On Bible Reading

It of course goes without saying that a staple of the Christian life is daily Bible reading, study and meditation. It is a no-brainer that this is an absolute core activity of anyone who calls himself a follower of Jesus Christ. Prayer and fellowship are obviously other non-negotiables in the normal Christian life.

We are clearly told in Scripture about the importance of the Word of God, and our need to get saturated with and immersed in it. Psalm 119 is your classic text about the importance of God’s word. Let me cite just a few of the many verses from this great Psalm:

9 How can a young person stay on the path of purity?
By living according to your word.
11 I have hidden your word in my heart
that I might not sin against you.
15 I meditate on your precepts
and consider your ways.
16 I delight in your decrees;
I will not neglect your word.
24 Your statutes are my delight;
they are my counselors.
43 Never take your word of truth from my mouth,
for I have put my hope in your laws.
57 You are my portion, LORD;
I have promised to obey your words.
81 My soul faints with longing for your salvation,
but I have put my hope in your word.
89 Your word, LORD, is eternal;
it stands firm in the heavens.
97 Oh, how I love your law!
I meditate on it all day long.
99 I have more insight than all my teachers,
for I meditate on your statutes.
103 How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth!
105 Your word is a lamp for my feet,
a light on my path.
114 You are my refuge and my shield;
I have put my hope in your word.
130 The unfolding of your words gives light;
it gives understanding to the simple.

We are told to ‘study to show ourselves approved’ (2 Timothy 2:15), and we are commanded to be ‘transformed by the renewing of our minds’ (Romans 12:2). This happens as we study and meditate on God’s Word. Indeed, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).

In the light of all this, it is obvious that the regular reading and study of the Bible is of overwhelming importance. Yet tragically I suspect that many Christians do not do this. Far too many believers are likely not reading the Word of God on a daily basis, and many would never have even read through the entire Bible just once.

Thus we have appalling biblical illiteracy amongst believers today. That in part explains why so much of the church is anaemic, carnal, compromised and ineffective. So how can we turn all this around? Here I must draw your attention to something which falls in the good news/bad news category.

The Bible Society Australia has launched a plan to help encourage believers to read. Here is how their scheme has been presented: “A chef, an Army General, an Olympic swimmer, a race car driver, a TV and radio presenter. That’s the line up Bible Society Australia has got for you to read the Bible with this April.

Daily Bible, which provides a short Bible passage, a question about the reading and suggested further reading in your inbox every morning, has become a part of the morning routine for thousands of Christians across Australia after the success of Bible Society’s Live Light in 25 Words Bible reading campaign in October last year. Nearly 4,000 Christians are currently receiving the Bible in their inbox each morning.

“‘The feedback we received from the 25 words campaign was so positive–people wanted to continue getting a verse, or a few verses from the Bible via email every day. It’s a nice prompt to read God’s Word. It doesn’t take too long, but it can renew your mind and your focus on Christ at the start of each new day,’ said Chris Melville, Bible Society’s campaign manager.

“Each month, Daily Bible emails have a different theme or book of the Bible to explore. In March, the emails unpacked the Easter story, demonstrating its continued relevance no matter where you are in the world, with short video messages from over 26 different countries, a Bible verse and a question to think about.

“In April, subscribers will read the Bible with well known Aussie Christians each week, who’ve put together short devotions for Bible Society. You’ll read the Bible with:
-Kate Bracks, winner of Masterchef 2011
-Andrew Fisher, race car driver with Jesus Racing
-General David Hurley, Chief of the Australian Defence Force
-Leigh Hatcher, Sky News Presenter and Host of Open House on Sydney’s 103.2FM
-Elka Whalan, Olympic swimmer and media personality.”

So how should we view all this? On the one hand it is of course a good thing: any plan or program to get believers to read the Word of God, and to read it more, is a good thing. Thus we must thank the BSA for initiating this.

But of course there is also a major downside here. If we really need such gimmicks to get believers to read their Bibles, we are in very bad shape indeed as a church. One might as well use gimmicks to get folks to eat or breathe. These are activities which we should be doing as a matter of course – indeed, as a matter of life and death.

We cannot live without eating and breathing, so no schemes should be needed to do it. But spiritually speaking we cannot live without the Word of God and its regular intake. So the very fact that we need programs and incentives to read shows how far down the gurgler so much of the Australian church is today.

In fact, if busy believers need little snippets of Scripture to be sent to them, that is quite telling as well. They at least might as well get a Bible app for their phones, so they can read much bigger portions of Scripture. Sure, life is real busy nowadays, but if we do not have time to read a few chapters a day, every day, then we are far too busy.

And as I keep saying, if you simply read around three chapters a day, you will get through the entire Bible in a year. If people who call themselves followers of Jesus Christ cannot find the time or the desire to read three chapters a day, then we can rightly question if they are genuine disciples of Christ.

