Barriers to Bible Reading

October 5, 2017

The American Bible Society did a poll in 2013 where they found that 88 percent of respondents own a Bible, 80 percent think it is sacred, 61 percent wished they read it more, and the average household had 4.4 Bibles.

Lifeway did a survey to find out how much of the Bible people had read. Clearly from the pie chart, 53% have read very little of the Bible.

How much bible read

Biblica, the Bible society which owns the copyright of the NIV, did a survey to find out why Bible reading is down. They discovered three barriers to Bible reading. People read the Bible in fragments, a-historically, and in isolation.

In fragments means that people are reading verses rather than reading the larger units of thought: sentences, paragraphs, and books. Chapter and verse divisions did not come from the authors of the biblical books. Chapter divisions date from about the 13th century and verse divisions from the 16th century. My advice to readers is to ignore them in reading. Yes, they are helpful for finding things, but they do not show units of thought and sometimes arbitrarily break up units of thought.

My advice to beginning readers is to read a book of the Bible all the way through. I always suggest beginning with the gospels, then Acts and the epistles. In the Old Testament, reading through the historical narratives is of first importance: Genesis through Esther.

A-historical reading means the reader does not know where the book fits in history. Each book of the Bible is a piece of a larger story, and we need to know where it fits in this larger story. A Bible dictionary or study Bible may help you with this historical context. Good reading always involves asking and answering the reporter’s questions: who, what, when, where, and why?

Finally, people struggle with reading because they are reading in isolation. I read the Bible in the context of being a part of a church family. Enlist someone to start a reading plan with you, so that you have mutual support. Use a Bible class as an opportunity to read your Bible outside of class so that you are ready for the class discussion. The community of believers is the place to receive encouragement to read our Bibles.

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The Bible in Your Pocket

September 15, 2017

Microfiche Bible

Someone cleaning out a drawer sent me “The Smallest Bible in the World.” I remember seeing these in bookstores in the early 1970s when I was in college. It’s a Bible on microfilm. I would look at them in the bookstore, but since I had no microfilm reader and few dollars, the practicality of buying one on a lark escaped me. It was a novelty item at best. And the truth is, even though I now have one, one day I will clean out my drawer (or my heirs will), and it will get passed on to someone else. It’s not a practical Bible even though it is small.

But back then, I wanted a Bible that I could easily carry around. I had a pocket New Testament, and even a pocket Bible. You had to have a good-sized hip pocket and young eyes to see the small print, but it was convenient.

Since 2000 carrying a Bible around has gotten easier. I purchased a Palm IIIxe as my first PDA. It had a whopping 8 megabytes of RAM, but that was plenty to do calendar, to-do lists, book reading, and have a Bible. I began using Olive Tree’s Bible Reader on that early Palm device and have watched that software become more powerful and migrate to various operating systems just as I migrated from Palm to Pocket PC to iPod Touch to iPhone.

The advantage of having a Bible with you all the time is that you can use waiting time for reading. All of us wait in lines, at the doctor’s office, and the department of motor vehicles. As long as I have my device with me, I’m never bored. And it also means when you have the unexpected Bible question asked or an opportunity to share the good news, you have a Bible with you.

Recent stats suggest that 50% of the US population access a Bible online at some point in time. Yet, we still need more people to read their Bibles. We need people who will read books of the Bible all the way through. Fragmentary reading, a few verses here or there, will not bring about the knowledge we need.

The Bible is now easily transported with print adjustable to even my older eyes. My advice is to take advantage of the opportunities we now have available around us. If you are new to electronic Bibles on smart phones and tablets, let me suggest a few to consider.

You can learn about what is available at the above sites, and then find the app at your respective app store. The Bible is small enough to carry with you everywhere. Take advantage of the Bible in your pocket.


The Path to Understanding

April 4, 2017

A few years ago, I found the Bible I had as a teen-ager. I was interested in the notes that I had placed in it. Bible knowledge is not gained in a day. It takes a lifetime of study. Matters that today I probably wouldn’t need any help finding were concepts that back then I understood very imperfectly. For example in a note, I misspelled the word “Pentateuch”—a word which means 5 scrolls and is normally applied to the first five books of the Old Testament. I don’t believe that 1 Timothy has 15 chapters the last time I looked, but I have a written note for 1 Timothy 15.

Understanding takes time and repetition. I compare it to a net. The first time through a book of the Bible the mesh on the net is extremely course. Many things get by us. We struggle to understand. But as we continue to read, the mesh gets finer, and we notice and understand more and more. Alexander Campbell noted the same thing in his publication called the Christian Baptist. After observing that God revealed Himself in understandable language and that our approach to the Bible should be the same as for understanding any other book. He wrote:

You will then take, say, a New Testament, and sit down with a pencil or pen in your hand. Begin with Matthew’s gospel; read the whole of it at one reading, or two; mark on the margin every sentence you think you do not understand. Turn back again; read it a second time, in less portions at once than in the first reading; cancel such marks as you have made which noted passages, that, on the first reading appeared to you dark or difficult to understand, but on the second reading opened to your view. Then read Mark, Luke, and John, in the same manner, as they all treat upon the same subject. After having read each evangelist in this way, read them all in succession a third time. At this time you will no doubt be able to cancel many of your marks.

