of God Is Living and Active – Hebrews 4:12.
Can Understand the Bible
Reading the Bible should be a form of prayer. The Bible should be read
in God's presence and as the unfolding of His mind. It is not just a book,
but God's love letter to you. It is God's revelation, God's mind, operating
through your mind and your reading, so your reading is your response to
His mind and will. Reading it is aligning your mind and will with God's;
therefore it is a fulfillment of the prayer “Thy will be done”, which is
the most basic and essential key to achieving our whole purpose on earth:
holiness and happiness. I challenge each reader to give a good excuse (to
God, not to me, or even just to yourself) for not putting aside fifteen
minutes a day to use this fundamental aid to fulfilling the meaning of
Both prayer and Bible reading are ways of listening to God. They should
blend: our prayer should be biblical and our Bible reading prayerful…
Its power comes from two wills, God's and ours. It is the Spirit's
sword (Ephesians 6:17) that cuts our very being apart (Hebrews 4:12), though
we must give it an opening by exposing our minds and hearts and wills to
its cutting edge. When we do that, God's Kingdom comes to earth. For it
first comes to that tiny but crucially important bit of earth that is your
mind and will. Then it transforms your life, which your mind and will control.
Then, through your life, your world.
What strange kind of a book is
The word Bible means “book,” (singular). But the Bible is in
fact seventy-two different books (sixty-six in the Protestant canon) from
many different authors and times and in many different literary styles
and forms: history, poetry, prophecy, drama, philosophy, letters, visions,
practical advice, songs, laws, and much more. This is not a book, this
is a world.
Yet there is a unity in this diversity. Most essentially the Bible is
a story. Unlike the holy books of other religions, the Bible's basic line
is a story line. It narrates real events that really happened to real people
in real history. G. K. Chesterton said, “There are only two things that
never get boring: stories and persons.” The persons involved here include
the three most important Persons of all: the Father, the Son, and the Holy
Spirit. The Bible is “stories of God”. But it is also stories about us,
about our relationships with God and each other. (The word religion,
from the Latin religare, means essentially "binding relationship".)
The horizontal (man-to-man) and vertical (man-to-God) relationships meet
here and form a cross.
But there are many kinds of stories: war stories, love stories, detective
stories, and many more. What kind of story is this? It tells us what kind
of story we are in; that is how it tells us the meaning of our lives.
It is a love story, because it is history, and history is "His story",
and He is love. Love is God's plan and purpose in all that He does.
The story unfolds in three acts, which theologians call creation, fall,
and redemption. Every story ever told fits this pattern, because this is
the basic pattern of all human history.
We could call the three stages setup, upset, and reset. First a situation
is set up; then it is somehow upset by a problem or conflict or challenge;
and then it is reset, when the challenge is confronted, either successfully
or unsuccessfully. Paradise, Paradise Lost, and Paradise Regained are the
three acts of the cosmic human drama, and we are now in the third act,
which began as early as the third chapter of Genesis, when God began to
"redeem", or buy back, fallen mankind.
This third act, in turn, has three scenes. First, God reveals Himself
as Father, in the Old Testament; then'. as Jesus the Son in the Gospels;
finally, He sends the Holy Spirit to be the soul of His Church for the
rest of time.
History, Wisdom, and Prophecy
The books of both Old and New Testaments are divided into three main
categories: history, wisdom, and prophecy. Thus the Bible encompasses past,
present, and future. But its history books are more than records of the
past; they tell us truths that are just as true and operative for the present.
And its wisdom books tell timeless truths that are not just for the present
time but for all times. Finally, its prophets do not merely foretell the
future, but "forth-tell" God's truth for all times. The whole Bible is
God's permanent prophet continually telling forth the truths we need to
know to guide our road on earth to a happy eternity.
