The articles below were sent out to SPOTR members over a number of weeks, as teaching emails. They are reprinted below for anyone interested in our Bible Email Series – happy reading!
- Reading the Bible Well
- Reading the Bible Matters
- One Big Story about Jesus
- Spirit’s Work and Prayers
- ‘Context, Context, Context’
- Importance of the Old Testament
- Jesus in the Old Testament
- Reason in Our Reading
- Freshening Up
- Taste and See…
Article 1 -Reading the Bible Well
Hello once again SPOTR,
I am going to try something a little different with these weekly messages for a while. I
will each week give a short note as part of a series – in this case thoughts and ideas
on reading the Bible. I may press pause some weeks if there is something else that
needs saying, but generally there will be a bit of a theme over the next while.
For the first of these, the simple question I want to answer is: why does reading the
We speak of reading the Bible a lot at SPOTR, but many of us find it hard to do
outside of church and Growth Group. Reading is hard for some of us, finding time is
hard for most of us, and other things are always pressing in.
But a few simple truths remind us why reading the Bible matters (as well as many
more not mentioned here!).
For a start, ‘faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard
through the word about Christ.’ (Romans 10:17) If you want to have faith and grow in
it you need the word of Christ, And nowhere is the word about Christ more clearly or
directly heard than in the pages of Scripture.
That is because, as Christ himself says, all of Old Testament Scripture is centered on
him, and is brought to fulfilment in the message about him which he entrusted to his
eyewitnesses – which we have in the New Testament (Luke 24:44-48).
And further, these eyewitnesses became empowered by the Holy Spirit (see the next
verse, Luke 24:49), the same Spirit who is the source of God-breathed (or ‘God-
spirited’) Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16). This ‘God-breathing’ was done through the
authors of Scripture, who ‘though human, spoke from God as they were carried
along by the Holy Spirit.’ (2 Peter 1:21).
So as we read the Bible, we are reading the Spirit-generated witness to Christ which
brings faith. Through the Scriptures God speaks faith-inspiring words to us. Seeing
as salvation comes to us by faith, it is not surprising Paul says these Scriptures
are ‘able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus’ (2 Timothy
Reading the Bible matters because it is the key way God uses to bring saving faith,
and strengthens that faith . (If you are interested in a little bit of personal testimony
from me about this, you can see some here).
But does it matter how we read the Bible? More on that next time.
Yours in the Christ of the Bible,
Article 2 – Reading the Bible Matters
Kia ora whānau,
At the moment we are having a series in these weekly emails on reading the Bible.
Last week we considered (some of) why reading the Bible matters – because as we
read the Bible, we are reading the Spirit-generated witness to Christ which brings
faith. But today we ask – why does reading the Bible well matter? If the Bible is
God’s message about Jesus which brings faith, can we just read it without worrying
about reading it rightly?
Well firstly, it is always better to read the Bible than not read the Bible! As we saw
last week, ‘faith comes from hearing the message’ (Romans 10:17). So hearing that
message in the Bible is better than not hearing it.
But the way we listen matters. Peter notes that the words of his fellow Apostle Paul
(as well as other Scriptures) can be twisted (2 Pet 3:16). This shows that it is
possible to read them badly – and indeed one of the reasons for this twisting, Peter
says, is ignorance. Further he notes that some of the things Paul says are hard to
understand – which means we will have to read well and carefully in order to
understand them as best we can.
We know this from our experience too. When we read Jesus say ‘go rather to the lost
sheep of Israel’ (Matthew 10:6), we would be wrong to think all missionaries should
evangelise only woolly creatures in the Middle East. But if we didn’t read carefully –
with attention to where we are in the Bible’s story, and the type of language Jesus is
using – we would be in danger of just that error! Obviously that is an extreme
example, but many theological and pastoral mistakes have come from more subtle
versions of not reading the Scriptures well.
Thankfully God has given us many tools to help us read well – including minds which
can engage the Scriptures if we work at it, people with particular gifts and training to
help us grow in our reading, communities of faith to share in the Bible reading task
together, regular reminders in the Bible itself to humble ourselves and be ready to be
corrected, and the Holy Spirit who helps us as we read the Scriptures (both together
and individually). So we can have confidence in the prospect of continually growing
in reading the Bible well. I am hopeful that some of the tips in this series may be a
little help as well.