[Then] read Acts of the Apostles, which is the key to all the Epistles; then the Epistles in a similar manner; always before reading an epistle, read every thing said about the people addressed in the epistle, which you find in the Acts of the Apostles. This is the course which we would take to understand any book. You will no doubt see, from what you read, the necessity of accompanying all your readings with supplications to the Father of Lights….In pursuing this plan, we have no doubt, in getting even three times through the New Testament, that you will understand much more of the christian religion than a learned divine would teach you in seven years. Christian Baptist 1 (December 1, 1823)

Be patient with yourself. Learning takes time. Be assured that God has written an understandable message. What you first do not understand will become clearer in time. Read, pray, think. The path to understanding is taken one step at a time.


Why Read the Old Testament?

February 17, 2017

If I am a New Testament Christian, that is I’m under the new covenant, why should I read the Old Testament? As a reader of the entire Bible, I recognize that the question is short-sighted. It fails to listen to the testimony and evidence of the New Testament. Many reasons for reading the Old Testament alongside the New can be given.

  1. The New Testament quotes the Old Testament 96 times without indicating that it is a quotation. We are simply supposed to be familiar enough to recognize it. It cites the Old Testament 238 times with indications of it being a quotation, and it alludes to the Old Testament 1640 times.* Many times, it is helpful for us to be familiar with these passages in the Old Testament context to understand them in the New Testament. The New Testament also mentions by name over 100 people from the Old Testament.
  2. Luke reports of Jesus, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27, ESV). We cut ourselves off from some of the evidence for Jesus being the Christ, the Messiah, if we do not know the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Christ.
  3. Paul writes in Romans 15:4, “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (ESV). The Old Testament scriptures still serves the New Testament people of God in encouraging endurance.
  4. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10:11, “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come” (ESV). Paul had just surveyed some of the history of the Exodus and Wilderness Wanderings. These Old Testament examples still instruct those under the new covenant. We see good examples to follow, and bad examples that warn us of the paths not to follow.
  5. Paul writes in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (ESV). He has reminded Timothy of the sacred scriptures that he had been acquainted with from his infancy. This is a clear reference to the Old Testament scriptures. So, all scriptures would include both the old and the new. The Old Testament still has a teaching, reproof, correction, and training role in our lives.

Clearly, we must distinguish between the covenants so that we properly understand our covenant obligations. Christians don’t practice animal sacrifices for example. But the New Testament itself gives us ample reasons to continue to read the Old Testament.

*Jeffrey Glen Jackson, New Testament Use of the Old Testament


Becoming a Regular Bible Reader

December 20, 2016

With its 66 books and 1189 chapters, the Bible can seem formidable in size. It is a library of books after all. You may have said to yourself that you would like to read it. But moving from talking to doing can be difficult. The end of the year can be a good time to think about projects that can be spread out over a calendar year. I use the end of the year to plan my next year’s Bible reading. Of course, one can begin at any time, but the beginning of a new year is an excellent time.

Goal. Most things do not get accomplished until we have set a goal for ourselves and made a commitment to that goal. The same is true for Bible reading. If you would like to be regular in your reading or read through the Bible in a year, the first step is to set that goal for yourself and make a commitment to that goal.

Plan. Secondly, we need a plan for reaching our goal. A system that proposes how we are going to achieve our goal and gives us a yardstick by which to measure our progress. You can have smaller plans like reading the gospels or reading the New Testament. Progress might simply be tracked with a book mark or a simple log of chapters read. In some Bible apps I’ve seen plans as short as five days on a particular topics. These shorter plans are to get someone started in reading. Doing several shorter plans in a row may build up someone’s confidence as a reader.

For reading through the entire Bible, there are many Bible reading guides available. We have paper ones in the foyer, but several Bible apps for phones and tablets have built in reading plans that can be used. I’ve been using electronic guides since switching to phone and tablet for my regular reading. Guides may take you through the Bible chronologically, through the Bible in canonical order, or they may give you readings in the Old and New Testaments each day. Some guides may give you two readings a day and others give you four different readings a day. I’ve particularly enjoyed M’Cheyne’s Bible reading guide and the Discipleship Journal Bible Reading Plan. But these latter two take you through the Old Testament once and the New Testament twice. M’Cheyne’s also takes you through the Psalms a second time, so you may want to check on the amount of reading a plan has. However, I’ve found variety in readings help keep me from getting bogged down.


Routine.
Finally, it is helpful to set up a routine. Having a special time during the day when you do your reading will help you form “the Bible reading habit.” Use a translation which you feel comfortable with and which is easy for you to read. A pencil or pen can be helpful to mark verses that are especially meaningful to you or to write down questions on things you don’t yet understand (many apps also allow highlighting and note taking). I typically make a pot of coffee first thing in the morning and then do my Bible reading. Others may find time in a coffee break, meal time, or right before going to bed.

With the right goal, plan, and routine you can begin to explore the exciting treasures of the Bible.

