I think this kind of falls under “How Not To Read the Bible,” and I want to reiterate here that I’m not qualified to preach or teach over anyone by any standard in the church. I’m not speaking from authority here. I’m just blogging. My blog articles are worth precisely what you pay to read them (/wink). So. You’re free to disagree with me, but let’s toss this out there and see what’s what:
One of the very best things I’ve learned by reading the Bible every day is that this book is not about me. Scripture was not written about me or to me. It’s not a “God and me” club, and the Bible is not a letter composed especially for the almighty Amy. Once I stopped searching every verse for a divine message about my life and trying to use Scripture like some kind of ancient Magic 8-Ball (admit it; you’ve done that, too), everything got much clearer.
If you read Scripture in a “written for me” context, you will not see the large and eternal truths in the Bible. The Torah (Genesis-Deuteronomy) was written roughly 3,500 years ago, and the authors of the Mosaic books did not write them for us. They wrote them for Ancient Israel. God inspired those authors to write things that every generation would need to know, but those things aren’t about us. They never were. They are about God. They are about the nature of God, and the will of God. They are about God’s design for fellowship with mankind. They are about God making covenant with a people who were set apart to demonstrate his glory to the nations so that all might draw near to…God.
So when I go to Genesis and read about Jacob’s difficult marriage(s), those stories are not about me or my spouse. They are not about my life (or yours, either). Reading Genesis for life advice or projecting myself into the story (For example, assuming that what God said to Moses is something He is also saying to me) is dangerous. It’s a dangerous and extraordinarily flawed way to read the Bible. It is self-focused rather than God-focused. It is arrogant rather than receptive. And if we try to apply Scripture from that place, we are very, very likely to get it flat wrong.
If you’re reading Scripture this way, stop it. Just don’t do that anymore. I started out reading it that way, and it was a dead kind of study. No fruit came from it at all. It wasn’t until I learned to back myself out of the narratives and look at the Bible in its own context (a context without me in it) that Scripture started speaking to me in ways I could understand and learn lessons from. There are truths in Scripture that we can learn from and apply to our own lives, but application only works after we understand what those truths are in the first place. To get that, we have to read the text in the context it came from. That context did not include me or my personal problems.
Both the Hebrew and Greek testaments were written so very long ago that human minds have genuine difficulty forming a picture of how far away that time really is. Unless we actively work at being mindful of historical and cultural distance, we will gravitate toward projecting our own views and emotions and ideas onto the subject. The people in the Bible are not us. The people who wrote the Bible are not us. Their world didn’t look like ours. Their world didn’t operate like ours. They didn’t know what we know. They didn’t believe what we believe. They didn’t value what we value. They. Were. Not. Us.
When we go to the Bible, we have to allow the authors to tell us their stories the way they experienced them. We have to let their voices narrate and keep our own voices out of it. We have to let their passions form the story and keep our own passions out of it. We have to remove our selfish selves and learn to listen.
The reason we’re all so horribly bad at this is based in the focus we have on the individual in Western culture. That isn’t a bad thing for secular governance; it’s actually a great thing, but it becomes seriously problematic when we bring that baggage into our theology. We get focused on that personal “Jesus and me” thing. What does this Scripture mean for me? What is that verse “saying” to me? Well, it isn’t about me, and it never was, and that’s why it doesn’t work to study Scripture this way. God chose these people who authored Scripture. He breathed the Word through them for a reason. So let’s listen to them without trying to shape it into our own image.
The Bible is for all of us. It isn’t about any of us. Does that make sense?
Once that perspective actually sank in, seriously brilliant things began to happen for me in Bible study. It was a revelation (little “r”). When I stopped looking for myself in the Bible, Scripture came alive and started speaking to me in a beautiful way. God’s love for us, his designs for us, and his arc of redemptive grace from Genesis to Revelation (big “r”) started to finally make sense. And, y’all? It is miraculous. This book is a miracle in its own right. I really get that now, and all it took was a tiny shift in focus.
The goal is not to learn what Scripture is saying to me. The goal is to learn what Scripture is saying.
Well, I saw it…and it really got me thinking. I try very hard to come to Bible study with humility and separation. I don’t always succeed because I am a human being and a sinner, but I try very hard. I keep historical and cultural distance in mind because it’s important, but I also purposefully put up a personal separation from the text. As long as I’m separated from it, I won’t be trying to apply every verse to myself. This is vital because putting application before understanding simply does not work. And…because it’s just incorrect.
The Bible isn’t about me. It’s about God.
Let me know what you think about all of this.