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Reading the Bible is difficult work. Or at least it can be if we intend to do more than simply read it for enjoyment or duty. There are many things we have to overcome in order to read effectively: the flesh, fatigue, distractions, time pressures from various sources, cold hearts, clogged ears and so on. Even when we overcome all these obstacles of the world, the flesh and the devil, we still find our Bible reading needs adjustment in order to read as Jesus read.

Consider for example Jesus’ interaction with the Sadducees about the resurrection in Matthew 22:23-33. The Sadducees try to trip Jesus up with a question about a woman who marries seven brothers. They don’t believe in the resurrection and suppose that such a situation would obviously falsify the resurrection since she can’t be the wife of seven men in heaven. Here’s how Jesus replied:

29 But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. 30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 31 And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you  not read what was said to you by God: ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.” And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at His teaching.

“Ouch” to verse 29. That must have stung the Sadducees.

Then notice what Jesus does. In verse 30 he answers the silly question about marriage in heaven. If they knew the Scriptures and God’s power they would know that marriage is earthly but our heavenly existence is of another sort altogether when it comes to relationships.

But verse 31 is where Jesus teaches us to read the Bible. Notice specifically the question, “have you not read what was said to you by God…?” Jesus presupposes two things here that help us to read our Bibles.

First, Jesus suggests we should read our Bibles as a present tense, personal address. “What was said to you….” The text he quotes is Exodus 3:6, where God speaks to Moses from the burning bush. But Jesus says the Sadducees should have understood that as an address to them centuries later! That text had their names on it. And so every text we read, properly interpreted, has our name on it, too. It is addressed to us personally, even though it is not primarily about us. How would we read our Bibles differently if we approached it as if it were addressed to us? At the very least we would be enabled to approach the Bible with a new sense of personal investment and a sense of the Bible’s enduring relevance.

Second, Jesus suggests we should read our Bibles as a conversation with the living God. Notice again: “What was said to you by God…”. Then consider the Master’s quote of Exodus 3:6 to prove that God “is not the God of the dead, but the living.” God lives and He speaks. Most fundamentally we are not being addressed by human authors when we read the Bible. We are being addressed by the living God. At least that’s how Jesus read the Bible. The Exodus account becomes a word from God in print addressed to Sadducees and Christians centuries later. Jesus presumes we should hear God’s voice and discover God’s mind when we read our Bibles. Our reading is God speaking. That makes sense if we understand that God breathed out the Scriptures as the true Author (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

There are a couple things I have to do in order to hold onto these realities.

First, I have to keep reminding myself that God is alive and that He is talking to me. I find it so easy to approach the Bible as a book written by dead men. That’s not my self-conscious approach; it’s a creeping assumption that keeps dulling my mind. I keep forgetting that God is speaking to me, personally, as I read His word. I find myself thinking that God is speaking generally, to no one in particular, about things in general. I need to ready my mind with a sense of His addressing me personally and specifically or my Bible reading grows cold.

Second, I need to speak more often of my Bible reading as “talking to God.” I should more frequently say about my Bible reading, “God told me…” or “God said….” I tend to say, “the Bible says” or “Paul says,” which is fine, but it misses the deeper spiritual reality. If  I have read my Bible well–as a personal address from God to me, and responded prayerfully and thoughtfully–then I have been in conversation with God.  We shouldn’t use the phrases “God said” or “God told me” to speak primarily of subjective impressions, as so many do. We should primarily speak this way about our Bible reading, where God speaks infallibly and most clearly. I need to remind myself that I not only talk to God a lot in prayer, but He talks back to me in Bible reading.

Jesus is teaching me to read the Bible better than I have. I don’t know about you… but I need it.

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46 thoughts on “Reading the Bible Like Jesus: Matt. 22:31”

  1. This is a great post, but shouldn’t the last heading read, Second, I need to speak more often of my Bible reading as “God talking” or something similar, not “talking to God”?

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hey Doug,
      That’s a good edit! Makes the header more consistent with what I’m trying to say.

  2. That’s what I thought…it fit the overall idea of your paragraph better. Thanks for the thought-provoking post.

  3. Justin Hill says:

    “I find myself thinking that God is speaking generally, to no one in particular, about things in general. I need to ready my mind with a sense of His addressing me personally and specifically or my Bible reading grows cold.”

    You’re not alone, pastor… You are not alone. It reminds me of the times I’ve preached messages on biblical insights and later realized the insight was probably intended more for myself and ways I specifically needed to change more than anyone hearing me. Teaching things before I even learned them! But thankfully God can even use someone like me.

  4. jeff ferguson says:

    Great post and I do agree strongly with Doug Phillips clarification. Also great to see the banter and back and forth of godly men wrestling with and concerned with glorifying God in all they do.

    This subject needs to be developed further I think as bible reading is becoming a thing of the past and soon Vs. 29 will be a universal indictment of the majority of christians and may already be.

    Thanks again for this post!

  5. M says:

    Thank you for sharing your ‘Reading the Bible like Jesus’ series!

  6. Steve says:

    Great Post! This has been one area that I wrestle with continually. Coming out of a pentecostal background and embracing Reformed Theology it is hard at times not to throw out the baby with the bath water.

    Growing up in the Lord and hearing the constant stories of pastors receiving a “word from God” and then making major church decisions based on that “word” seemed to be the norm. Sometimes it was a “word” directly from scripture taken out of context, but most times it was a “word” received while in the prayer closet or even on the golf course. Scripture was only the avenue by which one could get to Jesus, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” (John 5:39-40, ESV).

    Many of us were taught that through prayer and scripture reading that we can actually get to Jesus and it was there, in that secret place, where we receive direct revelation from Him as to the direction of our lives. This is important because the bible does not have all the answers regarding our lives. It does not tell us who to marry, what job to take, what state to live in, etc. So we need a “living word from the living God”. And if that “word” did come from scripture it was taken from some obscure passage and ripped out of context.

    This is how many pentecostals/charismatics are taught how they approach the scriptures. This is why for many, theology is not that important, because the “letter is dead, but the Spirit gives life” Why be satisfied with the Bible when I can go directly to the presence of Jesus and get a direct word from him.

    I am so grateful that God still speaks. But I have a much different view on how God chooses to do that today, through the written Word of God.

    So this post reminds me that I do not have to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Which has always been my natural tendency, in fact, I usually throw out the baby, the bathwater, the tub, the sink, the bathroom, the apartment, etc. But God does still speak to us, to me. And he does so personally through the scriptures. I no longer feel like I need a “living Word from the living God” because in my hand I already have the “living Word from the Living God”.

    I recently heard someone say:

    “Do you want to hear God’s speak? Then read your bible. Do you want to hear God speak audibly? Then read your bible out loud”

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Thabiti Anyabwile

Thabiti Anyabwile is a pastor for Anacostia River Church in southeast Washington, DC and a council member of The Gospel Coalition.

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