How To Read the Bible: a Primer

"More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold" - Psalm 19:10
In their classic, "How To Read a Book", Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren claimed that more books have been written on how to read the Bible than have been written on any other aspect of reading. This Is an attempt to sum it up.  We pray that this all-too-brief  primer may encourage those who have been reading the Scriptures for decades as well as those who are just beginning to take it seriously.
The method of reading God’s Word with benefit can be reduced to three basic questions that can be applied to any reading: 1) What’s the big idea? 2) What are the little details? and 3) Why should  I care? Let’s briefly take each in turn.
To answer this question is to take the passage as a whole and attempt to summarize it in as brief and simple a way as possible. Scholars such as R.C. Sproul have said that if a teacher can’t explain a text  in terms a child would understand then they still don’t understand it well themselves. “What’s the Big Idea?” asks what is the main point of the text for the original hearers or readers. Answering this question is at once simple and profound; all it attempts  to do is understand the basic message of the text. But in doing so, we (the readers) must distinguish between points, words, terms and ideas that are more central to the meaning from those which are less central. This leads us to the next question.
Whichever part of the Bible you find yourself reading, you cannot construct the Big Idea without understanding the individual pieces that make it up! The more your Big Idea makes sense of the individual  words, phrases, sentences and paragraphs that make it up, the more confident you can be that you are understanding God’s Word accurately. But don’t restrict yourself only to the immediate context. Scripture refers to itself often, and details in one passage  might remind you of the Big Idea or a little detail from another passage. The more you read in this way, the more you will see how Scripture presents a unified message about Christ. But the Scriptures do it in such a way that individual passages, letters,  songs and stories enhance each others’ brilliance as they show us God’s glory.
Although we believe that all Scripture is profitable and useful (2 Tim. 3:16-17), sometimes it’s hard to see how! No matter where you are reading in Scripture, there  is always something there to contribute to the renewing of your mind (Rom. 12:1-2). Here are some basic questions to ask yourself based on the text.

How should the reading today affect… I believe, know, or reason? desires, values, feelings or emotions?
...what I decide, will, intend, commit or act?

As we begin reading together in 2020, let’s follow David’s lead and cover all of our time in God’s Word with humble and sincere prayer:  “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.”   Psalm 19:14

Douglas Allison - Elder