told the Corinthians not to even think beyond what is revealed.

  2. I never said or suggested that Jesus and scripture can be separated but that does not mean we make scripture the goal, so that it becomes a written law. Rather, we learn from scripture not so that we can attempt to make ourselves a carbon copy of the past but so that in following Christ, we become the present expression of Christ in the world. You might take some time to read this essay by N.T. Wright titled “How Can the Bible Be Authoritative?” (http://ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Bible_Authoritative.htm).

    Secondly, the New Testament is not to be read as mere legal writ, for if the aim of the gospel was to bind Christians to a written law then God already had a holy, righteous, and good law (cf. Rom 7:12) in the form of the Torah for people of the New Covenant to be bound by. And when Paul speaks to the Corinthians about not going beyond what is written (cf. 1 Cor 4:6), he is speaking about the wisdom of God/gospel wisdom that he is writing to them about; not about the New Testament canon which did not even exist at the time. Lastly, the New Testament is not the law of Christ; rather it teaches about the law of Christ which is, according to Galatians 6:2, bearing the burdens of each other.

    Grace and peace,

    Rex

  3. What pray tell would a present expression of Jesus look like? Knowing scripture is the goal, If we desire to be like Christ, we would have to copy the past in order to be like Christ, why? because there are no present day revelations. Anything else is just made up. Jesus said, “if you love me, keep my commandments”. What is a commandment other than law? God used the old law to bring man to Christ. Christ ushered in a better law, the new covenant. What’s a covenant? It’s an agreement between parties. The old law was between God and the children of Israel only. Did Christ die in vain? The new covenant is between God and all men. God has provided promises that are based upon our obedience. If there is no law there is no sin. John 12:48 says that we will be judged by Christ’s words. If there is no law, how and why would we be judged? God has always spoken His will for man and in these last days He chose to speak to us through his Son, Heb1:1, therefore don’t think beyond what is written, spoken, revealed by God. Romans 10:17 “faith comes by hearing, hearing by the word of God”. This new covenant which you seem to dismiss, is where our faith comes from. In the new testament there are 27 books, 21 of which direct the Christian in how he is to live and worship. Yet you say To bear one another’s burdens is fulfilling the law of Christ and that’s all there is to it. Amazing. To fulfill something is to complete it. Something had to come before in order for it to be fulfilled. Bearing one another’s burdens fulfills the “LAW” it is not the law by it’s self.

    • I’m not going to continue discussing this with you since you continue to use accusatory speech and inaccurately stating what I have said. You can keep do your ad hoc proof-texting of scripture, pulling passages out of their context, but alls you do is carve up your own religious creed.

      Grace and Peace,

      Rex

      • Thanks for recognizing the fact that the bible is my only creed. I would call it my only standard of faith and practice. Creeds are written by men.

      • I never said the Bible is your only creed. I said that when you resort to ad hoc proof-texting, pulling biblical passages out of their context, you create your own creed that is entirely different from the Bible. In other words, it is that unwritten creed you have extrapolated from the Bible which has become your standard of faith, rather than the Bible.

        But don’t worry, everyone, including myself, has an unwritten creed that deduce from our reading of scripture. It’s unavoidable. What we need is to acknowledge it, recognizing with humility that our unwritten creed could be wrong. But from the comments you continue to make, I’m not sure if you’re ready to do that.

        Grace and Peace,

        Rex

      • What exactly have I ad-hoc? The point that you refuse to believe that we live under law? I suggest reading 1 John 3:4 to see what sin is, it is transgressing the law. Romans 4:15 say where there is no law there is no sin. Or is it the point that scripture is all sufficient, 2 Timothy 3:16,17 so I don’t have to gaze out the window and wonder. Or the point that if we don’t live under “law” why are the words of Christ going to judge us all? John 12:48. Or is it the fact that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God, Romans 10:17, the fact that my faith is based upon what God has said, not what I may see out the window. Or was it the definition of covenant? What exactly have I taken out of context?

  4. As a recovering dogma reader from the same heritage, I regret all the messages I missed in the scripture because I was looking for something to prove something. Please read my post on “Jesus at the Olive Garden” to see how we try to teach our church kids not to make the same mistake.

  5. I like the rhythm of know what, so what, now what. That orients them towards living as a present expression of what God is doing in Christ among our world. Thanks for your comment.

    Grace and Peace,

    Rex

  6. The problem, I see, is not reading ENOUGH scripture. If we long for it the way a baby longs for its milk, and we recognize that it is “living and active,” and that it is the breath of God, and we read it as a discipline, understanding it to be the Spirit’s tool to shape our hearts and our minds, meditating on it, savoring it, then we are on the road to personal growth, allowing it to examine and study us. I am personally uncomfortable with putting too much of a distinction between scripture and knowing God. We really can’t know God without it. Reading and practice is how we come to know God. Take away reading, and you have a distorted view of our Lord. Take a way practice, and you still have a distorted view of our Lord. It’s not complicated. Sometimes we make it too complicated. Meditation is a discipline more of us need to passionate about.

    • One more thought. Sometimes we spend too much time with a “seed substitute” rather than the seed itself. We read books about the Bible, but not enough of the Bible itself. If it is truly sufficient, why not spend more time reading the Bible itself than books about the Bible?

    • You’re right about there not being enough reading of scripture. That is an unfortunate problem, especially given all the access we have in our technological savvy culture to scripture.

      Also, I certainly don’t want to place a huge distinction between scripture and God. That is why I like the “window” metaphor. Not to take anything away from tradition, reason, and experience, but if we want to know God then we must look through the window of scripture.

      Thanks for your comments.

      Grace and Peace,

      Rex

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