Well done to BSA for trying to get believers into Scripture, but not so well done to believers who give Scripture such a cold shoulder.


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16 Replies to “On Bible Reading”

  1. If you listen to the New Testament on CD in the car while you’re driving, it is amazing, it comes alive. We forget that the Bible was meant to be heard rather than read.
    Nina Blondel

  2. If you read three chapters a day but five on Sunday you will read 23 chapters a week and get through the Bible in a year.

    I recently read a book by Nik Ripken (http://www.amazon.com/The-Insanity-God-Story-Resurrected/dp/1433673088). In it he related how when he visited the church in Russia he was told how years earlier despite persecution in Communist Russia hundreds of young Christians at a conference met and collectively they were able to write down the four gospels from memory with just six mistakes. The same sadly could not be said of the Church in Russia today.

    Good practices for Bible reading should be instilled when people are young, say from when they are about twelve. Children may be taught say one or two verses of the Bible at a time then given a Bible when they are about twelve in the hope that they might read it. When children are taught to take in such a small amount of scripture it’s not surprising that many don’t adjust very well.

    Bible Readings in Church tend to be no more than about a chapter long. A few chapters from separate books each Sunday isn’t much. Even if teaching is only from one chapter reading of a larger portion of scripture helps give some understanding of context.

    There is a need for teaching giving overviews of books to provide some assistance for studying them. Particularly for books that people typically find it harder to read such as Leviticus. There are books available that provide such overviews, but an overview of a book followed by a public reading of an entire book of the Bible can also be quite helpful.

    Regular group Bible Studies would also be of assistance. Finding a group of believers you can study the Bible with can be a big help.

    Ultimately it is down to the individual believer whether he reads scripture or not but there are practical steps the Church can take which would be of assistance.

    Matt Vinay

  3. Yes Nina. There’s even a blessing in the Book of Revelation attached to reading that book aloud in public: “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.” (Revelation 1:3, NIV).

    Reading aloud in private or publicly is helpful with all books of the Bible but especially Revelation.

    Matt Vinay

  4. I’m just reading the book by Indian author Vishal Mangalwadi called “The Book the Made Your World”. As I would expect, Bill, you have already reviewed it a few years ago. It is a fantastic book that shows how the Bible has shaped our culture in a big way.

    Tas Walker

  5. Bill, sadly, those same gimmicks of “hero/ine worship” are used to persuade us to eat and drink particular things.

    John Angelico

  6. Matt – age 12? Why start so late? Every family should be reading the Bible at home around the dinner table nightly, so everyone becomes instilled with the good habit.

    John Angelico

  7. Good point. I guess I was perhaps more thinking of when they should read a translation e.g, NIV, NASB etc. by themselves, but yes they should hear it from a younger age whether from a paraphrase designed for younger listeners or from a translation such as NIV, NASB etc.

    By around age 12 the vocabulary should have built up to a point where a child could read a translation of the Bible without needing to consult a dictionary too often.

    In Jewish culture a boy would become a man at age twelve (see Luke 2). That’s why I thought of that age. Clearly though at age twelve Jesus had a great understanding of scripture.

    Matt Vinay

  8. I concur with the earlier comments of Matt and Nina – in addition to regular reading, listening to a well made recording of the Bible can really make it come alive. You will take notice of sections that your eyes sometimes skim over. I would recommend “The Word of Promise” NKJ audio bible. It features an all star cast, well recorded with an incredible soundtrack and great for listening to in the car, on public transport and in your office. Highly recommended! Google “Word of Promise”

    Alex Burton

  9. It is impossible to read too much of the Bible. And reading it ALL greatly enhances one’s understanding of the bits you might choose to just stick to otherwise. It is a habit that parents have a responsibility to encourage their children in from an early age.

    We need to do whatever it takes to increase our reading of the Bible. Personally, daily notes etc do nothing for me in terms of increasing desire to read and think about what I read, but if such notes help someone, they should use them.

    John Symons

  10. I agree that it is important to read large chunks of the Bible at a sitting, and get to know the whole book well, but I think there are times when just a few verses with plenty of prayer and meditation is a more appropriate procedure.

    Of course there may still be time to read three chapters at some time during the day, but I would avoid any prescription that we must read some minimum amount on any given day.

    It is important to add that reading Christian literature in general should have a much bigger place in the lives of Christians, especially in this land where the number of good titles is almost embarrassingly large.

    David Morrison

  11. Regarding children’s ages etc- I would encourage people that even very young children can take scripture in and learn it.

    After about a year of using the NKJV with my three year old (who can remember entire psalms- and why not? She could learn whole Wiggle’s songs etc so I thought it was worth a try) I switched to the KJV when she was four.

