ACW

ACW

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

How should the Bible be read? by Susan Sanderson

Having been brought up to go to Sunday school and later to Church, I was used to The Bible, or better still The Holy Bible, being regarded as a sacred text.  As a student I noticed a book on a library shelf.  It was entitled The Bible to be Read as Literature.

Quite honestly, I was horrified!

I felt that this was an attempt to undermine the respect with which earlier generations had viewed the Bible.  The linguistic root of literature is surely anything consisting of letters.  We use it in the title of examinations such as English Literature.  We also use it about information from showrooms about various products.

Nowadays, considering the trend towards secularism, I’d be glad to find someone reading The Bible to be Read as Literature.  Even in a different form it surely still has the power of the original to turn the hearts and minds of people towards God.  (I have to admit that I never touched this book, let alone looked inside it to see how it was presented.)

I wonder how much it contributed to the rise of secularism.  The title still seems disrespectful.  Perhaps it was just a symptom of a trend which had already begun.

So, how should the Bible be read?

There are lots of books and dated (i.e. with a date on, not old-fashioned) helps for Bible reading. Most people, who read it regularly, would agree that a beginner should not start at the beginning in the hope of working their way to the end.  Not many get to the end of Leviticus, the third book of the Old Testament.

Joining a study group is a good way of staying motivated to read the Bible regularly. There are a number of courses, which are designed to help.

I have no formal qualifications in Bible study. Religious Education (RE) was not offered as an exam subject at the school I attended.  However, I began using Bible Reading Fellowship (BRF) notes as a child. I didn’t find that they provided enough depth. When a teacher of RE sold some of us Scripture Union notes, I found those more helpful.
The BRF notes mentioned here

I haven’t always made Bible reading a daily habit. There have been long spells in my life, when I haven’t attempted this. However for the last twenty-odd years it has been a habit. I have tried other notes such as Every Day with Jesus, but I have come full circle and use BRF notes.  Currently I use two different publications, New Daylight and The Upper Room, which focuses on prayer and is written by its readers.  (Two occasional contributors are members of both ACW and the writing group I attend.)

In my view the Bible should be read prayerfully, thoughtfully and regularly. Reading it out loud can also help both the understanding and the memory. I have some personal preferences about translations, but I just long for people to be exposed to the scriptures in whatever translation speaks to them best.

How do you read the Bible?

16 comments:

  1. Thought provoking indeed. Thanks for this, Susan.

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    1. Thanks for sharing this on Facebook, Wendy. There are some early risers today!

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  2. I too would find it interesting to hear how others read their Bibles. For the past twenty years or more I have read regularly and with direction assisted by Scripture Union's Encounter with God, which offers, as well as a daily reading and commentary, the option of extra readings covering the entire Bible in the course of a year. I bracket the day with Scripture - daily reading and commentary early in the morning, extra readings at night - and I have found this most helpful and enlightening. I am not alone, I know, in being often amazed that after all these years of reading there are things that pop up which I have never truly noticed before. These must be the messages that I need particularly to notice at that time. Thanks for this post, Susan.

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    1. Thank you for reading this and commenting, Sue. I think Scripture Unions' Daily Bread also offers a scheme for reading the whole of the Bible.

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  3. I have no idea what would have been in that book, but I have recently started doing what I would call 'reading the Bible as literature'. I mean that I'm reading a whole book at a time, just as I would a novel; not taking it in prescribed daily reading chunks of a chapter, but stopping and starting as I like. Not worrying about what God is saying to me through it, or frequently stopping to pray, or using guidelines or commentaries, but accepting it as it comes or being at peace with its silence. It's freeing, interesting, invigorating. And I've read bits that I didn't know were there.

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    1. I have read the Bible in that way too, Amy. I read it first as part of a course, The Amazing Collection from Big Dream Ministries. Meeting with other women and having homework to do kept me motivated, whereas trying to use a Bible in one year had not. (It is very intensive, reading a whole book in a week.)
      Since then over about 4 years I have read the whole of the Bible out loud with my husband, but not in the order of the books in the Bible.
      There are parts, which do not seem to make it into the lectionary!

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  4. Dear Susan, as an English graduate, I am happy to read the Bible as literature - it is after all a collection of stories, poems and law codes. Why shouldn't it be seen as literature, as well as all the other things it is: inspiration, guidance, challenge, teaching? That book you found wasn't called 'The Bible as Just Literature' or 'The Bible as Nothing More than Literature'! As you probably know, I write for New Daylight, and I often approach the passages as literature initially, because much of their spiritual significance is in how they are written. We should read the Bible in its every dimension, and literature is one of them.

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    1. Thanks, Veronica. At a Bible study group this morning, as well as looking at the readings for next Sunday, we discussed books and English literature at school. I think that my experiences rather put me off the subject, although I am an avid reader. I like to choose what I read and having books chosen for me, especially the exam syllabus ones, was not helpful. We also talked about why young people resent or even reject the books suggested by their elders.
      It is good to approach books from different perspectives, as you suggest in your comment.
      I enjoy your contributions to New Daylight.

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  6. Thanks for this, Susan. Like you, I haven't always read the Bible on a daily basis, though I've certainly done so for several decades. Being the only disciple in my family (parents and siblings) I was delighted when, aged nine, I was presented with a Bible by my aunt. I still have it to this day, and - despite being brought up never to mark a book - I did so whenever I came across verses that spoke directly to me. I have no problem with the perception of the Bible as literature. I've read the Bible through in a year, using Selwyn Hughes guiding notes and found it fascinating as a story.
    My husband and I were fortunate enough to work together (for Jubilate Hymns) so we've had a daily Bible study for many years now, using Jeff Lucas notes, and continue to do so. And this year, I've started a journal online, noting our daily readings whenever they're relevant to life.
    Sorry if this is garbled. Still feeling very light-headed.

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    1. Thanks for reading this and commenting. There are almost too many different helps for regular Bible reading, but there must be something to suit everyone. I have sometimes used Selwyn Hughes Every Day with Jesus notes.
      I hope you are soon feeling better.

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  7. Perhaps more on the general them of Bible 'reading' than Bible notes (or the Bible as literature), I much enjoy John Stott's 'Through the Bible, through the year' and also the (to my mind, excellent) recordings of the Bible text by David Suchet.

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    1. I haven't come across the John Stott publication you mention, Caroline. The David Suchet recordings are a useful resource, especially for people, who prefer listening.

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  8. I prefer to read whole books rather than chunks. One book I keep going back to is Alice Parmelee's 'A Guide Book to The Bible.' She tells me things I didn't know before, things like 2 Corinthians is thought to be a compilation of several of Paul's letters.

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    1. I haven't heard of that book, Veronica. I find that every commentator points out things I didn't know!

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