The term “mastering the Bible” is a hat tip to a very good little book by James Grey called “How to Master the English Bible”. Which while it is a difficult book to purchase, it is a little book well worth purchasing.
This method of reading requires longer concerted periods of reading in many cases and is well suited to gaining a deep familiarization of a particular book of the Bible.
How? Simply read the book (e.g. Ephesians) from start to end in one sitting – and then repeat. If possible re-read the book several times in one sitting. In some instances, this takes considerable time and concentration (e.g. Romans), but as you re-read you’ll find that you’ll see more of the meaning that the author intended and possibly more gaps (such as customs) that hide the intention.
Over time you’ll become very familiar with the book and have a deep understanding of the theme, intentions and characteristics of a book.
This is a great method to use to prepare to teach on a book of the Bible, or just to get a better understanding of a book or set of books.
There is only one better way of mastering a book than this method in my experience – and that is to memorize the book.
If you apply this method to (for instance) the entire new testament, you will indeed master the bits that you read over time and even the whole Bible.
Devotional reading is purposeful reading that is focused on allowing scripture to help us interact with the Lord. This is well described by George Muller of Bristol:
The first thing I did, after having asked in a few words the Lord’s blessing upon His precious Word, was to begin to meditate on the Word of God; searching, as it were, into every verse, to get blessing out of it; not for the sake of the public ministry of the word; not for the sake of preaching on what I had meditated upon; but for the sake of obtaining food for my own soul. The result I have found to be almost invariably this, that after a very few minutes my soul has been led to confession, or to thanksgiving, or to intercession, or to supplication;so that though I did not, as it were, give myself to prayer, but to meditation, yet it turned almost immediately more or less into prayer…
Now what is the food for the inner man: not prayer, but the Word of God; and here again not the simple reading of the Word of God, so that it only passes through our minds, just as water runs through a pipe, but considering what we read, pondering over it, and applying it to our hearts… (Cited in “Desiring God” by John Piper, pp155-157)
This is a great way to start your day. Wayne Grudem also uses a method like this:
Usually I just “camp” on a phrase or verse, sometimes writing it out and pondering application to my own life. I also keep a blank notepad beside me because God often brings to my mind things that I need to do and I make a quick note.
Typically with this method you wouldn’t necessarily read as broadly as you might with the time otherwise. Alternatively you might also be more selective in where you read from – for example spending more time in Psalms than in perhaps the first five books (the Pentateuch).
Slowly moving through the text allowing ourselves to soak in it and respond to what we find there is a great practice, however, it may not be for everyone. Personally I’ve found this more effective the longer I’ve been a Christian. If you are new believer, you might prefer the hunger based method for the moment.
There are several ways to read the Bible that I’ve used over the years and there may be others that you can think of, but in the next few posts I’m going to explore a few of thee and where and when I’ve used them – and where you might like to use them too.
The first of these I’m calling “hunger based” because it is not set on reading a specific amount of scripture or keeping a pace – it is based on filling a spiritual hunger. This method is ideal for new believers and believers who have a hunger to know Christ and broadly understand the will of the Lord.
Simply put it means just reading. You might start in John 1 and end in John 5. It really doesn’t matter how long you read for, the key thing is that you are engaged and taking in the word as you read. You might read lots and find it doesn’t really strike your heart or just read one verse and “camp” on it for 30 minutes.
This method is also a great way to familiarize yourself with scripture as you can take in whole books (e.g. Ephesians) or even large narrative passages (e.g. 1 Samuel) really easily which allows you to get a broad understanding of the sections, themes and focus of the Bible.
Now this might also seem to be a lazy approach to reading – and it may, however, lazily reading the Bible is better than no reading. Hopefully in the next few posts you’ll get a few ideas for other ways to read the Bible which might help solve lazy reading from ignorance of alternative methods.
As previously noted I’m reading through Martin Luther’s Bondage of the will at the moment.
Along the way several of his thoughts have jumped out at me on various subjects (not the least of which is his stinging assessment of Erasmus’s book (Bondage of the will was written as a response to a book by Erasmus).
If you don’t know what Open Theism is, it essentially states that God doesn’t know the future. Here is what Luther said to Erasmus when he said that God doesn’t know the future:
…If you doubt, or disdain to know that God foreknows and wills all things, not contingently, but necessarily and immutably, how can you believe confidently, trust to, and depend upon His promises? For when He promises, it is necessary that you should be certain that He knows, is able, and willing to perform what He promises: otherwise, you will neither hold Him true nor faithful, which is unbelief, the greatest of wickedness, and a denying of the Most High God!
(Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will, p37)
Posted in: Faith, Theology