Reading the Bible for Content Acquisition
Here on the Carroll Blog, we are discussing ways to implement a comprehensive Bible reading program. As I noted on last week’s blog, there are different ways to read the Bible. We need to implement each of these reading strategies if we are going to get everything out of our interactions with Scripture that we need in order to become mature followers of Jesus. Today, we will discuss reading the Bible for content acquisition.
Sometimes, we read the Bible just to know what is there. That is what we are doing when we read the Bible through in a year. But why do we read the Bible in this way? It seems to me that reading the Bible for content acquisition has at least two purposes.
First, reading the Bible in this way helps us understand the full sweep of God’s redemptive activity. The Christian story is precisely that—a story. It is not a set of propositions that are unrelated to the characters and the events that brought them forth. Rather, the claims that Christianity makes about who God is and about His purposes for the universe are deeply rooted in the various episodes narrated in Scripture—and in how those episodes interact with one another.
Second, reading the Bible for content acquisition provides the raw material for other ways of reading the Bible. We will talk about this more later, but, for now, we can sum up this purpose with a simple question. How will we know which passages we need to study in an in-depth manner or which passages we should read for devotional purposes if we do not know what is actually in the Bible?
As I have already mentioned, reading the Bible through is a great way to begin the process of content acquisition. There are lots of great plans for doing this out there. If, however, you find reading the entire Bible a bit intimidating, consider starting by reading The Story, a book with extractions of Scripture arranged in chronological order. It summarizes the story of the Bible in a succinct and logical way, and it leaves out some of the more boring or repetitious parts of Scripture. Once you have read through The Story a time or two, I think you will find yourself ready to tackle the entire Bible.
Another way to do content acquisition is to read specific books or groups of books of the Bible. So, for example, you could sit down one Saturday and read the entire book of Hebrews, or you could take a month and read 1 Samuel through 2 Kings. This method allows you to shape your Bible reading in accordance with your interests, and it allows you to obtain a deeper familiarity with a specific book of the Bible or a specific part of God’s story.
This kind of Bible reading will not usually result in deep theological insights or profound spiritual experiences—especially when you first begin to do it. It will, however, give you a broad familiarity with the vast amount and diverse kinds of literature that are found in the Bible. You should expect to have questions that you never thought about before and to find passages that you want to study more closely.
As time goes on, you will begin to spot patterns, both in individual books of the Bible and in the Bible as a whole. These patterns will help you understand the “big picture” about God and God’s work in the world, and they will also help you understand the ways in which biblical authors tell their stories and make their arguments. In turn, your newfound understanding will illuminate your reflections on Christian doctrine and inform your interactions with God in prayer.
- Do you think there is a grand narrative in Scripture? How might reading the Bible as story affect the way we understand it and apply it to our lives?
- Can you think of other reasons why reading the Bible for content acquisition would be important?
- What methods and resources have you used to build your own knowledge of the Bible’s content?
- Above, I warned us to expect unforeseen questions when we begin to familiarize ourselves with the Scriptures. Are there other warnings that we need to pass along to beginning Bible readers?