How to Stop Skimming the Bible, Part 4: Interacting with the Text

March 3, 2018

When a person stops letting the words of the Bible pass before their eyes like another gas station on the side of the interstate, he or she will notice something: there are things to be noticed!


Every biblical book does not address every possible theological issue. Sometimes texts connect with one another in terribly interesting ways. Every now and again, a text might even make you laugh. When I read through Matthew once a week for several months, I laughed out loud at Matthew 11:7. In the ESV translation of the verse, Jesus asks, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind?” He’s speaking of John the Baptist, and I still get a chuckle out of it. The passage addresses serious matter, the role of John as the fulfiller of Isaiah 40:3, and it goes on to speak of the people’s rejection of God’s message to them, no matter who presents it. Jesus’s way of pointing out the gravity of John’s preaching contains humor, and skimming the text misses that facet entirely. 


So what exactly does it mean to interact with the biblical text?


For one, it means the reader will begin to ask questions informed by the text. A person can ask the Bible any question he or she desires. “Bible,” one might say, “Is it time for education reform in this country?” Sadly, one cannot find a direct answer to the question. The text might lead to the conclusion to begin a push for education reform, but it will not address it directly. 


Just recently, some teenagers from my church asked me about dinosaurs in the Bible. We discussed the usual, Job 40 and whatnot, but I made it clear that dinosaurs are not the point of the Bible. The Bible reveals God to Man, that Man would know him in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ. Interesting as they are, dinosaurs do not factor into the main point of the Bible any more than coelacanths, whether Noah’s ark still sits on Mt. Ararat, or what exactly happened to the so-called Lost Tribes of Israel. Just because we ponder something does not mean Scripture sees the thing as part of its central message.


A question informed by the text would be something like the following:


     What does 1 Corinthians say about marriage?


     What does 2 Corinthians 5 teach concerning people when they die?


     How many judgments occur in Revelation?


     How does one understand the relationship of Galatians to James?


     Can one preach Job, Proverbs, and Song of Solomon expositionally?   


     Does Jesus mean I need to lop off my hand and gouge out my eye?


Those represent basic sample questions. As one reads Scripture, he or she will surely ask questions of a more personal and urgent nature as well. As we read the Bible, we find it impinges on our lives; it challenges our assumptions of what we think in our natural, fallen minds. If Scripture does not ever challenge the reader, then the reader needs to query himself and find out if he’s actually reading it. Redeemed by the last Adam, the Christian still has a whole lot of the first Adam for the Holy Spirit to whittle out. 


As one presses on, still other questions arise:


     Can I draw Conclusion X or Application Y from this particular text?


     Can other texts of Scripture help me understand this one?


When we ask these sorts of questions, we see Scripture informing our thoughts. Then we see our reaction back to it. Note, our reaction does not determine truth, we do not propose a counterargument to Scripture in the hope of finding a synthesis between ourselves and the revelation of God. Such a thing would be some form of Hegelianism, not Christianity. Rather, we discover in our reaction to Scripture something about ourselves. How willing are we to submit to God in what he reveals at one point or another in the Bible? Have we misunderstood something? Are we convicted? Encouraged? Desirous to know more? Get yourself a notebook, or start a document in Google Drive and write these questions down! Journal on each one of them! You will not regret such actions! The more you write, the more you will remember.


We return ourselves to the Bible again, seeking to know and understand more of how it informs our understanding of God, ourselves, and our lives. We seek not to become theologians, philosophers, ethicists, historians, and missiologists, not primarily. Each of those vocations serve God’s people mightily, but our primary purpose remains knowing Christ and him crucified. Even that short statement from Paul in 1 Corinthians demands interaction through consideration, meditation, and submission. What does knowing Christ and him crucified mean for you? How does it inform how you understand God and yourself and the world around you?


My next post will be about Exodus 17, and it will be an example of interaction with the text. If you want to know more, join me here Monday and see one way to do it!

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