Last time we spoke about how the Bible is a tool whose misuse of the Bible by ministers and the church has cause a lot of hurt in many people. I shared some experiences I have seen along these lines and mentioned that the best way to avoid the Bible being misused in your life is to learn how to use it for yourselves.
In that vein, we looked at the purpose for the Bible the purpose of being a tool whose use exposes you to a living experience of God for yourselves and whose words can instruct you in how to discover and grow in a personal relationship with God through which you can find God’s purpose and direction for your life. We also saw the end result of using the Bible for its set purpose encountering God alive in its pages and learning the principles needed to encounter God alive in your life and your world and having God begin to personally reveal to you your place in God’s plan. This leads to a full and rewarding life.
Well, now that we know the Bible’s purpose, how do we use it?
Here are some guidelines that will help you:
1. Invite God to speak with you through the Bible
Remember how we read that God breathed His very life into Scripture? Since the purpose of Scripture is to lead you into an encounter with God, it is only polite to invite God to speak to you. Think of it in your own case, if someone dials your number, who are you more likely to talk to someone who calls and asks May I speak with so-and-so? or someone who is just quiet except for their breathing on the other end? You can invite God to speak to you simply by saying to God something like God, I’m here. I want to hear from you. Please reveal yourself to me right now.
2. Find a Bible translation in language you understand; compare various translations when possible.
When I last discussed these principles in a Bible study group, I had someone open up a Bible I gave them and attempt to read. Their eyes bugged out. They shook their head “no” and said “I can’t read this”. I said, “Why not?” Well, they didn’t understand a bit of it since the Bible I gave them was in Swahili.
“But,” I pointed out to them, “alot of churches are telling people the only way to read the Bible is in a language just as foreign to you as that.”
Many people have a hard time reading the Bible because they have been taught that it has to be read in the King James or some older translation.
What people don’t realize is that the Bible wasn’t written in King James English. It wasn’t written in English at all. It was written in the ancient tongues of Greek, Aramaic, and Hebrew. And even in the days of the apostles parts of it were read in translations – most scholars agree the Bible the apostles used to preach in Greek-speaking Europe was a Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament.
This shows us that no one translation is more holy than the other. The Bible is not any more holy because the version of it you read is in old-sounding language or not. What counts is not the exact words used but the message they convey. If one translation sounds like another language to you, you won’t understand it. The message will be lost too. Though for some people reading in King James is inspiring, for most people reading a Bible in today’s language will help you understand the message included in the Scriptures best.
That said, there is a point to the claim made by people who prefer older translations to the King James. Though for most things a modern translation will be easier to understand and get God’s message across to you better, no translations are perfect. Each reflects the politics and short-sightedness of the time they are translated. In the King James’ time there was, well, a king, so that translation has a slant toward male dominance and the power of the government. Similarly, modern politics enters into the minds of modern translators – so issues that are not spoken about sometimes get “read into” the original text. The example is the fact that before the 20th century, you don’t find the word “homosexual” at all in the Bible (since the Bible says little directly on the issue). Now, many many translations use that word. If you didn’t compare those modern translations with older ones, you wouldn’t realize someone was reading their own political ideas into the Bible, instead of letting the original text speak for itself. The one advantage about older translations is that sometimes they don’t put a political spin on a text that modern translations do. Of course, some areas a modern translation no longer puts a political spin on a text, an older translation will. The way to avoid the “spin” sometimes put on Scripture by translators is, if you come on a text that seems to have a political slant on it, to compare various translations from various time periods.
A few good contemporary translations are:
New Living Translation, Contemporary English Version, New International Reader’s Version, New International Version
Also, on http://www.biblegateway.com/, you can compare how various translations word a verse.
3. Decide How you wish to read it.
How should you start reading the Bible? Just flip it over to a random page and see what it says? Start in the beginning, read all the way to the end?
I’ve found two approaches to be the best ways to start reading the Bible for the first time:
a. If you understand stories best, read one story at a time. A good way to start is to start in the Gospel of John, then read the rest of the Gospels. After that, read through the book of Acts, and then find the rest of the stories in the Bible reading them. Skip a lot of the commentary, as it may slow you down. Then re-read it, noting all the commentary and laws.
b. If you would rather start by answering your burning questions about life, make a list of questions. With the tools below you can look up individual verses that deal with those questions or topics:
- Bible Concordance
- Topical Bible
- Bible search engines (such as http://www.biblegateway.com/keyword/)
Next time we will discuss what to do once you have found the part of Scripture you are going to read, to make sure that you understand as much of it as possible.
Rev. Micah Royal serves as Pastor of Life’s Journey UCC in Burlington, N.C. Having earned his Master of Divinity in Pastoral Care and Counseling from Campbell Divinity School, he has served in ordained ministry in various contexts throughout the Carolinas and southern California, including on the board of the Eastern NC Association of the United Church of Christ.