No, of course not. Many people who could not read at all, much less read the Bible, have been faithful Christians. But before you let this fact decide whether you need to read the Bible, ask yourself another question:
I once put this second question to 115 church members. Their answers were of three types. A large number replied something like this "I need to know that I'm a sinner and that Jesus is my Savior. Through faith in Him I have eternal life."
A second group said: "You never get to know all you need to know to be a good Christian. You need to keep on studying the Bible all your life."
The last group‹somewhat smaller than the other two‹answered in a way typified by the man who said, "It's not a question of what you know but whom you know. You need to know Christ, more Christ, and still more Christ."
How would you have answered? If you consider it enough to know the rudiments of you' Christian faith, it's likely that you have difficulty in seeing any need for Bible reading and study. On the other hand, if you feel that you never get to know as much theology as you need for life as a child of God, you will study the Bible much but may find little joy or satisfaction in your study.
What ought to be our purpose in Bible reading? The purpose is to know God. The Lord Jesus expressed this when He prayed, ' This is eternal life, that they [His followers] may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent." (John 17:3)
Getting to know God is much like learning to know anyone else. I have come to know my mother by seeing and hearing her over and over again. Every day, I am getting to know my wife and children better, as I observe them and experience their behavior in my life.
To know God it is necessary to observe and experience Him too. While direct observation of God is not possible for us on earth, in the Bible we can observe God in action and hear His Word of Law or Gospel. To ask, "When do we know Him well enough?" is like asking, "When do we know our mother or father well enough?" Both are foolish questions because we just naturally want to keep on learning to know our loved ones better all the time. Close association with them is the best way of doing this.
The main message of the Bible is that God is holy and that He loves us in Jesus Christ. Through Christ God gives us eternal life, beginning now. That is the essential "information˛ which Bible study gives us. But the bald statement of this information means as little as the assurance that our mothers love us. Knowing intellectually that God loves us won't move us particularly unless we experience this love for ourselves in personal relations with God. In reading our Bibles we can commune with God.
What are some guidelines for reading the Bible in a way that will help us experience God?
- Keep in mind your purpose, to know God better, rather than merely to learn Bible
history or to fulfill a duty. There's little to be gained in being able to name the kings
of Israel, but it is spiritually harmful to regard the Bible as little more than a textbook
- Don't be overly concerned about reading a certain amount of the Bible at one sitting.
Use read-the-Bible-in-a-year plans with caution lest the goal become the covering of
the book rather than the hearing of God's Word. As you read ask yourself what the
passage tells you about God and His purpose for your life. Not every sentence or
paragraph will be on the same level of meaning; some may have more to say to you
than others. A good rule of thumb is to spend at least as much time in thinking about
what you read as you do in actual reading.
- Use various Bible versions for your reading. No one translation has a monopoly on
the truth or is more inspired than others. Each can give you a new slant on a passage
or bring out a spiritual truth previously hidden.
- On occasion consciously observe a system of study. In the book The Joy of Discovery
Oletta Wald lists four elements for spiritually enriching Bible reading and study:
- Observation. What does the passage really say? (Comparing trans-
lations helps particularly at this point.)
- Interpretation. What did the writer wish to convey to those who
first read this? (Try to put yourself in the place of the first readers.)
- Application. What does this Scripture imply for my life today?
(Although you have been objective up to this point, now you must
try to be as subjective as you can)
- Correlation. How does this message relate to what I have read
elsewhere in the Bible?
- Keep a pencil handy as you read. Many Christians underline new spiritual truths as
they discover them. Or they work out a system of markings in the margins of their
Bibles to indicate promises, warnings, things for which they may be thankful, etc.
This helps to remind them of their discoveries when they read the section again some-
time. They don't think it's sacrilegious to mark up their Bibles. They know that the
Word and the message is sacred, not the paper it's written on.
- If possible, discuss with another person what you've discovered in your reading. The
next time something reminds you of a spiritual truth your reading has uncovered,
casually mention it to someone you know. You'll find that articulating what you have
found will often help to sharpen the point in your mind. Also God may have a message
for your neighbor through you‹or to you through your neighbor! (This is the particular
value of group Bible study.)
- Choose a time for reading when you are most alert. For many this means the first thing
in the morning‹before breakfast or on the way to work. Others need more time to wake
up, and so postpone their Bible reading until later in the day. You will need to decide,
perhaps through experimentation‹what time is best for you
But whenever you decide to do your Bible reading, don't make a chore of it. That can defeat your purpose. If you need to drive yourself to read, you still haven't discovered the thrill it has in store for you‹the thrill of getting to know, in an ever more personal way, God and His love in Christ.