Your word is a lamp to my feet
and a light to my path.” (Psalms 119:105, ESV)


Handling Accurately the Word of Truth

August 27, 2016

Charles Shultz had a great “Peanuts” cartoon where Charlie Brown is so busy reading his Bible that he forgets to feed Snoopy. Snoopy bangs on the door, enters and fixes his own meal, but before leaving has Charlie Brown read Psalm 50:12: “If I were hungry, I would not tell thee.” Charlie Brown cries out in reply, “Give me two weeks and I’ll find a verse to answer you.”

In his cartoon, Schultz poked fun at an all too common approach to scripture. Many people take the verses of the Bible as if they were a string of unrelated statements which can be pulled out to prove just about anything.

We must guard ourselves against this danger. Even though the Bible is inspired by God, we must use the same kind of common sense approach that we would use in understanding other books. We need to ask what kind of writing is this? For example, is this part of the Bible narrating history? Is it a letter? Is it prophecy? Is it poetry? After determining what style of writing it is, there would be further questions. To whom is it written? (In answering this question, we would want to include in our answer whether it is written to people under the old covenant or the new covenant.) And we need to ask who is speaking. After all, Satan is quoted in the Bible.

We would want to understand the verse within its immediate context (the surrounding verses and chapter), the wider context of the book, and the overall context of the whole Bible. We would want to interpret difficult and obscure passages in the light of clearer passages on the same subject.

There are in fact two distinct steps: (1) what does the passage mean, and (2) how does the passage apply to me. In the first step, we are asking what did the passage mean when first written and read by its first readers. After determining that, we may ask how do we apply this to ourselves.

Let us go back to the example of Psalm 50:12: “If I were hungry, I would not tell thee.” In the psalm this quote is spoken by God. He is rebuking his people for combining wickedness with worship. They continue to offer the sacrifices, but it is not matched by right living. He reminds them that the sacrifices are not made because God is hungry or has needs, “for the world is Mine, and all it contains” (Psalm 50:12b). In application to us, this psalm can remind Christians that we must serve God in all things, both in our worship and in our everyday behavior. God doesn’t need us; we need him. But clearly the verse means something different in the context of scripture, than it did in the context of the conversation between Charlie Brown and Snoopy. Their error is an easy one to commit, but with care an easy error to avoid.

The Bible is not an impossible book to understand as long as we approach the Bible the right way. May we follow Paul’s instruction to Timothy: “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15, NASB).


Reflections on an Old Bible

August 5, 2016

When I was at my Mom’s house, I found the Bible I had as a teenager. It was a King James Bible that my grandparents had given me as I entered my teen years. Later, I purchased a NASB right before I headed to college. The complete NASB (Old Testament and New Testament) was first published in 1971, which coincides with my high school graduation and first year of college. So somewhere along the way this old Bible was left on a bookshelf at my Mom’s house.

It was fun to look through my old Bible after so many years. It’s a bit dilapidated. I may have been rougher on it than I should have been, however, Bibles are meant to be worn out. Our frequent use of them should take a toll on them. I once read that Bible publishers suggest that the life expectancy of a bonded leather Bible is about 10 years, 5 years for a hardback, and 1 year for a paperback.

I was interested in the notes that I had placed in it. Bible knowledge is not gained in a day. It takes a life time of study. The notes that I had made as a teenager were very basic. It contained scripture references that today I probably wouldn’t need any help finding. I had written down concepts that back then I probably understood very imperfectly. For example, I misspelled the word “Pentateuch” — a word that means 5 scrolls which is normally applied to the first five books of the Old Testament, and I don’t believe that 1 Timothy has 15 chapters the last time I checked. I was told not to write in a book as a child, which meant do not write in the school owned textbook, because someone else is going to use it. We should ignore that order when it comes to books we own. One important was of learning the content of a book is underling or highlighting passages and making marginal notes.

All these notes represent an effort on my part to learn. Learning always involves effort. We cannot be passive listeners and expect to gain much from the lessons we hear. I am afraid that a verse that is true of many is 2 Timothy 3:7 — “always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth” (ESV). Listening to sermons and Bible class lessons is not like watching television. It should not be a passive experience. Our Bibles need to be open, notes need to be taken when appropriate, and our minds need to be engaged in active listening. Active listening searches for the main points, the evidence for the points advanced, and an evaluation of the truthfulness of what is presented. A biblical example of just this sort of thing is found in the case of the Bereans in Acts 17:11: “Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so” (NASB).

Finally, in looking at my old Bible I remember that I had some teachers who really cared. They worked hard at teaching. I still have taped in that Bible a handout from one of my teachers. Teaching is more than filling a 45-minute period. We are doing something that may help shape the spiritual lives of our students. It is a great responsibility. We must be students of the Word ourselves in order to be good teachers. Likely, we will have to go beyond the printed prepared materials in order to give our students everything they need. Teaching requires the commitment of time and study, but it gives great rewards.

“You have heard the things that I have taught. Many other people heard those things too. You should teach those same things. Give those teachings to some people you trust. Then they will be able to teach those things to other people” (2 Timothy 2:2, Easy-to- Read Version).