Deep and Wide: Reading the Bible for Transformation

One of the many amazing things God has done for us is that he has given us a book. That book is the Bible. Books are meant to be read. God meant for us to read his book. God speaks to his people in his written word, the holy Scriptures. But reading the Bible is not easy. Many who have tried it were not successful. Reading the Bible profitably takes effort and discipline. The purpose of this article is to help in that endeavor.

Receiving a blessing from reading the Bible requires a plan. Just reading randomly will not prove fruitful. There are many ways one can approach reading the Bible. I always encourage people to read the Bible in two basic ways, deep and wide. I believe it is imperative to read the Bible widely by reading large amounts of text. Reading through a book of the Bible in one sitting, or large portions of bigger books is great. Some people read through the entire Bible every year, or at least one or more times in their lifetime. Some read through the Bible in a longer or shorter time. The important thing is to read and be exposed to all the Bible. Since the Bible is a story, we want to read the whole story to understand it fully. But we must do more. It is not enough to simply read the Bible, it must be studied. We must take small texts and dig deep into them by meditating and studying them. In fact, you can do both together. You can read straight through a biblical book several times to get a feel for it and then dig deep into successive texts through the book.

Inductive Bible Study

There are many ways to study the Bible that are profitable. I believe the best way to study the Bible is by a method called inductive Bible study. Inductive Bible study can also be called discovery Bible study because it helps you discover the meaning of the Bible for yourself. Inductive Bible study has as its goal to engage the text with as few presuppositions as possible and discover what the Bible says for itself. Inductive Bible study is usually composed of three stages: observation, interpretation and application. This may sound a bit technical, but this is actually the way we all read anything without really thinking much about it. We just want to do it intentionally when we read the Bible. The method we will describe here could be greatly expanded, but this approach we’re suggesting will be sufficient to get you started. Each stage of observation, interpretation and application can be used as tools to understand God’s message in each passage and apply them to your life. You can use this method with any passage in the Bible, but I’ve found that studying books of the Bible are most fruitful. Hearing God in his word and obeying his voice is the ultimate goal of reading the Bible deeply. It can change our lives.

The first stage is called observation and is meant to be exactly that. At this first stage we trying to discover what the Bible is actually saying. We do not want to read into the Bible what it is not saying, but read out what it is really saying. This stage will almost always be the most time consuming, but if observation is not throughly done the other stages will often yield erroneous or shallow results. It has been my experience that most people do not have a highly developed sense of observation. If we are serious about reading the Bible deeply, we must hone our powers of observation. It is a skill and an art we need that requires patient refining over the years, but is well worth the effort.

In the observation stage we read the text over and over again asking questions about the text. We want to ask those six critical questions: who, what, when, where, why and how. One of the key things at this point is understanding how the passage is put together, its structure. What God is really saying in any Bible passage is communicated through its structure. The only way to discover the structure of any passage is to read it multiple times thinking deeply about what God is saying in each word of the text.

The second stage is called interpretation. It deals with meaning. From what we’ve discovered in the observation stage, we now seek to understand the meaning of the text. At this point we’re not asking what this text means to me, but what this text means to anybody at any time or place. We’re looking for the timeless truths communicated by God through the text he inspired. 

Some things to think about in the interpretation stage are: (1) Discover the biblical writer’s intended meaning. What was he trying to say to the people he was writing to? Why did he write this to this people? Why did they need to hear it? (2) Texts must be understood by their common meaning, which includes literary devices like metaphor and symbolism. We must resist spiritualizing or moralizing a passage beyond its basic literal meaning. (3) Context is critical to discovering a text’s meaning. What is the Bible saying in the sentences and paragraphs before our passage? Where in biblical history is this passage set? (4) Texts must be interpreted according to their literary genre or type. We cannot interpret law, history, poetry and prophecy exactly the same. Each kind of literature has its own way of communicating. That will usually be pretty clear from the text. (5) The progress of revelation is important to keep in mind. God reveals his plan of redemption progressively throughout the Bible. We cannot give a text an interpretation that has not yet been revealed in the flow of redemptive-history. (6) Our interpretation must be Christ-centered without forcing Christ into passages in a way he is not being revealed. (7) In understanding the meaning of any passage we’re looking for the main point. Everything else revolves around that. (8) And finally, we can ask the text what it is saying about God and about people. Every passage will say something about God and people. This is where rich and deep understanding can happen.

The final stage is called application. It is the goal of all our effort in Bible study. It is interesting to know certain things we learn in observation and even beneficial to know the principle and truths of interpretation, but application is our destination. We want to know what God is saying to us and how that fits into our daily lives. It’s important to persevere in our study to arrive at the point of application so that we can be confident in applying God’s word to life. But we must not skip over the previous stages or do them half-hearted just to get to application.

In applying the text we can take the principles and truths we discovered in the interpretation stage and ask how they apply to people in our modern world. These principles were designed to be timeless so that they apply to the biblical world and any other world including our own. We can think of attitudes and action the principles of our text call for in our lives. There is usually negative and positive application from any text. What things is my text calling me to not do, and what things is my text calling me to do? Making application from the Bible requires that we make it personal. This personal application may bring joy or peace, but it may also be very challenging. One of the great blessings of the Bible is that it reproves and corrects us. God loves us and is transforming us to be more Christ-like. Studying the Bible bears this powerful fruit. This is where we must be sensitive to the Spirit without inventing application. We can trust God to lead us into his truth.

Conclusion: We are blessed with many great resources to help us read and study the Bible. None the less, it is still an arduous task. But you can do it with the help of the Holy Spirit. God wants you to connect with him through his word. That is why he gave it to you. But we must see the need and the reward. We must feel it deep in our hearts. If we don’t really want to know God intimately through his word, we will not persevere. If we do, there will be joy and peace and grace beyond our imaginations awaiting us. So, pick a small book of the Bible and jump in. You’ll be glad you did!

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