    It might sound like I am a crazy person, but my theory was- little children very naturally pick up other languages, and in a way, the language of KJV is sort of like another language. And she knew a lot of the basic story of what I was reading already in this ‘new’ language. I explain the vocabulary as we go and she adjusted to the ‘thee’s’ and ‘thou’s’ without much explanation at all.

    Now at age five, she listens to the KJV regularly, and discussion of words and their meanings is a normal part of our household conversation now, as is theological discussion. (God put it in their little hearts to ask ‘why why why’ etc, and I think that when they absorb so much scripture, it is natural that they begin to meditate on it.)

    Anyway, I wouldn’t call myself an intellectual, and still consider myself pretty theologically illiterate and biblically illiterate – but I wanted to share with other parents who; like myself; may have started out on the back-foot in this area- that you can transform the culture of your home and, in a way, learn together.

    Lauren Hughes

  12. Thank Bill and others for your thoughts. I’d like to read more on how to interpret or understand the Bible more, particularly the OT in light of the gospel. I’d be interested in any posts you’d put up on this sort of thing Bill. I’ve just ordered 2 books to help me with this:

    1. Goldsworthy Trilogy, The: Gospel & Kingdom, Wisdom & Revelation, and

    2. God’s Big Picture by Vaughan Roberts.

    I’ve read a bit of “Preaching the whole Bible as Christian scripture” which has been helpful, but a bit technical.

    A book I can recommend is “Did Deeper” by Beynon and Sach. In it they list tools to help you get more out of Bible when reading/studying it. The tools are:

    1. Author’s purpose tool – look for a comment by the author of the book stating what the purpose of the book is.
    2. Context tool – what is the context of the passage, including the context to God’s unfolding plan of salvation. The law and the prophets were a shadow of Christ. All of God’s promises are yes in Jesus.

    3. Structure tool – how has the author broken down his material into sections.

    4. Linking words tool – words like “therefore” etc

    5. Parallels tool – e.g. 2 halves of 2 verses parallel ea other, Antithetical parallelism (2nd half of the verse gives the opposite perspective), Chiastic parallelism (the 2nd half of the verse says the same as the 1st half but flips the word order around)

    6. Narrator’s comment tool – what does the narrator of the book say?

    7. Vocabulary tool – what do significant Bible words like redemption etc mean?

    8. Translations tool – different translations can help clarify passages

    9. Tone and feel tool – what is the tone or feel of the passage?

    10. Quotation/allusion tool – e.g. look for how OT passages are interpreted or used in the NT

    11. Genre tool – what style of writing is the passage?

    12. Copycat tool – should we model our lives from the e.g. in the Bible passage?

    13. Bible timeline tool – when is this event happening in relation to the Bible’s history?

    14. Family words tool – look for words having same or similar meaning or opposite meanings. Are words or concepts repeated or contrasted for emphasis?

    15. Who am I tool – who should we identify with in the passage? E.g. if the psalms speak to us of sinners, they speak to us of those who are outside of Christ. If they speak of the judgment of God, they speak to us of the curse of the law that Christ suffered for his people on the cross. If they speak to us of the faithful, the godly, or the righteous, they speak to us first of Christ, and only then of those who are redeemed in Christ.

    16. So what tool – how should I apply this passage to my life?

    David Roberts

  13. “One might as well use gimmicks to get folks to eat or breathe.” This happens – well to get folks to eat sensibly anyway! Most folks eat rubbish food for the body, and most imbibe rubbish food for the spirit.

    Jesus said in John 8:31 “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed”.

    The real cruncher is Mat 7:26 “And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and DOETH them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand.” (my emphasis)

    I have grandchildren who all started reading the Bible (KJV) from around age 4. The younger ones read around 30 mins per day, the older ones over an hour. They also do other things that Jesus told his disciples; preaching the gospel (in the streets and market places), healing the sick, casting out devils, etc (Mat 10:7-8).

    They all quickly became excellent readers.

    I am a retired school teacher, and have never – in over thirty years in the classroom – met children with a healthier lifeview, happier homelife, and for that matter physical well-being. All credit to their parents: I wish I had been as good a parent as they are.

    Tom Hockley

  14. Tom,

    You’re more than making up for it 🙂

    If a person claimed to love me, but refused to even listen to more than a couple of sentences from my mouth each day, I would start to doubt that love.

    How can we then claim to love God and yet not even try to spend some time getting to know what he has to say?

    Many have spilled their blood in order to ensure that we can have God’s word available to us as it is today. Let us not let that blood be shed in vain.

    Mario Del Giudice

  15. Love the Bible, love reading the Bible. Even the chronologies! They give us true history. Learned at Sunday School the chorus…. The B I B L E, yes that’s the book for me. I stand alone on the Word of God, the B I B L E. Ps 119 is a favourite chapter.

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