Reading the Bible can be intimidating for some and overwhelming. How do I even begin to read a book written over thousands of years? I do know the first step, which is opening the book. You have just begun your Holy conversation. In reading, however, there are some specific ways of approaching the text which may help and I'd like to talk about a few of those strategies and lenses.
Let's break down our reading into some key elements to which we might pay particular attention. If you have a good study Bible, Google, and an inquisitive mind, then you are well on your way to having all the tools you need. We will focus on three primary areas of 1) What did it mean when it was written; 2) What does it mean today; and 3) What does it mean for you. This is not exhaustive and one can certainly dig deeper in specific areas such as variants words found in different archaeological finds for a given text. Focusing on these three areas provides an entryway into the text for study and reflection.
First, let us take a look at the History and this is where Google may be your friend. You may want to get an idea of what the original authors and readers thought about certain parts of a chapter or passage. Think about the parable of the Good Samaritan for example. You may read in the notes in your Bible a little about them. A quick internet search also gives you more than enough information to see that a Samaritan would have been expected to be the last person to help. You may also see that Jesus was talking about those who were supposed to help in the Temple system and they just kept walking. There are some wonderful rabbit holes to follow when looking at the history. Do not get too bogged down (unless you want to!). You may even contemplate for a minute what this passage may have meant 2,000 years ago in the Middle East.
Second, what does it mean today? What might the chapter or passage(s) you read mean for us today and how might they be applied? Look at the news and think about what is going on in the world around us and in the distant world. How might the Scripture speak to the world now? One recent disaster in the news is a horrific tornado in Alabama which claimed the lives of many people. People are hurt and in need, like the man in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Who do we expect to help the people in need? Who is actually helping? How might Jesus speak to this disaster? I am not implying it is the same scenario nor that people who should help are not, but providing an example with which one might think about such a text in its application today.
And last, but not least, we come to the application of Scripture to you, the individual reading the Bible. You do not need a Seminary education or Ph.D. in order to interpret the Bible. Think about what the passage is saying to you? Does it speak to any life circumstances now? How have you heard it interpreted and what do you actually think it means? Give the Holy Spirit room to talk to you.
These three questions are not the only ones you can use while reading the Bible, but perhaps they will help think about Scripture in a new light. Better yet, they just might lead to other questions and areas of study. It is beneficial if one also has someone else with whom they may talk and study. In addition or perhaps as a separate practice, write down some of your thoughts. Or, you may even write in your Bible (yes, that's allowed).
In this season of Lent, these questions are necessary, but perhaps look at that first step. Open the book. Open the book and you have already begun accepting that invitation given on Ash Wednesday into a Holy Lent.