Reading the Bible: Why Understanding the Big Picture Matters

So really, how do you read your Bible?  One of the first things that a new Christian learns is that the Bible is the Word of God that nourishes your soul, so it must be read.  How is a new Christian supposed to read the Bible, though?  This is one of the areas that is not addressed in the Church very well.  These truths should come through a natural progression of discipleship, but in many churches, discipleship is relegated to the pastor’s job, some of which have never been discipled themselves.  (Discipleship is a different discussion altogether).

The Bible is the key to knowing God, growing in your relationship with God, and surviving and thriving with God.  The manner in which you read the Bible grows as your understanding and proficiency in the text mature.  2 Timothy 2:15 tells us to study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth (KJV).  This is important for the Christian to do, but where should one start?

The first key to understand Scripture is to read the Bible .  This means you need to grasp the big picture.  This would be similar to reading a novel where you can put key figures, characters, and events into a logical sequence.  This is how you first develop an understanding of what the Bible is all about.  However, one cannot stay at this level because this doesn’t bring the person to a meditative state on the meaning of the text.  

The second key to understanding Scripture is to read the Bible .  This means you need to grasp the key segments of the overall story to see how each part reveals, builds, or informs the other parts.  If reading the Bible holistically is like looking at a map of the United States, reading the Bible segmentally is understanding how the state borders align and why they are segmented that way.  One might try to understand the different genres of the Bible and read those books in the context of their genre to try to understand how the poetry books affect the understanding of the historical books, etc., or their individual messages.   

Once these two methods above are grasped, then one can move on to more advanced strategies for reading and studying the Bible.  It is important to note that you will always lean upon the holistic and segmental knowledge acquired for good interpretation.  This is because the pieces must fit into the whole for the message to be understood.

Consider this through an illustration.  A medical student must have a basic understanding of the human body and biology before they can move into advanced studies in pharmacology or microbiological processes.  It would not benefit the medical student to know everything about the liver if the student doesn’t know what role the liver has in the body system.  This is why medical schools have prerequisite courses that must be completed in the undergraduate study before one can apply to medical school.  Those courses lay a foundation on which the medical student will build.  

This is exactly what you are doing when you are reading the Bible holistically and segmentally.  You are building a foundation that you will always refer back to.  This is important because as you move into a more detailed study of the texts, you will need to consider theological topics within the holistic framework of the biblical narrative.  This is where correct community becomes beneficial because you can discuss the overall biblical narrative with your friends for encouragement and confirmation that you’re getting the right picture.  And when you aren’t getting the right picture, you will have those friends as a safeguard to make sure you are corrected in a loving way.

Now that you have this fundamental understanding, you can dig into the texts of scripture to understand character development, plot development, historical or cultural influences, and theological development through the texts.  These different aspects of considering the text help us meditate upon questions such as:

1) What does this tell me about the character and person of God?

2) How does this help me relate to God or what does this reveal about God’s relationship between man and himself?  

3) How does God care for people?  

4) How do I show love to God?  

5) What does God require of me?  What kind of response is necessitated by what this text reveals about God?  

Remember, the Bible should not be studied to gain mere intellectual knowledge about God, but to truly understand the Bible in order to have a heart-felt devotion to God through pure love.  

If you want to study the forest, you first have to know what makes the forest different from the beach, then you can analyze each tree in the forest to see the beauty of the diversity that shows its splendor.  

So, let me ask you: Do you have a good holistic understanding of the Bible?  Does this affect how you interpret passages and how you relate to Jesus through His Word?  

If not, how are you going to change that?

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