Have a great week! God bless
Article 3 – One Big Story about Jesus
Hi everyone, hope this finds you well,
We have been having a series on reading the Bible in these weekly emails (with a
break last week). We have considered why reading the Bible matters, and why
reading it well matters. Today we will think about reading the Bible as one big
The Bible has 66 books and many human authors who wrote across more than a
millennium. Its parts can seem diverse, and indeed it comes in all sorts of genres –
from historical narrative to legal text to poetry to family records, and others. And yet
Jesus makes it very clear the Bible is a unity, with one big story running throughout.
One key example of a place he does this is the end of Luke’s Gospel, after he is
raised from the dead: He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”
By speaking of the ‘Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms’ he is referencing
the three divisions of the Jewish Bible (our Old Testament) – the Law, the Prophets
(which includes the historical books like Samuel and Kings), and the Writings (of
which Psalms is the most sizable book, but also includes lots of the wisdom
literature, the book of Daniel, Ruth, Esther, and Chronicles). So He was effectively
saying ”all the parts of the Old Testament talk about me’. It is one big story, with
Jesus at the centre as the key character.
This unity of the whole Bible is reflected in places like 2 Corinthians 1:20 where Paul
says ‘no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ.’
That means, as we read any part of the Bible, we want to be asking questions like:
‘How does this relate to Jesus? How does he fulfil it? How does it help us understand
God’s purposes in Jesus better?’ Doing this helps us avoid a lot of mistakes in
reading and applying the Bible (including thinking we are at the centre of it!), and
also helps a lot of tricky parts of the Bible become a bit more understandable and
Remember, above all, it’s all about Jesus!
Yours in Him,
Article 4 – Spirit’s Work and Prayers
Kia ora SPOTR,
In our little (sometimes interrupted!) series on reading the Bible, we have considered why
reading the Bible matters, and why reading it well matters, and also how it is one big story
centered on Jesus.
But I wouldn’t want to give the impression that engaging with the Bible is just a matter of
good reading and understanding. It is not less than that, but it is certainly more. As I noted
earlier in this series, the Holy Spirit inspired the Bible (2 Tim 3:16; 1 Pet 1:21). But as we
saw in Growth Groups earlier in the year in Ephesians 1:13-14, those who believe the
message of Jesus have the Spirit in them. So the same Spirit who caused the words of the
Bible to be written is at work in us as we read his words. This is not only a matter of reading
well, it is a matter of the Spirit working in us to help us recognise his own word of truth.
What does that mean for us as we read? Well one thing for a start: we need to read
prayerfully! There is more going on than our efforts at good reading. We need God’s Spirit to
be humbling us and giving us ‘ears to hear’. This is less about us getting special insight
(though that could happen), and more about us recognising the truth and authority of what we read. It is, as Paul said in a different but related context, a matter of being enabled to
recognise the part of the Bible we are reading ‘as it actually is, the word of God’ (1 Thess
So let us read prayerfully, aware of our need for God to be at work in us! And then we may
discover the same experience which Duncan Andrews, a friend of mine from Theological
College, expressed in this verse:
I set myself to read your word,
to study you from all you’ve said;
to see behind to things inferred
or hidden; but find instead
I bow my head:
it’s me being read.
Article 5 – Context, Context, Context
Hi church family,
As we continue thinking about reading the Bible well, we come to one of the things that is most often neglected: the importance of context. The Bible has not been given to us as isolated bullet points. Rather, God has seen fit to inspire a big story made up of a number of different kinds of writing. And each part of the Bible is only properly understood in the context in which it is found. Given this is how God has given it to us, it is important we respect that in our reading of it.
An extreme example is the fact that the Bible says there is no God. That is, until you read it in context. Psalm 14:1 and Psalm 53:1 (which are almost exactly the same as each other) both say ‘There is no God’. But when you read the wider verse, it says ‘the fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”‘ The same sort of misunderstanding, though often less obvious at first, happens in all kinds of ways when we forget to read a verse or a chapter in its context.
Context has a number of levels, including:
- literary context – reading things according to their genre, so, for instance, you don’t read the poetry of Psalms as if it were historical narrative like the book of Acts.
- biblical historical context – understanding where things come in the unfolding story of the Bible.
- chapter and whole book context – maybe the most important one, which is understanding each verse in light of the whole chapter, and each chapter in light of the whole book of the Bible it is in.
