by Chris Comstock
Why read it
The Bible has been read, written about, and has inspired the most influential thinkers and creatives in human history. From brilliant minds such as Augustine, Aquinas, Galileo, and Newton, to the awe inspiring creations of Leonardo, Shakespeare, and Handel, the Bible stands alone in the reach and scope of its influence. Not to mention, the Bible also provides the fundamental basis for Western Civilization as we know it (from law to education to social policy). The question ought really to be, “Why not read the Bible?” I doubt you could come up with as many reasons to not read it than there are overwhelming reasons to read it. At the very least to see how it wielded so much influence and made so great an impact throughout history.
As a Christian hoping to know and become more like Jesus, the Bible is where we go to get what theologian Dallas Willard calls “true beliefs”. We live our lives from the ideas we hold to be true. The Bible gives us the most important information on the most important subjects of life, namely how one comes to know and love God, and by extension experience a radical new kind of life with him. Christians read the Bible because it is here that we encounter God and more specifically the God who became man, Jesus, the one who rescued us from sin and death and who has set us on a new trajectory of life with him.
How to read it
We first need to come to the bible with the understanding that the authors of the Bible were reasonably well educated and intelligent people. Even to attempt to write a portion of of what we call the Bible would be a monumental task for most people who are not PhDs in literature, and even then. So we approach the Bible first with humility, understanding that it may have something to say to us before we have something to say about it.
Secondly we approach it with curiosity. As Christians we ought to come to the Bible with a deep curiosity about what God may want to teach us through his primary means of communication with his people. To do this we need to first understand that the Bible was written for us, but not to us. This collection of 66 “books” comprised of all different kinds of literature was written to the people whom the various authors had in mind, addressing specific issues and recording various histories and events. However, as God’s inspired Word, it was written for our benefit and the benefit of God’s people throughout the ages. Curiosity first starts by asking the question, “What did it mean for the original audience?” Once established, I can then ask, “What does it mean for me?” Curiosity will get you pretty far in understanding what the Bible is saying and what God wants to say through it to you.
What if I’m not sure it’s true?
Presupposing the truth of the Bible is not necessary to read the Bible. You may get there, but it is not a prerequisite. Don’t worry the Bible can take care of itself, it has for nearly 2000 years. If you are unsure of the veracity of the Bible, or some portion of the Bible, start with the part that you have a hunch is true. If you are struggling with a literal six day Creation or Noah’s Ark, don’t start there. Start with the Gospel of Luke or Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Start with a portion that does have that familiar ring of truth to it. And then let that ring resonate out to other portions you may be struggling with.
Another way to approach the Bible if you are struggling with a bit of skepticism, is to start with Jesus and what he teaches in regards to how to live life well. After reading the Sermon on the Mount you come to the conclusion that what Jesus says is “true” about how to live a flourishing human life, then you can ask yourself, “If I can trust Jesus on this important topic, can I extend that trust to other things he talks about or references?” I truly believe Jesus is the key to unlocking the rest of scripture and if you trust Jesus that he is infact true, then you can trust what he talks about and references as also being true.
Finally, there is no better indicator for the truth of something than putting it to the test of life. Many times Jesus would encounter people and he would say, “Follow me.” This was an invitation to experience life with Jesus, to put Jesus’ teachings and way into practice. If you want to know not only if the Bible is true in what it speaks of, but if Jesus and his teachings are in fact true, then he invites you to follow him, put his words into practice, and see what happens. Afterall, Jesus did say, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” You might as well take him up on the offer.
Chris Comstock serves on the staff of Cru and as a team leader at UC Santa Barbara. He is passionate about surfing, good food with friends, and his new wife, Cata.