People of faith throughout the ages have engaged the Bible in numerous ways. Below is a list I use for both personal and professional use; to both explore my understanding as well as open up the scriptures with others. This list is not meant to be exhaustive. Use it. Modify it. Add to it.
A PLACE TO BEGIN:
“Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than a two edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12a).
- Questions are Better Than Answers.
After reading a passage, start with what you don’t know. Wonder. Pray. Read some commentaries. Create a list of questions and take your list to others. Listen to their questions too. The places in the text that are rubbing against you are the best places to investigate further. Experts are not “know-it-alls” – they are skilled questioners. Become a skilled questioner. Remember: “I DON’T KNOW,” followed by “WHAT DO YOU THINK?” Can be helpful.
ASK: What bothers me in this passage?
ASK: What is God up to here?
ASK: What is this passage calling me to do / change / believe?
- Learn the Context of the Wider Story.
Do a little digging. Try to get the Big Picture.
I like to break down the major thrusts of the Old Testament (Or Hebrew Scriptures) into three major developments: THE EXODUS, THE EXILE and EXPECTATION TO RESTORATION.
I frame the Jesus story by considering particular stories in light of his death and resurrection.
I find it helpful to consider how the church across time and place has wrestled with a particular passage. (There is usually a variety of perspectives!)
ASK: How does a particular passage fit within the Whole Narrative? (Write, draw, outline, compare notes with others)
- Identify the Details.
Remember this important fun fact: The Bible did not fall out of the sky. It is a collection of writings that took centuries to write, sort out and assemble. Most stories are not play-by-play reporting as we would see today on television or social media; but are later reflections on events and ways people have processed how God was at work through major events; often years or generations after things happened. Names of people and places in the Bible often have multiple and symbolic meanings. The Bible is also full of poetry, parables, letters and other forms of writing that all employ the use of metaphor and symbolism to convey truth. So pay attention to the particulars in what you are reading.
ASK: “Who? What? Where? When? and Why?” of the people, places and actions described in the passage.
- Read Yourself into the Story
Get to know the people and the voices in the Bible by trying to see things in the first person.
ASK: Who am I most like/unlike in this story? Why do you think so?
ASK: Who are the other voices? (Take inventory of their emotional / spiritual / and physical experiences. Share your list.)
ASK: How do the experiences of the voices/people in the story relate to my own story?
- Distinguish LAW and GOSPEL
This is the particular “way” Lutheran Christians read the Bible. Simple definitions of “LAW and GOSPEL” include: command and promise; judgment and freedom; justice and mercy.
I tend to look at LAW and GOSPEL like this:
LAW = GOD NAMES LIMITS:
The LAW is not just a list of rules. The LAW reveals how we are to live fruitful lives in relationship to God and others. The LAW names the fragile and hurtful realities of human life. The LAW also names the particular sinfulness we experience and the brokenness of human systems.
GOSPEL = GOD CREATES ANEW:
The literal translation of the word “gospel” is “good news.” What is good news? Call it forgiveness, hope, freedom, comfort, assurance, restoration, renewal, resurrection, new life, etc. Good news comes wherever and whenever God is restoring relationships, healing the suffering, breathing new life into what is dead, forgotten or thrown away. For Christians the “good news” is: “Christ is Risen!” The implication is: “So are you! Go live a good news life for others.”
Think about hearing the same sentence: “I love you” as both LAW and GOSPEL.
As LAW we think about not being worthy of love; and/or the shame or guilt we carry with us because of broken relationships; and/or the consequences of words or actions that prevent us from reconciling.
As GOSPEL we receive love as a pure gift, as an undeserved relationship, as creating a new identity. It is the comforting hug on a long day.
Think “get to” not “have to” when it comes to sharing God’s love in both word and action with others.
God takes the initiative. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). God loves you. In love – we “get to” love back. 🙂
* ALSO REALLY IMPORTANT!!!
What we do still matters, but for different reasons than we think. Paul says, “Should we continue to sin so that grace may abound? By no means!” (Romans 6:1-2a). We love others not to overcome our shortcomings, be more holy, or win points with God, but to share the love God gives us in Jesus – out of joy and gratitude. We also do certain things and do not do others out of love – in accountability to one another in relationship.
Two quotes I keep going back to in my own study:
“God doesn’t need you good works, but your neighbor does.” – attributed to Martin Luther
“Now that you don’t have to do anything, what are you going to do?” – Martin Marty
Lots here. I hope it helps.