Now if that sounds intimidating, don’t worry! It is mostly just a case of reading carefully. It is why it is a great thing to ask where we are in the Bible’s story at this point (before Jesus or after his coming?). It is also why it is great to read through books of the Bible from start to finish as much as possible, so you have a sense of where you are up to in the story, and of what came before. I don’t know how many times I have found a particular verse puzzling, and then read the next chapter and had the puzzle solved for me by the Bible book itself! And I don’t know how many dodgy theological understandings could have been avoided by more careful reading of a part of the Bible in its context. That’s not surprising, because reading the Bible in context is simply humbly seeking to read it in a way that respects the form in which God has given it to us.
May God keep blessing your reading of the Bible by his Spirit who inspired it!
Article 6 – Importance of the Old Testament
Kia ora church,
As we continue in our ‘Reading the Bible’ series, today I want to mention the importance of the Old Testament. There was a man in the ancient church called Marcion who thought that Christians should be New Testament people. He compiled his own version of the Bible which dropped the entire Old Testament, and indeed cut out lots of parts of the New Testament that he thought were too influenced by the Old Testament. Motivating this was his belief that Jesus had shown us the true benevolent and saving God, and the God of the Old Testament was a different and lesser being.
While not many of us would want to cut out the Old Testament as Marcion did, a lot of what he said and did has echoes today. People often effectively leave aside the Old Testament, wanting to stick to the Gospels or Letters. And sometimes there is a sense that God in the Old Testament is somehow different to the God we see in Jesus.
But the fact is, if we want to really understand Jesus, we need to read our Old Testaments. It is often said that if you cut Jesus, he would bleed Scripture – and the Scriptures he read were what we now call the Old Testament. He quoted it as his authority (eg Luke 4:4-12), referred to it when showing what God was like (eg Luke 20:37-38), and used it to express his own self-understanding and deepest emotions – as shown by his quoting of the Old Testament in the depths of his anguish on the cross (eg Mark 15:34, Luke 23:46). His followers continued in the same vein, frequently quoting the Old Testament in their preaching (eg Acts 2:17-36) and in their writing (everywhere in the Letters of the New Testament!).
So even though the Old Testament might be hard at points, and long (it makes up three quarters of our Bibles, which is actually another reason to take it seriously!), it is thoroughly worth reading. If we want to understand Jesus, and follow him, we need to read the Old Testament too!
May God bless you as you do, Chris
Article 7 – Jesus in the Old Testament
Kia ora church whānau,
Something Matthias said to us in his sermon on Sunday keys into our little series on reading the Bible well in these emails. Last week we talked about the importance of the Old Testament, and how much Jesus and his earliest followers valued and referred to it. If we want to understand Jesus, we need to read it!
But what does that mean practically? Well, in Luke 18 on Sunday we saw the blind man cry out to Jesus for mercy. When Jesus asked him what he wanted Jesus to do, the man said ‘Lord, I want to see’ (Luke 18:41). This was in contrast to the disciples who didn’t ask Jesus for insight when they failed to understand him (verse 34). Matthias made the point that we need to ask Jesus to see more of who he truly is, and in particular that one way we can do this is to ask him to reveal himself to us when we read the Bible.
This is very good advice for reading the Old Testament. When Jesus was showing to two of his followers who he truly is, after he was raised from the dead, we are told that ‘beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted for them the things concerning himself in all the Scriptures’ (Luke 24:27 – you can read a really good short expansion on this idea in this excerpt from a new book here).
The Old Testament has much to show us of Jesus, so it makes sense that as we come to read the Old Testament, we ask Jesus to reveal himself to us in what we are reading today. And then to look for how he fulfils and is revealed by this part of the Bible. Lord, help us to see!
Yours in Christ,
Article 8 – Reason in Our Reading
Kia ora whānau,
Our reason is a good gift of God. The very form of a considerable portion of Scripture is based on reasoning argument (the book of Romans is a majestic example). Our reason reflects the fact that our Creator reasons.
And yet our reasoning faculties, like the rest of us, are both fallen (due to sin) and limited (due to our nature as creatures rather than God). Therefore, as we, after quite a long hiatus, come back to our series on reading the Bible well (you can see previous emails on this here), I want to encourage us both to use our reason as we read the Scriptures, and at the same time to subject our reason to what God has revealed in Scripture, supremely in Jesus.
