How to Interpret the Bible
I study my Bible like I gather apples. First, I shake the whole tree that the ripest may fall. Then I shake each limb, and when I have shaken each limb, I shake each branch and every twig. Then I look under every leaf. I search the Bible as a whole like shaking the whole tree. Then I shake every limb--study book after book. Then I shake every branch, giving attention to the chapters. Then I shake every twig, or a careful study of the paragraphs and sentences and words and their meanings.
The great preacher Alexander White, when he was too old to mount the pulpit, would rise every morning to prepare a sermon, even though he never preached them. He did so until the day he died. He was convinced that study of the Word was essential to saving himself (1 Timothy 4:16).
A circuit riding preacher entered one church building with his young son, and dropped a coin into the offering box in the back. Not many came that Sunday, and those who did didn't seem too excited about what was said. After the service, the preacher and son walked to the back, and he emptied the box. Out fell one coin. The young boy said, "Dad, if you'd have put more in, you'd have gotten more out!"
While studying in the Holy Lands, a seminary professor of mine met a man who claimed to have memorized the Old Testament--in Hebrew! Needless to say, the astonished professor asked for a demonstration. A few days late they sat together in the man's home. "Where shall we begin?" asked the man. "Psalm 1," replied my professor, who was an avid student of the psalms. Beginning with Psalm 1:1, the man began to recite from memory, while my professor followed along in his Hebrew Bible. For two hours the man continued word for word without a mistake as the professor sat in stunned silence. When the demonstration was over, my professor discovered something even more astonishing about the man--he was an atheist! Here was someone who knew the Scriptures better than most Christians ever will, and yet he didn't even believe in God.
Jack Kuhatschek, Taking The Guesswork Out of Applying The Bible, IVP, 1991, p. 16.
According to James Hamilton, there are two kinds of Bible readers--those who skim the surface and those who dig deep. He describes them by comparing them to two common insects. He writes, "One is remarkable for its imposing plumage, which shows in the sunbeams like the dust of gems; as you watch its jaunty gyrations over the fields and its minuet dance from flower to flower, you cannot help admiring its graceful activity, for it is plainly getting over a great deal of ground.
"But in the same field there is another worker, whose brown vest and businesslike, straightforward flight may not have arrested your eye. His fluttering neighbor darts down here and there, and sips elegantly wherever he can find a drop of ready nectar; but this dingy plodder makes a point of alighting everywhere, and wherever he alights he either finds honey or makes it. If the flower-cup be deep, he goes down to the bottom; if its dragon- mouth be shut, he thrusts its lips asunder; and if the nectar be peculiar, he explores all about till he discovers it. . . His rival of the painted velvet wing has no patience for such dull and long-winded details. . . The one died last October. The other is warm in his hive, amidst the fragrant stores he has gathered." Which type of Bible reader are you? Butterfly or bee?
The noted Bible scholar James M. Gray told a story that underscores the importance of reading the Scriptures for personal growth. He said that when he was a young Bible teacher he became deeply impressed by the peace and spiritual poise of a friend with whom he often talked. Since Gray wanted that same stability, he asked his companion the secret of his confident bearing and positive outlook. "It all started through reading Ephesians," said the man. Gray was surprised by this simple response. He had read Ephesians many times but had never experienced the same strength he saw in his friend. Noticing Fray's puzzled look, the man explained. "On one occasion, when I was on a short vacation, I took a pocket edition of Ephesians with me. Lying down one afternoon, I read all six chapters. My interest was so aroused that I read the entire epistle again. In fact, I did not finally lay it down until I had gone through it some 15 times." He then said, "When I arose to go into the house, I was in possession of Ephesians; or better yet, it was in possession of me. I had the feeling that I had been lifted up to sit together in heavenly places with Christ Jesus--a feeling that was new to me." This testimony encouraged Gray to master the Scriptures for himself. He began to saturate his mind and heart with God's Word so that he could freely and effectively communicate it to others.
James M. Gray.
When John G. Mitchell, of Multnomah School of the Bible, was pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Tacoma, Washington, he heard Dr. G. Campbell Morgan preach. The man knew his text, and young Mitchell was impressed. In fact, he asked the visiting Bible teacher how he understood Scripture so well. "If I told you, you wouldn't do it," the older man said. "Just try me," Mitchell insisted. "Before I study a book, I read it fifty times," the veteran explained.
John G. Mitchell.
Is reading the Bible a necessary part of your day or does it have a low priority in your life? George Mueller, after having read the Bible through one hundred times with increasing delight, made this statement: "I look upon it as a lost day when I have not had a good time over the Word of God. Friends often say, 'I have so much to do, so many people to see, I cannot find time for Scripture study.' Perhaps there are not many who have more to do than I. For more than half a century I have never known one day when I had not more business than I could get through. For 4 years I have had annually about 30,000 letters, and most of these have passed through my own hands.
"Then, as pastor of a church with 1,200 believers, great has been my care. Besides, I have had charge of five immense orphanages; also, at my publishing depot, the printing and circulating of millions of tracts, books, and Bibles; but I have always made it a rule never to begin work until I have had a good season with God and His Word. The blessing I have received has been wonderful."
Born to be battered...the loving phone call book. Underline it, circle things, write in the margins, turn down page corners, the more you use it, the more valuable it gets to be.
Ad in South Central Bell Telephone Company Yellow Pages.
In January, 1984, I was painting the home of an 89 year-old lady in Spokane. She had a large family Bible prominently displayed on the coffee table and remarked that it was 116 years old and a priceless heirloom. I commented on how remarkable that was, and added, "It doesn't matter how old the Bible might be, what's on the inside is what matters." She immediately replied, "Oh, I know. That sure is the truth. Why, we have family records and births and marriages and deaths that go so far back, all recorded in that Bible; we could never replace them."
It is a common temptation of Satan to make us give up the reading of the Word and prayer when our enjoyment is gone; as if it were of no use to read the Scriptures when we do not enjoy them, and as if it were no use to pray when we have no spirit of prayer. The truth is that in order to enjoy the Word, we ought to continue to read it, and the way to obtain a spirit of prayer is to continue praying. The less we read the Word of God, the less we desire to read it, and the less we pray, the less we desire to pray.
George Muller in A Narrative of Some of the Lord's Dealings with George Muller.
In truth thou canst not
the scriptures too much;
And what thou readest,
thou canst not read too well;
And what thou readest well,
thou canst not too well understand;
And what thou understandest well,
thou canst not too well teach;
And what thou teachest well,
thou canst not too well live.
Writer Amos Wells reflected our need for thorough Bible study in this verse:
I supposed I knew my
Reading peacemeal, hit or miss,
Now a bit of John or Matthew,
Now a snatch of Genesis,
Certain chapters of Isaiah,
Certain Psalms (the twenty-third),
Twelfth of Romans, first of Proverbs --
Yes, I thought I knew the Word!
But I found that thorough reading
Was a different thing to do,
And the way was unfamiliar
When I read the Bible through.
You who like to play at Bible,
Dip and dabble, here and there,
Just before you kneel, aweary,
And yawn through a hurried prayer;
You who treat the Crown of Writings
As you treat no other book,
Just a paragraph, disjointed,
Just a crude, impatient look,
Try a worthier procedure,
Try a broad and steady view;
You will kneel in very rapture
When you read the Bible through.
Paul Borthwick, Leading the Way by Navpress, 1989, p. 139.