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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

What We Read the Bible For

If you've been a Christian for any length of time, you know (I sincerely hope) that you're supposed to read the Bible.  But you might not have realistic expectations as to what you're supposed to get out of it when you read it.  I think that there are three things that we read the Bible to get:

  1. Information.  We read to learn stuff about God and his work in history (by which I mean the past, the present, and the future).
  2. Insight.  We read for the "Aha!" moments, the times that we recognize a new truth about ourselves or about how to live life wisely and well in God's sight.
  3. Intimacy.  We read to spend time with the Triune God, engaging in the deeply personal conversation with the human race initiated by the Father concerning the Son inscripturated through the Holy Spirit.
Now the fact is, you're not going to experience all three of these every time you read the Bible.  That's totally okay.  For one thing, not every passage of Scripture lends itself to each of these three things equally, and for another, God gives us what we need when we need it, which will vary from day to day.

But it's also worth noting that different approaches to reading the Bible tend to produce different results.  The biggest factor is how much we read or try to focus on at a time.  To oversimplify it for the sake of a rule of thumb, reading big chunks (like in a read-through-the-Bible-in-a-year plan) most readily yields information, reading medium-sized chunks (say, half a chapter in the epistles) produces insight, and repetitious meditation on very small portions (like a verse or two) is the most fertile for intimacy.

Of course, as I said, this oversimplifies matters greatly—the correlation is not neatly one-to-one as my rule suggests, and of course we can receive information and insight at the same time, for example.  We're also capable of reading a large section, narrowing to a smaller subsection within it, and narrowing still further to a tiny portion during a single time of reading.  But I mention this because keeping it in mind as you read the Bible may help you to get the balanced diet of information, insight, and intimacy that you need.


  1. Thank you. That was very helpful. I read through the Bible three times, and really enjoyed it, gleaning different things each time. Then I heard about people who just constantly read through the Bible... they finish it and start up again right away. Of course, once I heard about that, I felt as though it was what I *ought* to be doing. But the fourth time I tried, I just stalled out in Leviticus (oddly, because in the past the tabernacle details in Exodus have been the part I had trouble getting through, and once I got to Leviticus it was easier...) But anyway, I stalled out in Leviticus, and I have been unable to cope with long Bible readings ever since. I have dealt with guilt and despair over this. Reading your post just made me wonder: does God want to develop more intimacy with me? Is He trying to get it across to me that it is OK to pray and meditate on just a few verses, and to focus more on drawing near to Him than on completing an assignment or goal? This was really helpful, to have it pointed out so clearly (even if it is, as you say, an oversimplification). Thank you.

  2. That's great, Ruth! I'm so glad this is helpful to you.