Playing the Bible - Presenters: Dr Jean-Claude Verrecchia and Dr Tihomir Lazic

How to read the Bible?

Dr Tihomir Lazic

The Bible was written a long time ago in a very different culture to ours. This means that we need to mind the gap between our world and the world in which this text was written. Making sense of the ancient text of the Bible requires us to build a bridge between these two radically different worlds. Simply put, we have to ask (at least) three basic questions — What does the text say? What did it mean (then)? And what does it mean (today)? Answering these three questions might appear to be an easy task, but it is not.

Building a bridge to the text requires the complete involvement of all the mental, emotional and spiritual capacities that we humans possess. Fortunately, we are not left on our own to deal with this complexity. As a community of believers travelling together, we can help each other out. God gave us more than fellow believers. We also have his Spirit to guide us towards a fuller understanding of God’s revelation. This makes sense. This is, after all, the same Spirit that was involved in inspiring the human authors. It was this Spirit that ensured that the authors communicated God’s revelation in a reliable and trustworthy way.

Let’s look at the above questions one by one. To understand what the text says, you can begin by reading the text closely and attentively. A good start might be to compare different translations and to study keywords and sentences. Even better is consulting the original biblical languages, if you are able. Whatever the language, bear in mind that the meaning of the words, concepts and thought patterns change over time. They are, what we call, historically and culturally conditioned. So, the most obvious meaning that comes to your mind might not be the one that was intended by the author. At this stage, it is always useful to also pay attention to the literary form, the genre and the variety of literary devices that are used. This explains why we don’t read Proverbs in the same way as we read Paul.

This leads us to the second question: what the text meant. To answer this we need to ask a series of different contextual questions. They help us really understand what is going on in the text. Outside the text, we ask questions like: Who was the audience of the text? What are the historical circumstances and issues that the author is responding to? About the text, we wonder: How does the author portray people and events? What activities are they involved in and why? We also think about the bigger picture: How is this section connected to what comes before and what comes after? How does it relate to other similar texts? How does this episode fit into the larger story of the Bible? These and similar questions help us understand what the Word meant in when it was originally spoken and written. We learn about the text’s literary and historical setting. This type of question opens a window and lets us look into the mind of the author. They help us learn more about his particular way of thinking about God and the world. They show us what he, millennia ago, meant to say to his original audience.

Finally, we are ready to think about the ways in which this text is relevant to our own present-day needs, questions and concerns. This is a difficult step. It involves the willingness to look in the mirror and be honest about ourselves. We have to accept the Word in faith, and we need to live in accordance with God’s will. Only then will we be able to experience the riches of God’s revelation in Scripture today. Only then will we be drawn deeper into a true connection with the Bible’s divine Author.