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18/05/2010 / John Hanna

How to Read this Story

Several months ago I bought New Testaments to sell at a reduced price at BYF Tuck Shop.

I kept one and I’ve used a few times at DBC, but it was only yesterday that I noticed a really helpful page entitled ‘How to Read this Story’ on p. A10. This is what it says:

Can you read the Bible like other stories? Not exactly. The Bible is a collection of books, 66 in all, that were written over a long period of time. They tell the story of how God is working to set things right in our world. But these books were written in a different time than ours, and that means you will need to keep some important things in mind as you read.

The key to reading the Bible is to remember two questions: What did it mean then? and What does it mean now? The first step in reading the Bible is to discover what the original author was saying. Once this is clear, ask yourself what it means for you today.

Here are some keys to finding what a Bible story or passage originally meant:

  • What kind of literature is being used: is it historical story? law? psalm (song)? letter? wisdom saying? Answering this question correctly will help you to interpret the passage correctly.
  • Where are you reading in the story? Where did these people live? What is happening around them? What is God telling them now? What happened before? What are they expecting to happen next? As in all stories, some things change and some things stay the same as the story progresses.
  • How does this passage fit into the message of other passages around it? It is critical to read the Bible in context. As with any story, if you pull isolated sayings out of context, you may change the meaning entirely.

As you move into thinking about what a Bible passage means for you today, keep these in mind:

  • Use common sense. God is not trying to trick us or hide secret meanings in the Bible. Some parts of the Bible are difficult, yet in most places the meaning can be discerned clearly. Look for the plain meaning of the text, then focus on what your response should be.
  • Keep in mind the cultural differences between the Bible times and ours today. When God is teaching an important principle for living, the way that principle gets lived out may look very different in our day from what it looked like in the ancient world.
  • Remember where you are in the story. We are living after the death and resurrection of the Messiah Jesus, which is the climax of the Bible’s whole story.The main event has happened. God has shown us what he is like by sending Jesus to us. Everything you read should be shaped by that fact.

The Bible is not primarily about you. It is the ancient story of God, the world and the people he called. Yet, this story has a place for you. In fact, the reason this story was saved and written down is so that people like you could read it and find the true meaning for their lives. Our prayer is that you will read it and discover within it the life that is truly life (1 Timothy 6:19).

~ International Bible Society

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