There are two fundamentally different ways of reading the Bible: as
God's Word to man or as man's word about God; as divine revelation or as
human speculation; as God's certain "way down" to us or as our groping
and uncertain "way up" to Him. It claims to be the first of those two things:
divine revelation, "the Word of God". But it is the Word of God in the
words of men. For God is a good teacher and therefore gives us not only
everything that we need but also only what we can take. He reveals Himself
more and more, progressively, as we progress through our story. Stories
are not static. At first, it is simple, even simplistic and crude–"baby
talk", if you will. But it is true, even perfect, baby talk. We should
expect the Old Testament to be more primitive than the New, but no less
true. For instance, good and evil are revealed first primarily as justice
and injustice, right and wrong; then, gradually, the primacy of charity
is revealed. For a charity that has not first learned Justice is only sentiment.
Truth, power, life, and joy
The Bible claims to give us four things that we need and want most,
four things God has to give us: truth, power, life, and joy.
First, the Bible claims to give us truth–truth about God that
we could not have discovered by ourselves (and also truth about ourselves
that we could not have discovered by ourselves).
But what kind of truth? Not just abstract correctness but something
more solid, the kind of truth that we say is "tried and true" (see Ps 12:6),
the kind that is "made true" or performed (see Ezekiel 12:25), the
kind that "comes true" as the fulfillment of promises (see Matthew 5:17-18).
This is the kind of truth we find in a person, not just in an idea–in a
person who is totally faithful to his word. God is that Person, and the
Hebrew word for that kind of truth is emeth. If you let this Book
speak to you, you will find that it shows you the true character of God
and of yourself. It is a mirror.
Second, the Bible claims to have power. It uses images like a
hammer and fire (Jeremiah 23:29) for itself It calls itself "the sword
of the Spirit" (Ephesians 6: 17).
But what kind of power is this? It is not physical power but spiritual
power, which is infinitely greater, for it is the power to change spirit,
not just matter, power over free hearts and minds, which the Chinese call
te. It is the power of goodness, and of love, and even of physical
weakness and suffering and sacrifice.
Third, the Bible claims to give life. Jesus calls it a seed (Luke
8): a living, growing thing. Hebrews 4: 12 says that "the word of God is
living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division
of soul and spirit ... discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart."
Physical swords only give death; this gives life. Physical swords only
cut bodies; this cuts open souls and heals them. For a sword, though in
itself a dead thing, can come alive in the hands of a swordsman; and this
is "the sword of the Spirit". What happened in Ezekiel 37, when the dry
bones came to life, can also happen to you as you read this Book, if you
let it–that is, if you read it prayerfully, in the presence of God, talking
to Him as you read it. For this is no trick or gimmick of human imagination;
He is really there! And "He is not the God of the dead but of the living"
But what kind of life is this? It is spiritual life, eternal life, supernatural
life, a sharing, by grace, in the very life of God (see I Pet 1:4). The
Greek word for this in the New Testament is zoe. When you read the
Bible, beware: it will do things to you. For when you read it, it is reading
you. Its Author is reading you, from within. It is like looking into a
mirror and seeing another face there looking at you. Or like sitting on
a rock that suddenly moves and turns out to be a large and alarming animal.
"Look out! It's alive!" Bibles should come with warning labels.
Fourth, the Bible claims to give joy. The Psalms are chockfull
of expressions of joy in God's Word (e.g., 1:2, 19:8, 1 19: 97, 119:103).
Jeremiah says to God, "Thy words became to me a joy" (15:16).
But what kind of Joy is this? It is the joy that does not depend on
anything earthly, anything in this world; the joy that is apparently without
a cause, because its cause is bigger than the universe: it is God's love.
This Book is a love letter from God with your name on it. God doesn't send
junk mail or spam. He says, "I have called you by name, you are Mine" (Isaiah
43: 1). The words I love you are magic words: they change us, they bring
wonder and inner surprise, they bring us the greatest joy our lives can
contain on earth. How much more when we hear them from our Creator!
