How someone views a piece of literature determines how they read it. If it is popular a magazine or newspaper, skimming is completely natural with only focus on those stories in which you are most interested. No one starts a novel in the middle, but instead reads it from the front to the back. A very unhelpful suggestion was introduced a number of years ago comparing the Scriptures to an “owners manual”. This viewpoint has been driven by the usual practice of going to the Bible for answers to whatever question we have at the time, or in many cases, study in one particular book of the Bible as part of a “quiet time” practice.
Yet, John shares with us the reason his gospel narrative was written and this can be applied to all of the Scriptures… “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31). What if we read, studied, and taught the Scriptures in such a way that the singular focus was to explain and exalt Jesus as the Anointed Savior of the World, sent by God and that by believing in Him our life becomes more of what God originally designed it to be. Instead, we have the temptation to study and teach the Scriptures for us, (e.g., how it applies to our life right now). This focus on personal application is not a bad practice, in fact we are told to “hear” what the Lord is telling us through His Word. However, if our message is that the Bible is only there to make our lives better, then we continue to promote the idea that Scriptures are numerous fragmented stories to be referenced in an owner’s manual type of fashion.
Cover to cover, God is showing us in His Word that He is coming after His people…stopping at nothing to redeem and repair the relationship that was broken. His ways are at times unpredictable, mysterious, and even confusing. Yet, if we read His whole Word, Old and New Testaments – every story, every proverb, every imperative – as a singular testimony about His will and work to bring us to belief in who He is, revealed in Jesus Christ, then maybe we would not see the Bible simply as a book of good, holy living. Instead, we would read the Scriptures as the unveiling of the identity of the God of the Universe and the relationship He so desperately desires to have with us.
For help on how to read, study and teach the Bible theologically, check out Kevin VanHoozer’s books titled, Theological Interpretation of the Bible.