The Bible is, hands down, the most amazing book in the history of the world. Written over a period of about 16 centuries, it is made up of 66 individual books. These books were written by shepherds, kings, farmers, priests, poets, scribes, and fishermen, traitors, embezzlers, adulterers, murderers, and tax collectors. Despite having so many authors, whose styles and genres were very different, and despite taking place on three different continents, the Bible shows its heavenly origin by its beauty and remarkable consistency (more on that later). It is the best selling book in human history, with over 500 billion sold and 100 million more each year.
But just because 100 million Bibles are being sold each year doesn't mean 100 million people are reading it.
And just because someone's reading it doesn't mean they're reading it correctly. In fact, while keeping your Bible closed is a really bad idea, we should also admit that few things are more dangerous than an open Bible. History and Scripture tell us the Bible has been used to do more damage than any other weapon Satan uses.
When Jesus and Satan had their showdown in the wilderness, what was the Enemy's great tactic? To quote, misquote, and under-quote God's Word, giving his lies the appearance of evil (don't all the best lies do that?). Every great heretic in the history of the church has been an expert in the Bible and has used the Bible to do terrible things. An open Bible is a dangerous thing. More specifically, poor Bible reading is dangerous Bible reading. In all seriousness, consider how many people have been horribly abused with the Bible.
We certainly don't have the option of not reading or preaching the Bible! But this is a double-edged sword...and just as I wouldn't want you swinging a sword around without learning how to use it first, Jesus wants you to read and to read well. And since the Spirit is the artist behind the whole thing, we should ask: Has He given us a way to read? Has the artist informed us how He wants us to read this book?
Some try to delude themselves into thinking they can read the Bible without any framework...which is a lot like me driving without my glasses on. Our goal isn't to read the Bible without a rubric, but to get the right one in our minds and hearts. The question isn't whether to have a framework or not, but which one does the Bible itself supply for us to use?
In my next post I'll try to answer the question positively. For now, let's consider three, very common ways of reading the Bible poorly: rubrics which make the artwork something the artist wouldn't recognize. (These are gladly taken from JG Vos' work Covenant of Grace.)
In laying these out, I'm not throwing stones at other churches...I'm throwing stones at you and me. These are things I've seen in our congregation on more than one occasion. And, very likely, they are mistakes I've made in my own preaching and teaching. The three most common frames are reading with (1) doubt, (2) division, or (3) dissection.
To read with doubt is to read the Bible while questioning it the whole time you're reading. Not the good kinds of questions, but the questions of unbelief:
"Did Paul actually write Galatians?"
"How many authors are there behind Isaiah?"
"What is the best scientific explanation for those so-called miracles?"
This type of reading became popular in the 19th century as scholar after scholar got their PhD by spotting some new error or contriving some new theory about the Bible and its origins. To spot this, ask yourself, "Who's judging whom? Am I judging the Bible or is the Bible judging me?"
To read with division is to read with a cleaver, separating the Bible into parts that have nothing to do with each other. If you've ever said (or heard someone say), "Well, that's in the Old Testament and we're in the New Testament now", a cleaver's been swung, cutting apart something meant to be unified. Throughout church history there have been many different cleavers cutting things out of the Bible or disconnecting parts of the Bible from itself. The most common today is the dispensationalism still present in American Christianity which keeps us focused almost exclusively on the New Testament.
Finally - saving our church's greatest problem for last - to read with dissection is to read the Bible with a microscope, to read atomistically, on the most minute level possible. This happens when we read without any sense of the context, just waiting for a verse to jump out at us. And when said verse does jump, we make it our verse for the day (or, worse, our "life-verse"), never bothering to wonder what the author intended to say, what the first audience thought, or how it fits into the whole scope of the Bible. This is the instagram way of reading the Bible. The Philippians 4:13 hermeneutic, claiming strength for any and every possible situation while ignoring the fact that Paul was clearly speaking about contentment.
So let's do better. Let's examine our own Bible reading and study for doubt, division and dissection. And let's learn together to read the Bible the way Jesus taught us.