how do you read the Bible?

How do you read the Bible?

bible genesis

Open Bibles are generally easier to read than closed ones.

That question has a range of answers from the simple: “You open the book and read the words on the pages” to the complex: “You need to understand the culture surrounding the events and you need to understand the form of literature that you are reading.”

Actually both are accurate and fair answers to that question. But I want to frame it slightly differently: do you read the Bible searching for answers to life’s problems and complexities or do you read it looking for wisdom to help you work out how to approach life’s problems and complexities? It may seem like an esoteric exercise in semantics (and tricky words) to pose the question that way but I think the answer is important because it affects how we approach life.

I have a book on my bookshelf that I have had since I was a teenager. No, it wasn’t written on a scroll, but it was published in 1978. It’s called The Answer’s In The Bible. And I think for a lot of my life that’s how I have approached the Bible – looking for answers. I have looked to find out what the Bible says about issues that I face. Sometimes, I admit, I have even naively used it to justify my own actions by taking some verses out of context as an answer (you could use Matthew 25:27 as an argument to save money in a bank and not give it away, but that’s not what the parable is about). But the Bible doesn’t have direct answers for a lot of the questions we might ask today because those things could not have been anticipated in the days in which it was written. It does not have anything to say directly about the internet, computers, cars, aeroplanes, television, space exploration and so much more that we take for granted in our 21st Century cultures and lifestyles. And the Bible’s silence on some issues causes us problems if we are just looking for answers on what to do when…

Okay Christians, put the stones down gently and step away. Or at least don’t lob them at me just yet, please – read on…

You see I do believe that the Bible gives us access to God’s wisdom which enables us to work out what to do and how to approach life’s problems and complexities. The wisdom of God is contained throughout the pages of the Bible*. But there are two overarching themes through the Bible – God’s LOVE and JUSTICE – and they are at the heart of his wisdom.

They trump anything else. And if Love and Justice seem to be in conflict then Love wins every time in the form of grace and mercy. If you want the ultimate example of it you find it in what the Bible has to say about Jesus’ death and resurrection: God’s love and justice are both involved, but love wins even as he dies. (The resurrection proves it!)

So if you decide to look for Biblical wisdom rather than answers what does the Bible say about the internet and computers, for example? Nothing directly, as I have said. But it talks (from a starting point of being loving and just) about being honest, not gossiping, not lusting, not expressing hatred for others, good administration, and a lot more. That wisdom can shape good use.

And the great thing about seeking Godly wisdom from the Bible rather than just answers is that the wisdom crosses boundaries of time, culture, geography, ethnicity and any of the other things that can make it difficult for us to apply those words to our lives today. The Bible is not a rule-book to be followed or an instruction manual to help us maintain our lives. It is God’s wisdom expressed as love and justice seen through his interaction with humanity (especially seen in Jesus where the two are combined wonderfully).

So how do you read the Bible? Searching for answers or looking for wisdom?

Be blessed, be a blessing

*Even the apparently esoteric rules and regulations of Leviticus contain wisdom: not wearing clothes woven of two different kinds of thread (Leviticus 19:19) is about ensuring that clothes will last and provide value for money because when washed different threads are liable to shrinkage and may either weaken or even tear the garment, which could also lead to public embarrassment.

at three ment

When I was about seven or eight an uncle of mine came to visit. He is the sort of uncle who teaches you rhymes that have slightly naughty endings so you can recite them at inopportune moments. I loved playing football and somehow persuaded my uncle to come into the back garden and kick a football around with me on the lawn.

My uncle told me that good footballers never come off the pitch clean, and indeed the muddier you are, the better you are. I decided that I would be awesome.

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I can’t remember exactly what my mother said when her mud-caked came happily back into the house but I don’t think she was impressed with how awesome I was at football. There was mud everywhere. I was covered head to toe and my clothes were filthy. I was sent upstairs to have a bath, my clothes went straight in the washing machine and this may be my imagination as I recall the event but it wouldn’t have surprised me if I heard a mischievous chuckle from my uncle as I went upstairs.

In the bath I was washed clean until I almost sparkled. My mud-stained clothes were washed with one of those ‘whiter than white’ washing powders. By the time the process was finished all of the mud was gone. Not a trace remained.

Our rebellion against God / falling short of his standards / sin is like mud and stains that need to be washed away by a thorough scrubbing process. We can’t do that ourselves, but Jesus’ death is like a washing process that makes us cleaner than we have ever been – whiter than white.

There’s a passage in Revelation 7 where in John’s vision he saw a multitude in white robes in heaven. He asked who they are and was told, “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” Lamb’s blood is not a natural detergent (don’t try it, you’ll ruin your clothes and get a visit from the RSPCA). The image is telling us that we are made clean by Jesus’ death (Jesus is ‘the Lamb who was slain’ in the metaphors of Revelation).

Next time, restoration

Be blessed, be a blessing

have you found what you are looking for?

Click on the image to get linked to

I have loved U2 for ages, ever since the Joshua Tree album blew me away with its amazing sound and gospel-esque harmonies (check out ‘I still haven’t found what I’m looking for’, for example). I have been fascinated by the Christian influence in their music and in their passion for justice at all levels of society.

So when I heard that an interview with Bono had been published where he talked about his Christian faith I was very interested. Read extracts from it here.

If you didn’t follow the link please do. It is well worth reading, even if only for his account of what happened when he met the Pope!

Go on, it makes so much sense. It is brilliant to hear someone in the public eye talk so candidly about their faith.

And now you have read it, let me remind you of what I think is one of the most powerful things he said. The interviewer is responding to Bono’s statement about Jesus’ death on the cross:

Assayas: That’s a great idea, no denying it. Such great hope is wonderful, even though it’s close to lunacy, in my view. Christ has his rank among the world’s great thinkers. But Son of God, isn’t that farfetched?

Bono: No, it’s not farfetched to me. Look, the secular response to the Christ story always goes like this: he was a great prophet, obviously a very interesting guy, had a lot to say along the lines of other great prophets, be they Elijah, Muhammad, Buddha, or Confucius. But actually Christ doesn’t allow you that. He doesn’t let you off that hook. Christ says: No. I’m not saying I’m a teacher, don’t call me teacher. I’m not saying I’m a prophet. I’m saying: “I’m the Messiah.” I’m saying: “I am God incarnate.” And people say: No, no, please, just be a prophet. A prophet, we can take. You’re a bit eccentric. We’ve had John the Baptist eating locusts and wild honey, we can handle that. But don’t mention the “M” word! Because, you know, we’re gonna have to crucify you. And he goes: No, no. I know you’re expecting me to come back with an army, and set you free from these creeps, but actually I am the Messiah. At this point, everyone starts staring at their shoes, and says: Oh, my God, he’s gonna keep saying this. So what you’re left with is: either Christ was who He said He was the Messiah or a complete nutcase. I mean, we’re talking nutcase on the level of Charles Manson. This man was like some of the people we’ve been talking about earlier. This man was strapping himself to a bomb, and had “King of the Jews” on his head, and, as they were putting him up on the Cross, was going: OK, martyrdom, here we go. Bring on the pain! I can take it. I’m not joking here. The idea that the entire course of civilization for over half of the globe could have its fate changed and turned upside-down by a nutcase, for me, that’s farfetched.


Be blessed, be a blessing.