Please, never read the Bible. This might seem like a strange request from a clergyman. But I have a caveat: never read the Bible without some sort of reliable scholarly information by your side.
In my youth, I decided to read from Genesis through Revelation, expecting to receive spiritual nourishment. I stopped before I finished Genesis. The Bible isn’t like a novel. It is complex, confusing, and somewhat boring.
I have learned the following about Scripture:
- The Bible is not a historical book. It’s a collection of some sixty-seven (this number can differ) different books and letters in which the authors are trying to share religious history or their perceptions of truth, which are often clothed in a fictional story.
- All the men who wrote this religious history were Jewish or Jewish converts who wrote over a period of some three thousand years, each in different times with various biases and objectives.
- None of the Bible was originally written in English. A great deal was written in Hebrew or Aramaic (Jesus’s language) and then translated into Greek, not the classical Greek but Koine, or “street” Greek. The first time the Bible was written in English was in the 1500s. Imagine all the different translations and changes of the meaning of words that happened over that period of time.
- Since the entire Bible was written by Jews, the best way to read the Bible is through a Jewish lens, but almost all Christian readers don’t have that perspective. Gentile readers often misread it and think every word of it is true or the truth. The Jews have a process called midrash, which teaches how to interpret the Bible in a different way. Most gentiles don’t know how to do this. Many refuse to do it at all and for centuries have misinterpreted the Bible, thereby missing many of its truths.
Here are a few suggestions for reading Scripture and finding the truths within:
- Find a source (e.g., Wikipedia or the Interpreter’s Bible) that gives the background as to why and where each book was written. This step is extremely important.
- Read the Bible very slowly. My suggestion is to never read more than one chapter at a time. Keep rereading each chapter searching for the truths, which constantly change as we do so.
- Avoid any Bible study that does not allow you to ask lots of questions and to publicly share your doubts or will only give answers learned by rote.
- Never forget: the Bible is complicated, contradictory, confusing, and complex. It can be boring, nonsensical, and misinterpreted. It requires a great deal of patience.
I hope I haven’t discouraged you from reading the Bible. I read it on a daily basis, though some days it just doesn’t resonate. But over the course of sixty-five + years, the Bible has changed my life radically and has given me a raison d’être to live each day to the fullest.
I hope you find the same!
Peace Love Joy Hope
Photo by Ben White on Unsplash