The Bible calls itself "the Word of God". But it points beyond itself
to the "Word of God", Jesus Christ. Every word in this book is part of
His portrait. The words man can utter are not alive, but the Word God utters
eternally is not only alive but divine. He calls Himself "the Son of God".
Meeting Him is the point of the whole Bible (see John 5:3 9) and the whole
point of our lives.
are ten tips for reading the Bible profitably
by Peter Kreeft
1. At first, forget commentaries
and books that try to tell you what the Bible means. Read the Bible itself
Get it "straight from the horse's mouth". Data first. The Bible is the
most interesting book ever written, but some of the books about it are
among the dullest.
2. Read repeatedly. You can
never exhaust the riches in this deep mine. The greatest saints, sages,
theologians, and philosophers have not exhausted its gold; you won't either.
3. First read through a book
quickly, to get an overall idea; then go back and reread more slowly and
carefully. Don't rush. Forget time. Relish. Ponder. Meditate. Think. Question.
Sink slowly into the spiritual sea and swim in it. Soul-surf its waves.
4. Try to read without prejudice.
Let the author speak to you. Don't impose your ideas on the book. Listen
first before you talk back.
5. Once you have listened,
do talk back. Dialogue with the Author as if He were standing right in
front of you–because He is! Ask Him questions and go to His Book to see
how He answers. God is a good teacher, and a good teacher wants his students
to ask questions.
6. Don't confuse understanding
with evaluating. That is, don't confuse interpretation with
critique. First understand, then evaluate. This sounds simple, but it is
harder to do than you probably think. For instance, many readers interpret
the Bible's miracle stories as myths because they don't believe in miracles.
But that is simply bad interpretation. Whether or not miracles really happened,
the first question is what was the author trying to say. Was he telling
a parable, fable, or myth? Or was he telling a story that he claimed really
happened? Whether you agree with him or not is the second question, not
the first. Keep first things first. Don't say "I don't believe Jesus literally
rose from the dead, therefore I interpret the Resurrection as a myth."
The Gospel writers did not mean to write myth but fact. If the Resurrection
didn't happen, it is not a myth. It is a lie. And if it did happen, it
is not a myth. It is a fact.
7. Keep in mind these four
questions, then, and ask them in this order: First, what does the passage
say? That is the data. Second, what does it mean? What did the author mean?
That is the interpretation. Third, is it true? That is the question
of belief. Fourth, so what? What difference does it make to me,
to my life now? That is the question of application.
8. Look for "the big picture",
the main point. Don't lose the forest for the trees. Don't get hung up
on a few specific points or passages. Interpret each passage in its context,
including the context of the whole Bible.
9. After you have read a
passage, go back and analyze it. Outline it. Define it. Get it clear. Don't
be satisfied with a nice, vague feeling. Find the thought, and the
structures of thought.
10. Be honest–in reading
any book, but especially this one, because of its total claims on you.
There is only one honest reason for believing the Bible: because it is
true, not because it is helpful, or beautiful, or comforting, or challenging,
or useful, or even good. If it's not true, no honest person should believe
it, even if it were all those other things. And if it is, every honest
person should, even if it weren't. Seek the truth and you will find it.
That's a promise (see Matthew 7:7).
article is excerpted is from the book, You
Can Understand the Bible, by Peter Kreeft, revised edition published
Press (c) 2005. Used with permission.
See related articles:
Unity of the Scriptures, An introduction by Don Schwager
In All the Scriptures, by Dr. John Yocum
to Read the Bible, by Metropolitan Kallistos Ware
Authority of Scripture, by Steve Clark
Scriptures Are One Book in Christ, quotes from early church fathers
Scripture As God's Word, by J.I. Packer
the Bible It Is God Who Is Speaking to Us, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Can Understand the Bible, by Peter Kreeft
Versus Informational Reading of the Scriptures, by M. Robert Mulholland
to Silence the Scriptures, by Soren Kierkegaard
the Scriptures with the Early Church Fathers, by Don Schwager
Study Course, by Don Schwager