I was 22, maybe 23. I’d grown up in church and read the Bible through several times. I had won Bible memory competitions (yes, it’s a thing), and from appearances had my life together. But my Christianity was much more about duty than delight. It was a holdover of my early years, not a vibrant, living, daily experience.
But God changed that as I participated in the life of a small church plant in Brooklyn, NY. He warmed my heart to the beauty and wonder of the gospel. And all of a sudden, reading the Bible wasn’t a chore. It was a means to get more of God! And I wanted to be sure I got the Bible right!
My pastor recommended this book, Knowing Scripture, by R.C. Sproul. It is short (score!) and profoundly helpful (double score!) to the Christian who wants to learn to get the most out of the Bible. As we work to build a habit of Bible reading in our church, I pray this book will instruct many of you in how to read and understand God’s Word.
A Brief Chapter-by-Chapter Breakdown
In chapter 1, Sproul makes the case for why we should read the Bible. He addresses some of the cultural obstacles many of us face when it comes to Bible study, and gives a passionate plea to study the Word because it is GOD’S Word. He tells us God makes Himself known to us in it and addresses our motivation for (not) reading the Bible. He calls us to maturity, to obedience, and trust in our self-revealing God.
Looking over chapter 2 again, I was struck by how perceptive Sproul is of our cultural predicament. He looks at the objective meaning of the text and our subjective response to it through the lens of Martin Luther and the Reformation. It doesn’t teach us how to read the Word per se, but Sproul does identify a tendency many of us have—to bring our cultural and personal baggage to the Bible—and effectively calls us to look outside of ourselves for the right meaning of a Bible passage.
In chapter 3, Sproul gets into the nitty gritty of biblical interpretation, or “hermeneutics.” From the analogy of faith (the idea that Scripture interprets Scripture) to literal interpretation and understanding literary genre, he deftly gives an overview of what we need to know to rightly approach the Word.
Chapter 4 is pure gold! There he gives 10 practical rules for biblical interpretation:
- Read the Bible like any other book.
- Read the Bible existentially (get passionately and personally involved in it!).
- Read the historical narratives in light of the didactic (teaching) passages.
- Interpret the implicit in light of the explicit
- Determine the meaning of words carefully.
- Be aware of parallelisms.
- Note the difference between proverbs and laws.
- Note the difference between the spirit and letter of the law.
- Be careful with parables.
- Be careful with prophecy.
If you take these guidelines to heart, you will be much better able to understand the biblical message!
In the fifth chapter, Sproul comes back to culture again. This is because there is an enormous gap between the culture in which the Bible was produced and the culture in which we now live. We are conditioned by our contemporary culture (and we will be tempted to read our cultural experience into the Bible) and the Bible should be interpreted in light of its original culture (and understanding it will help us make sense of how it applies to us today).
The final chapter of the book shows Sproul’s experience and wisdom. There he gives the reader a guide to a variety of different tools available for reading and interpreting the Bible. He explains what things like concordances, commentaries, Bible atlases and Bible dictionaries are, and gives helpful tips on when and how to make use of these.
When I first read this book, it whet my appetite to dive deeper into God’s Word. I bought a Bible dictionary, made use of biblical commentaries, and felt better equipped than ever before to dig into the Word and get the most I possibly could out of it. Reading and interpreting the Bible rightly is hard work, but it is well worth the time and effort. Because reading and interpreting the Bible rightly leads us to a deeper understanding of the God who reveals Himself in it! I pray the Lord works through this book to stir up your heart to desire more of Him and more of His Word.