This means, as we read the Bible, we need to expect to engage our minds and think hard in following and understanding what God is saying to us. And at the same time, we need to be careful not to simply jump from what a part of the Bible says to what we think this must imply, and then take that implication as certain truth.
To give an example of this danger, consider God’s strong message through Paul that we are saved by grace alone (eg Romans 3:20-26). We might logically extrapolate from this to the idea that it doesn’t matter how we live. However, if we check our reasoning by subjecting it to scripture more widely, we will find that our extrapolations are quite wrong – the fact we are saved by grace alone, perhaps surprisingly, is accompanied by the teaching that it really does matter how we live (as we are hearing so powerfully from James, not to mention Paul himself in other places!). That is a bit of an obvious example, but logical extrapolation of this kind, without careful subjection to the wider Scriptural revelation, has led to all sorts of heresies and errors in church history.
Perhaps that is not surprising, because while God is indeed reasonable, to humans his most central ways often seem foolish. As we read in 1 Corinthians 1, the message of the cross is foolishness to many. And yet God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom. That is why, as we read the Bible, we need to keep coming back to God’s wisdom by not just looking up and away from the Bible to consider what we think something must imply, but rather continually bringing our reasoning back to careful and sensitive reading of the Bible, in the constant effort to test and correct and refine our thinking – trusting God is at work as we do.
With love from your fellow wisdom-seeker,
Article 9 – Freshen up Your Engagement with God’s Word
Kia ora SPOTR,
As we approach the end of this series on reading the Bible well, I want to acknowledge that, as wonderful as the Bible is, sometimes reading it can be hard. Even if we manage to get ourselves into a pattern of reading (or listening to) the Bible regularly by fighting past all the other pressures and distractions, we sometimes find ourselves feeling like we are in a bit of a rut in our Bible reading- like we are going through the motions, not really engaging in our reading. Maybe something to freshen up your engagement with God’s word would be really helpful?
There are lots of great plans for reading the Bible (there are some examples under ‘Bible reading plans’ here). Sometimes a change of plan might help. But another simple thing you could do is change up whether you are reading ‘small’ or ‘big’.
Small: there are all sorts of details and riches in the Scriptures, and sometimes reading a short passage a few times over and taking time to reflect and meditate on it can be really helpful. You still always want to understand it in its context, and this will work better for some parts of the Bible than others, but it can be a really helpful thing.On the other hand…
Big: much of the Bible is in the form of narrative. That means a book of the Bible like a Gospel or 1 Samuel is one story. Why not read it like that, reading a number of chapters at a time, experiencing the big picture? Further, even a letter like Romans or Colossians or James was very likely originally read to its recipients as a whole – i.e. a congregation in Colossae got together and had the whole letter read to them in one sitting. Have you sat and read one of these letters in a sitting, or even across a few sittings?
Trying something a bit different like that may breathe new life into your engagement with the Bible – helping you to recognise and more deeply experience the living word you are reading!
Yours with love in the one who is the Word,
Article 10 – Taste and See that the Lord is Good
Hi SPOTR crew,
This is the tenth and final entry in our little email series on reading the Bible well (which has been interspersed with other topics along the way). Obviously, there is much more that could be said about reading the Bible, but it seems like a good time to draw it to a close. We have looked at:
Reading the Bible Well
Why Reading the Bible Matters
One Big Story about Jesus
The Spirit’s Work and Prayers
‘Context, Context, Context’
The Importance of the Old Testament
Jesus in the Old Testament
Reason in Our Reading
and Freshening Up our Reading of God’s Word.
As we finish, I want to leave you with this encouragement: ‘taste and see that the Lord is good’ (Psalm 34:8).
We have thought about why reading the Bible matters, noted things to keep in mind to help us to read it more faithfully and accurately, considered our need of God to be at work by his Spirit as we read, and thought of ways to help get us into reading the Bible when it is difficult. But at the end of the day, we just have to do it – to get on with it and read the Bible! And then we can taste for ourselves the goodness of the Scriptures. And, even more importantly, we can open ourselves up to the God who seeks to speak and communicate himself to us through the word he has inspired – which is the very reason for the Bible in the first place.
So, taste and see for yourself. And as you do, I pray you will find that some other words from the Psalms ring true: ‘How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!’ (Psalm 119:103)