CA8 – Reading and studying the Bible
© Jeff Stacey | Last updated: 11 May 2020
The great majority of Bible readers cannot claim to be experts in biblical languages, history or interpretation methods. If that level of knowledge is seen as essential for anyone to understand the Bible, it is a barrier rather than a tool.
A more feasible approach for most (English-speaking) Bible readers is, firstly, to trust the research that has produced recognised English translations of the Bible.1
Then to study carefully one or more of these English versions using the ordinary methods of reading and comprehension. This simply aims to understand the meanings of the words, sentences and paragraphs in their wider literary contexts. In other words, the normal conventions of English grammar and word meanings are followed. I regard this approach as “literary” interpretation and not “literal”. The aim is to “see” only what is stated or clearly implied. This will involve facing up to many statements and descriptions of events that seem to be “impossible” [CA6(a)(v)].
The contemporary meaning and applications of what the Bible is saying are usually plain enough. The struggle tends to be more about doing what it says rather than understanding it! But there are also many places where this is not so and questions do arise 2Peter 3:15,16. Then studying the Bible can be backed up by referring to theologically reliable and readily available textbooks and online resources.2
Input by teachers and discussion with others can also clarify difficult passages Nehemiah 8:8.
These explorations can be pursued as far as one wishes to go. Ultimately, developing skill in interpreting and understanding the Bible is cumulative, learnt by doing it, using valid methods and resources.
The Bible is a big and complex book. So we must expect that effort will be required to make progress in understanding it. Hopefully my Charts and explanations will help, even though they also are big and sometimes complex!
1. The main Bible versions referred to in these notes are:
The Bible: New International Version (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011)
The NIV Thematic Study Bible, New International Version (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1996).
The One Year Chronological Bible, NIV (Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1995).
2. I realise that describing some resources as “theologically reliable” is subjective. Generally I am referring to those that are termed “Evangelical” in their theological approach. I see these as usually trying to identify and follow the Bible’s own presuppositions rather than applying other non-biblical assumptions and perspectives. These include Bible atlases and commentaries, theological and historical summaries, dictionaries on biblical topics and the meanings of biblical words, and textbooks on the grammar of the original languages. (Return to reading).