After trusting Christ as Savior and Lord one of the very first things we are instructed to do is develop a daily habit of reading the scriptures. The Apostle Paul said, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17, ESV)
Because all scripture is inspired by God it not only makes you “wise for salvation” (2 Tim 3:15) but can lead to the “knowledge of the truth.” (1 Tim 2:3-4) It also has the power to bring you to faith, (Rom 10:17, 1 Peter 1:23) and guide you throughout your journey in life. (Psalms 119:105)
According to Prov 4:20-23, God’s Word has final authority and requires that we give it our full attention if we are to benefit from its wisdom throughout the seasons of life. The question is, when reading the scriptures devotionally, are there any “best practices” that we can employ that will enable us to read the Bible well? The answer of course is yes!
Below I have compiled twelve steps that when practiced will help contribute to your learning experience as you read the scriptures for devotional purposes. Before employing step one, pray and ask the Holy Spirit to give you greater understanding as you read, after all He is the one who leads and guides us into all truth. (John 14:26, 16:13)
1. Ask the question, what am I reading? A psalm, story, letter, prophecy, etc. Different literary forms reveals to the reader “how to take” the message.
2. Who is saying what to whom? Be aware of the three levels; Who, What, Whom.
3. Remember the story behind the story, known as internarrativity. (stories that connect) For example, in Luke 15, there are three connecting parables; The Lost Sheep, The Lost Coin, and the Lost Son. (prodigal son)
4. Observe first things. What is first in the list or the first thing that happened? The first thing sets the tone for the rest of what follows.
5. Observe last things.
6. Pay attention to repetition. Words, phrases, stories, etc.
7. Note names, numbers, and numismatics. (study of coins)
8. Stumble over your words. In other words, don’t be so quick when you are reading … slow down!
9. Really look at the scripture, don’t just read over it. Analyze it. Seeing the new in what seems to be old.
10. Read what the biblical writers read. Get comfortable reading the Old Testament.
11. Put primary things before secondary things.
12. Scribble; if a thought comes to you … write it down.
Once again, practicing these steps will enhance your devotional time and help provide a greater understanding of the scriptures to apply to your everyday life.
What about Studying the Scriptures?
Do you consider yourself to be an interpreter of the Bible? As students of the scriptures, we all employ principles of interpretation as we read and study. I want to share with you briefly about Hermeneutics. Hermen-who? Hermeneutics is just a theological term meaning, “to translate or to interpret.” Biblical hermeneutics is simply the interpretation of the Bible.
Whenever we read or study the scriptures, we are looking for meaning. What does this passage really mean? What is the agenda? How is this relevant to my personal life? Hermeneutics is all about interpreting meaning and understanding what God is seeking to communicate to His people.
If you know anything about real estate, you know that the key mantra in buying real estate is, “location, location, location.” Well the key mantra of hermeneutics is, “context, context, context.” When reading and interpreting the Bible we want to understand the literal, historical, and social context and be careful about the small things such as signs and symbols.
If hermeneutics is all about interpreting meaning, the question is, where do we find meaning? Most scholars will say that meaning is found in three places. Some will say meaning is found in the text. Others will say that meaning is found in the author of the text. For example, “what did Paul mean when he wrote this passage?” Some others will say that meaning is found in the reader of the text. “After all, we give meaning to the things that we read.”
Some will argue, “When the author of the text dies, then meaning shifts to the reader because one can no longer consult the author concerning why he wrote what he wrote.” If that’s the case we have a big problem, because if meaning just lies with the reader of the text, then there will be many different meanings as there are people. So what is the connection that will bring meaning between the author, the text (bible) and the reader? The Holy Spirit!
As stated above, the Holy Spirit is the teacher and guide of the church who speaks only of Jesus and who will show us things to come. So we see that true meaning lies with the Spirit of God. It is the Spirit of God that inspired the authors to write, (2 Tim 3:16) and the same Spirit that illuminates the readers today. We must remember when applying the principles of hermeneutics, (which, as a study is beyond the scope of this brief article) we must rely upon the Holy Spirit for meaning and illumination of the scriptures.
One final thought. As an interpreter of the scriptures we must also be aware that every reader has a pre-understanding of the text. Pre-understanding is what every reader brings to the reading of the scriptures that is inherent in the reader. For example, some pre-understandings that could color the meaning of the text can be social, such as gender, age, or race. Others can be status or class, or ethnicity and culture. Others can include our political pre-understandings or how we view family, religion in general, or even our denominational background.
Each one of our pre-understandings is unique, and can either be a strength or weakness when reading or studying the scriptures. The key is to be aware of your own pre-understanding and be careful not to read into the text meaning that was not intended by the author.
A good principle to remember when seeking to interpret the scriptures is this; “it doesn’t mean now what it never meant then.” Have you read your Bible today?