Today I am starting a new series about reading the Bible. While reading the Bible sounds like a simple thing to do, we will discover it’s a bit more complicated than it first appears.

When we read the Bible, we’re reading a book that was written over a long period of time, thousands of years ago. It also came together as one book over a period of time. Most other material that we read today is less than 20 years old. If we like reading Jane Austen and the like, maybe we are reading material from a couple of hundred years ago. Or if we only read what’s on the internet, it might be less than five minutes old. Generally, we don’t read anything that is thousands of years old, which means we read virtually nothing that was written at the same time as the Bible. We are unfamiliar with the style of writing, the nuances of language and most importantly the culture. What was considered normal behaviour in biblical times isn’t what we would accept as normal today.

Those who wrote the books of the Bible didn’t realize that their words would be read thousands of years later. We weren’t the audience they had in mind (even if God did). At the time, these authors wrote for people who would read it soon after it was written. Consequently, they wrote in the language of the day, using expressions that their audience was familiar with.

Another issue is that we may have been told the Bible is an instruction manual for life and we have the mistaken idea this means to put as much as possible into practice. This is done regardless of cultural considerations, feasibility, and sometimes, even common sense. I won’t be picking up snakes any time soon (Mark 16:18).

To complicate matters further, we may come to the Bible with preconceived ideas, which can also hinder an accurate understanding.

However, God wants us to understand his word and has provided those who will teach us: “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God” (Ephesians 4:11-13).

We don’t just find these apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers in the church, we also find them in books and on podcasts. Of course, this requires discernment as to who and what we read and listen to. We have to be good Bereans (Acts 17:11) and check what we are being taught. Again, God helps us through his Spirit, and we are encouraged to ask for wisdom (James 1:5).