SIX WAYS TO READ THE BIBLE Three Thousand Years of History

Leslie Scott, guest writer

God has given us a library of 66 books. The 39 Old
Testament books and 27 New Testament books
which cover over 3000 years of history are written
by a variety of authors and include many types of
literature. It is no surprise that many people come
to the Bible wondering how it all fits together. The
Lord did not arrange the scriptures topically so that
we could read study themes individually; He
arranged it so that we could read a book at a time.
There are six different ways in which we can read
any series of narratives and stories enshrined in
this wonderful collection of books. It is important
to choose the right way.

Maria Matilda Penstone wrote this verse suggesting
a simple way to read the Bible:
God has given us a book of stories
which was made for his people of old.
It begins with a tale in the garden
and finishes with the city of gold.
There are stories for parents and children,
For the old who are ready to rest,
But for all who can read them or listen
The story of Jesus is best.
The simplest way is to focus on the most
interesting stories. There is some merit in using
the stories this way, but it is selective.
While it is good that the stories are at least read,
this ignores one fundamental point. At the level of
anecdote, it does not matter whether the stories
are true or not. They could be fact, fiction or fable
– whatever they are, the stories can still be
enjoyed and the moral message can still be
discerned. The big problem is, however, that it
does matter whether the stories are true or not,
because these smaller stories are part of the big
picture of the book one is reading at the time. If
we doubt whether men did the things attributed to
them, how can we be sure that God did what was
attributed to Him in these pages? The human and
divine acts stand or fall together.

Some treat the stories in the Bible for guidance in
what looks like ‘the-horoscope-method’, because
they read the Bible each day hoping something
might leap out and fit their situation. There are
rare occasions when people have testified to a
particular verse or passage having played a
significant role in their lives, but this says more
about God’s ability to use any means He chooses to
guide us than it does about the legitimacy of the
In former days ‘Promise Boxes’ were used by the
devout in order to find encouragement to face life.
Each biblical ‘promise’ was printed on a curled up
roll of paper and one was lifted out at random with
a pair of tweezers each day. Needless to say, each
one was also lifted out of its biblical context and
therefore often separated from the conditions
attached to it. For example, “Lo I am with you
always” is placed in scripture in the context of “go
and make disciples”, and we should not claim the
promise if we are not wanting to fulfil the
The narratives and stories in the Bible yield up their
treasures to those who read them as a whole,
seeking to know just what God is like, how He feels
about us rather than how we feel about ourselves,
or even about Him!

The third method is most common to preachers.
One of the great features of the Bible is the honest
way it records the failures and successes of the
main characters. James says in the NT that the
Bible is like a mirror that can show us what we are
like through the people we read about. We can
compare ourselves with Bible characters and ask
whether we would have behaved in the same way.
There are other comparisons: staying in 1 Samuel,
Samuel and Eli shared an inability to discipline their
own children. Jonathan and Absalom were both
sons of kings but behaved differently. Jonathan
was an unselfish son of a bad king (Saul) who was
willing to surrender to David’s leadership. Absalom
was the selfish son of a good king (David) who
wanted to seize the throne from his father. Who
amongst these offspring are most like your own
kids, dear reader

A fourth way of considering these stories and
narratives are to see them as a study of the history
of Israel. Israel developed from a family to a tribe
then to a nation, and finally to an empire. It is this
development into an empire that is outlined in the
150 years covered by the two Books of Samuel.
I have had a number of folk writing or speaking to
me insisting that Christianity is a theocracy and not
a democracy. They are half right, it is not a
democracy but neither is it a theocracy, perish the
thought; Islam is a theocracy. Christianity is a
monarchy – we have a King and He is the King of
kings. Those of us in the faith are not only priests
but kings as well, for we rule and reign with Him.
Christianity is a Kingdom so it is a monarchy.

Lower criticism is the study of the Bible by scholars
to see if there are any errors in the text. They
study and compare manuscripts in the original
languages, and note any discrepancies that may
have occurred through errors of transmission by
the copyists. This work gives us enormous
confidence that the manuscripts which translators
use are very close to the original and it is believed
that the NT is 98% accurate. The earliest of the
full OT MSS is the Masorectic text dated AD 900.
There is a complete copy of Isaiah, one of the Dead
Sea scrolls, from 100BC which is 1000 years older
than all the other copies available. This was
discovered when the Revised Standard Version was
being translated, so they held back the publication
until the text had been checked against this older
manuscript. In fact, the text they had been
working on originally was very accurate and only a
few minor things needed to be changed.

A theological approach to reading the books of the
Bible makes every page and sentence of value.
This is the best and right way. The levels of
reading we have considered so far are only with the
human side of Bible study, but the Bible is primarily
a book about God, with only a secondary interest in
God’s people. This type of study asks how we can
read the text in order to get to know God. Taking
the theological approach, therefore, we can look at
these stories and ask how these events relate to
God. How did He feel about it? Why did a
particular event matter so much to God that it was
included for us to read as part of scripture?
Confident that God does not change, we can then
apply these timeless truths to our own day and

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