Everyone can read, but does everyone understand? We see it every day. Person after person read these same words but believe these words mean totally different things. Bible believing Christians faithfully arm themselves with beautiful words of scripture, but end up fighting on opposite sides of the spectrum. How does this happen? Is there a single right way to read the Bible? Or must we accept every interpretation as true? Is there a better way to read the Words? Before we flip open this book, a good reader of the Bible considers a few of these questions.
Clearly this is an influential book, preserved for thousands of years, translated into almost every language. Historical sources outside of the Bible correspond to the events that are recorded. External literature speaks of these ancient stories and people we find inside the pages of scripture. With so much more evidence of integrity and truth than most of our trusted work of antiquity, the Bible is rooted firmly in the history of mankind. There is something undeniably powerful about these Words that have captured the hearts and minds of many, so much that many have given his/her life in defense.
Yet, we need to know what this Bible thing is before we venture to understand it. Before we ever see a printed letter on a page, our mind has formed a category how we will receive this Word. Maybe it is just a book like any other, gathering dust on a bookshelf, containing nice stories and good advice. Maybe it’s a historical document conveying information about past times and places. Maybe it’s cookbook, recipes for delicious enlightened living on every page. Maybe it is a reference manual for defending arguments about truth and theology. Maybe it’s an account of mystical events that could change my outlook on life. Maybe it’s the active voice of God doing things among his people even today. But each of these starting points assumes certain things about the Bible. Reflecting on where our understandings have ended up, it is apparent that everyone does not approach the Bible in the same way.
Generally, authors of a written work have a purpose. One might tell a story, or record an event. One can write a persuasive letter. One can compose a poem or song struggling with personal crisis or joy. This Bible is no different. Although there are many authors and genres complied together between the covers, all had a purpose for writing these words that you can now read.
“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.” (1 John 5:13)
The epic Biblical story – from the beginning of all created things, to the history of a people Israel witnessing incredible works of God, to a Jewish man confessed to be God in flesh on earth, to the ancient community who experienced miracles and resurrection of the dead, to a people who were inspired to trust in God’s promise of a new earth and everlasting life – was written to you who believe this story is true. It was written so that you also would trust that you have eternal life.
This great story is made up of narratives, songs, poems, prophesies, eye-witness accounts, letters, metaphors and riddles. But these diverse writings converge when the Son of God breaks into the center of the story. He is the One the first people on earth expected to come and save them. He is the One that the last people on earth will focus on to endure to the end. He is the One the Spirit of Truth bears witness about by these words. The whole story is about Jesus Christ.
And (Jesus) said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:25-27)
“And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent… I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of this world, just as I am not of this world… Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:3, 14, 17)
And so, we approach the Bible as the authors, divine and human, intended us to read it. We expect to find things written centered on the Son of God. We read the stories and prophesies found in all the scriptures interpreted through Jesus Christ. We are taught by the men and women through the ages who confess salvation in Christ alone. We always begin in the Word-made-flesh center to know we have eternal life.
Now when we read the Bible, we are confident how we receive this Word. It is not just a book like any other, containing nice stories and good advice; it is written with an eternal purpose. It’s not only a historical document conveying information about past times and places; it is a story that lives among those who believe, even today. It’s not a cookbook, with ingredients for your enlightened living; it’s not even about you, rather it is all about atonement by the Son of God. It is not a reference manual for defending arguments; it is a Life of forgiveness given for you. It’s not an account of obscure mystical events; it is real promises assured by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is truly the active voice of God among His people – right now.
And so, our starting point matters. Read your Bible better. Center on the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus.