I once heard a sermon in which the preacher said there were two ways we read scripture which he described as looking down over scripture and being under scripture.
The first one is the idea that we stand over scripture and ask what do I think this passage means? Whilst that sounds fine in reality it is not quite what it seems. When we read scripture like this we often approach with our own theological leanings and biases which then determines our interpretation of the passage. So depending on what our theological position is on a particular subject it then affects the way we interpret the passage before us.
Sitting under scripture is different though. In this approach we put aside our theological leanings and biases and ask God to open our hearts to truly understand what He is saying, even if it contradicts our theology! The obvious advantage to this method of reading scripture is that we have more chance of hearing God this way. Why you may ask? The reason is because we have not already decided the meaning of the passage by our own biases and prejudices and therefore we are more open to hearing God.
I sometimes read theological debates on line. One of the problems with theological debates can be we look for our “proof” verse to support our viewpoint and then we wade into the argument saying that we are right and everyone who has an alternative view is wrong. Sadly the arguments don’t just stop at saying someone is wrong but can generate into accusing fellow believers of not being real or genuine Christians!
This to me illustrates the problems that can occur when we come to scripture and bring our theological biases and decide in advance what a passage means. Naturally our interpretation is 100% right and anyone who disagrees is obviously wrong. Very wrong!
I have to be honest and say that I myself have done this and it can stop one from fully engaging with scripture. I guess though it is a safe way to read the Bible because if we come to it in a spirit of humbleness and openness there is always the risk that God might show us that we are wrong in a particular area. We then might have to change our viewpoint and completely rethink our theology in that area or maybe in many areas!
Permit me to ask you a question? Do you ever sit down and read whole books of the Bible straight through?
There are of course many different ways in which we can read the Bible e.g. a chapter at a time or a section of the scriptures each day. Some people like to focus on one particular verse and meditate on that. Whilst others might like to study a theme e.g. love and focus on verses in which that is mentioned.
Over the last few months I have increasingly become convinced of the importance of reading through whole books of the Bible and when possible doing this at one sitting.
You might be someone who, as mentioned above, prefers to study a chapter at a time. My suggestion to you would be to read the whole book through a few times before you start your study to get an overall high level view of the book. For example if you decide to undertake an in depth study of 1 Peter read it through every day for a week before you commence your study.
If we take the New Testament letters, they were written to either churches or individuals and often address specific problems that were being faced. By reading straight through the letter at one sitting we can get a feel of the whole letter. It is very unlikely that the original recipients of the letters would not have listened to the letter being read straight through.
When we read a book straight through it is harder to take verses out of context and apply a meaning to them that was not the original intention of the author. We see the context in which these verses were written and how they form part of the narrative of the book.
If someone writes me a letter (or email) I would not read half of it today and the other half tomorrow. So why would I not apply this to my Bible reading?
I know not everyone finds it easy to sit down and read. I am not an avid reader myself but if I find an enjoyable novel then it’s no problem for me to read 50 pages at one sitting. If I can do this with a novel why should I not do this with my Bible reading?
For anyone who has never read straight through a book in the Bible at one setting there are plenty that can be read in about 20 minutes, e.g. Galatians or Ephesians.
Why not make it your ambition to try and read straight through individual books of the Bible and see how it enhances your reading of scripture.