Bible is considered sacred writing for us as Christians, and we believe that God speaks to us through it. However, it was written centuries ago by different people located in a context that was different from ours which makes the reading of the Bible, unlike any other book we might read. I assume that you are a Christian and want to know deeper about your life in Christ through the Bible. But even if you are not, this article intends to provide an overall basic guide to understanding the sacred text of Christian belief. When I use Christian belief, it means that when I approach the text of the Bible I believe it to be a witness of God’s work in the world. It reveals about God himself and particularly His self-revelation in Christ. So, the task of reading scripture for me as a Christian is Christ-centered. Therefore, I approach the biblical text to know more deeply about what God has been doing in the past and how it relates to my own reality of today’s world.
The moment we open the Bible, we immediately see the content page divided between two portions containing books written by various authors. This basic division is a Christian understanding of looking at God’s relationship with humans, the Old Testament indicates God’s activity with humans since the beginning of the world and New Testament reveals how God revealed himself in Christ. The context of these books was different from ours so we require a certain understanding of how to read them in today’s world.
As I mentioned at the beginning, when we read the text of the Bible we already have our own presuppositions and basic understanding of it in mind. In some cases, it could be completely different from the actual meaning of the text. Therefore, it is important to take time to understand the context of the biblical passage before we deduce anything for ourselves from it. Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart offer three basic principles to approach biblical text; historical context, literary context, and content.1 Once we complete this task, we should move to the world we live in, and see how it relates to our own situation. Our presuppositions and realities of the world could be different from other Christians, for instance in the Netherlands the questions about the reliability of the Bible would be completely different in the Islamic, Hindu, and Buddhist contexts, hence it would require a different approach and understanding of it. So, when we read the bible Benno van den Toren discusses three important factors that would help us navigate our way; contextuality (our context), canonicity (biblical context), and catholicity (Christianity in the global context).
As a student, it might already appear a technical and even difficult task to read the bible. But, I want to encourage you that this process is guided by the Spirit of God, and each time we approach the Bible it is surrendering our will to His and trust Him to guide us as we read each word breathed by him in the scriptures.