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.