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Approaches to Bible Reading

I want to list some attitudes to Bible reading and some approaches with a brief discussion. I may choose to post some more on this. I think there is too much of an either-or approach to how one goes about reading the Bible. Different times may call for different methods and attitudes.

  • Fast Reading (Overview)
    When I returned to active church membership some years after I left seminary, I chose this approach first. I had kept up some reading so as not to use my language skills, but that was always short passages with focus on grammar and vocabulary. I chose to read the entire Bible (NIV at the time) as I would a novel. It was the book I kept by the bed. I completed the reading in 11 days. I find great value in this approach to help orient oneself in the canonical text, though it would be excessively confusing for someone not already acquainted with the text, I think.
  • Detailed reading (outlining, exegesis)
    This involves slower reading and spending time over specific texts. Most of my reading ends up here. I’ll read longer passages quickly, but some specific text will drag me in and then I’ll spend time dissecting the passage from all points of view.
  • Passage Overview, Multiple Readings
    One of my own approaches to studying shorter passages is to read the passage multiple times. This differs from the fast reading in that I choose a reasonable length passage along with a more temperate pace. Sometimes I read the passage in other languages (not original, usually modern, Spanish, German, French) to slow my reading. The longest passage I’ve done this was was the book of Ezekiel. Normally I choose something more like the Sermon on the Mount.
  • Original Languages
    Obviously this method is for those who know the languages. Here I vary my reading speed and approach much as I do in English. At the slowest level, I’ll go through the scripture indexes in the Greek or Hebrew grammars I have on my shelf and read the sections that cite the verse I’m reading. I might also prepare a personal translation. At the faster level I try to read several chapters in succession, and mark words or constructions I want to go back and look at in more detail.
  • Devotional Reading
    This is simply reading my Bible prayerfully, listening for what God has for me. This is one of the more difficult options for me; I slide into a more technical reading very easily.
  • Historical Reading
    Reading biblical books either as history or from a historical point of view. I find that Samuel-Kings and Chronicles reads very differently when seen devotionally rather than historically.
  • Literary Reading
    This is a fairly broad category. Think of Samuel-Kings. One might read this to study the history of Israel (historically), one might read it looking for theological points, one might read it devotionally (What is God saying to me here?), or one might look at it as literature, looking for characters, plot, and so forth. What type of literature? That’s part of the fun!
  • Critical reading
    Reading the text looking for sources, redactional issues, genre, canonical connections, and so forth. I don’t specialize in one or another of the tools of biblical criticism. I think they all have their place, and they also all have places where they don’t work so well. In my view Form Criticism is probably the most abused by being applied where it just doesn’t apply.
  • Liturgical reading
    Reading as worship or as preparation for worship. In my experience, this is largely lectionary reading. I like to read the lectionary passages for the week several times, and I also have occasionally, but not consistently, read from one or another daily lectionary. I would see this as an attitude to reading as well–reading the Bible as part of the church’s heritage and as part of the church’s worship.
  • Bible Year, or Reading the Bible Through
    Other than my 11 day thing under the first point, of course! Right now I’m trying a year’s reading from a booklet by Robert Murray McCheyne, More Precious Than Gold: READ THE BIBLE IN ONE OR TWO YEARS (Didasko Files),which tends to line up a chapter each from four different places in the Bible. I haven’t warmed to it very much thus far, but I’m going to try it for a while before I decided it doesn’t work for me.

That’s the list for today. I’ve probably left out plenty, and have certainly left out details. I may blog some more about Bible reading. In the meantime I recommend two things: 1) Find and use a Bible reading method that is comfortable for you and 2) Make sure you use some methods other than the one you found in #1.

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