Reading the Bible is a staple in Christianity. Christians such as myself view Scripture as nourishing for the Christian life and authoritative in teaching us to live rightly.
In fact, Christians view the Scriptures as the word of God, hence why it is nourishing and authoritative. As 2nd Timothy chapter 3 verses 16-17 states:
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. (ESV translation)
This God-given Bible is a wellspring of growth, comfort and training for us and those around us. It is incredibly beneficial to understand it more and more, but sometimes I think we approach this in a very strange way.
The Scriptures demand a certain reverence towards them, but they are also texts with similarities to any other. Most fellow Christians I talk to approach the Bible with a great deal of reverence and dive into a small section each day trying to mine out everything in the passage.
They often know they won’t get everything they feel they should see and understand, but this is how they approach it. I think this misses out on the value of other styles of reading.
Deeply digging into the text is very useful, but I think it is often valuable to read the Bible just to familiarise yourself with what the text says. Not all Bible readings need to be on small passages; not all Bible readings need to be understood at that moment, and; not all Bible readings need to feel spiritual.
Different methods for different objectives
How we read the Bible should probably vary depending on what we are trying to do.
As with any other text, sometimes familiarising yourself with the Bible is best done reading larger chunks. Reading books quickly to see the structure, the broader argument, or how it sits within the subsection of the Bible has significant value.
In fact, it is harder to form an understanding of any section without understanding the broader context. Even just knowing where something is mentioned in the Bible can be extremely valuable.
In the same vein, there are many tools we use to analyse and understand other texts which can help us understand the Bible. There is a very good chance you will benefit from the understanding you gain by examining the Bible as a text. Though again, this is the word of God and it is appropriate to ask him for help and guidance that in his goodness he will reveal understanding to you in your reading endeavour.
Get some divine help
God is active and the Holy Spirit reminds us of Scripture to help us on many occasions. I find that when I read for broad comprehension, not digging down into each part, as my familiarity with the text improves, God still uses it to teach me. Just because I did not stay thinking about the passage for a long period, and sometimes it did not strike me at the time as important for my present circumstances, does not mean that God will not point out to me what he wanted me to see.
Another old Christian tradition that I think is worth mentioning is Scripture Meditation (a kin to Lectio Devina). This is a meditation practice where meditators read through the one passage at many different speeds and tones, dwelling in it reading over and over. I have done this a few times and found it to be beneficial, including knowing the chosen passage well for a long time afterwards.
I suggest that both deep reading and surface reading are worthwhile, but neither happen if we do not read the Bible. I do not know what to say other than to give it a go again for those who are not reading at the moment, but sometimes having a method helps.
What works for you is key
One method which worked well for me in the past was to read two chapters of something in the Old Testament, one psalm and two chapters from somewhere in the New Testament each day. I found this worked especially well when it was my habit, but whenever I lost a few days I would sometimes loose where I was up to.
Right now, I am doing a cover-to-cover read as that way I can keep track easily, even if I miss a day or more. Building your own method is entirely possible and there are many useful phone apps as well. Many methods include reading a Psalm a day as the Psalms teach us in prayer. It is surprising how many methods will have you reading through the whole Bible in a year if you stick to them. The Bible is not quite so long as we often think it to be.
I also think we should consider how our approach to understanding Scripture is often an individual aim, perhaps we could also understand more as a community. Many things are better done together than alone, and Bible reading may be one of them.
God uses our knowledge of the Scriptures to grow us and those around us, preparing us for good works and equipping us to face trials. May God continue to help us in this.
Alexander Gillespie is an Arts Honours graduate of the University of Sydney. Particular fields of interest include Nineteenth-Century migration history, conceptual philosophy, social policy and ecclesiology. He currently lives in Sydney with his wife and enjoys researching and writing.