Reading your Bible

2017 marks the 500-year anniversary of the Reformation. One of the key points for which Protestants contested was “Sola Scriptura” (Scripture alone). The basic point was that God has revealed Himself through His Son, Jesus Christ (Jn. 14:6-7), and this revelation of God is preserved in written form (known as the Bible) by the Holy Spirit (Jn. 14-16). Jesus is the key to unlocking the entire Bible (Jn. 5:39) and every Christian can and should read the Bible for themselves, knowing God personally through Jesus as revealed in the Bible.

Wanting people to read the Bible for themselves, Protestants dedicated their lives to translating the Bible into the common vernacular. Willian Tyndale was the first person to translate the New Testament from the original language (Greek) into English in 1525. Yet, he died a martyr’s death in 1536. Today we can enjoy reading the Bible in English, because of the willing sacrifice of men like Tyndale to translate it.

In remembrance of their sacrifice, but also as an encouragement to use the gift given to us (an English Bible); I would like to highlight three things about the Bible and suggest some practical steps you can take in your journey in knowing God through the Bible… So, as we look at the Bible, realize that…

  1. True blessing is found in the Bible

 The Psalter opens with a Psalm dedicated to describing someone who is “blessed”. The word “blessed” does not merely mean material blessing, but refers to a life that is whole (in harmony or in-sync with God and creation). A life lived as it should be. According to the Ps. 1:2, a blessed person is someone whose “delight is in the Law of the LORD, and on His Law he meditates (mutters-calls to remembrance) day and night”.

Although the Psalm does not explain why this is so (it merely affirms that this is true), you do find the answer in the Law itself. It is in God’s Law (His Word) that we discover that we are made in the image of God, “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:26-27). Human beings were created to reflect God’s goodness to all creation (like a mirror), being His representatives. It is also in God’s Law that we discover who God is (the one we are supposed to know and reflect). It is in the Law we see God’s holiness, “Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy” (Lev. 19:2). It is in the Law we see God’s love, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness” (Ex. 34:6). And it is only in the Law that God revealed Himself in such a specific way (cf. Ex. 19-20; Deut. 4:8).

The fullest expression of the Law, the One in whom all of the Law is brought into clearest focus, is the Word Himself, Jesus (cf. Matt. 5:17-18; Jn. 5:39; Lk. 24:27, 44-47). Consequently, if you want to know God personally, know who you are individually, and how you can live life as it was meant to be lived continually (a blessed life) … you will only find it in the Bible (Old and New Testament with Jesus as the glue that binds them together).

Tied to this…

  1. The Bible shapes us into who God wants us to be (2 Tim. 3:16-17)

In 2 Tim. 3:16-17, Paul points out that the Bible should be used by Timothy for “teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness”. If you read it in the light of the entire letter, Paul’s point should be clear. It reveals God in Christ, it rebukes and corrects our thoughts and desires that are not in line with Christ and it trains us to become like Christ (cf. 2 Tim. 1:9-10, 13; 2:8-9). And it is only as we are shaped by God’s Word that “the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work”. To become who you are made to be (an image-bearer of God), you must know the One in whose image you are made. And to be made in His image, you need use His chisel: The Bible. That will only happen as you behold Christ revealed in the Scriptures (cf. 2 Cor. 3:18).

  1. The Bible reveals eternal life/salvation (2 Tim. 1:10)

One of the reasons Paul was willing to sacrifice his life (cf. 2 Tim. 2:9; 4:6-7) (die a martyr’s death) for the message of Jesus (as you have it in your Old and New Testament), was because he understood what this message revealed, “it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Saviour, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel” (2 Tim. 1:10). The destruction of death (our enemy) and eternal life with God (our hope) is revealed in the Scriptures. In the Scriptures are revealed the depths of our salvation, the plan of God to restore creation and us as His image-bearers. Nowhere else.

If this is all true (and it is), then that leads to our practical application…

  1. How will you start knowing the Scriptures?

Although all the above is true, that does not imply reading the Bible comes naturally to us. When you start reading the Bible, you will immediately realize that it is not an encyclopedia of knowledge (neatly categorized in alphabetical order). It also does not read like any of our modern novels or textbooks. The Old Testament is Hebrew narrative and poetry. The New Testament is narrative or epistles written in the 1st Century. We don’t really have 21st Century equivalents to relate to these genres. Yet, it is in these ancient texts that God revealed Himself. So, how will you begin to read and understand it?

a.     Get into the habit of reading it repeatedly, systematically and thoughtfully

Whatever you do, don’t approach the Bible like a random collection of loose sayings (like a proverb on a sugar packet). Every word has a context, written in a particular book, genre and style. So to understand them, you need to read them properly. For example, when you start reading a book in the Bible (like the Gospel of John), don’t pick a random verse in the middle. It was meant to be read from cover to cover (starting in chapter 1 and ending in the final chapter). Yet, you shouldn’t read John’s Gospel alone. It fits into a collection of books (known as the Gospels) that all focus on Jesus (and link with the letters of John). So, when you are done reading the Gospel of John, pick up another Gospel or the letters of John.

Of course, to do this you will need to create a habit of reading larger pieces of Scriptures (a chapter rather than a verse or chapters rather than a paragraph) on a daily basis. As a rule, if you consistently read 4 chapters a day you can work through the Bible in a year (though don’t feel obligated to try this, it is just a suggestion). Yet the Bible was never meant to be fully understood in one reading. It is designed to be read continually/repeatedly over the course of your entire life. Hence the word “meditate” in Psalm 1 (recalling or remembering or muttering). The more you read it, the clearer the picture becomes as you see more and more links between the 66 books of the Bible. So, don’t feel discouraged if you don’t get everything the first time. It is multi-layered and you can only start seeing all the layers the more you read and study it.

Yet, there is another way in helping speed up the process of understanding the Bible…

b.     Use the following Applications…

Whereas the Reformation and printing press blessed us with our own Bibles in our own languages; 21st Century technology has provided us an extra tool to use in our Bible reading: Bible apps. And there are some brilliant ones that can serve as helpful companions. Here are two we would generally recommend…

This is probably one of the best resources available. Apart from providing a 1 year reading plan you can follow (and brilliant videos that explain the books of the Bible in a very creative way), the Bible Project has also produced the “Read Scripture” App, which you can use as a guide in your Bible reading. It is an incredibly helpful tool that will be a great companion in your journey in understanding the Bible.

Although free to download and use (with excellent in-built resources), the Explore App also offers in-store books and guides that you can purchase to use in your reading. Like the Bible Project App, it is a great companion in reading the Bible.

So as we remember what we have received from the Reformers (the privilege of personally reading the Bible in our own language)… Why not begin applying one of the principles of the Reformation, namely Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone). You have the precious gift of the Bible, don’t waste another moment not reading it. As a child of God, start the journey of knowing God by walking through the pages of Scripture. That is where the blessed life begins.

Carl Pienaar