When I was a student-radical-hippie type back in ’72, I hitchhiked everywhere with my backpack, my harmonicas and my copies of the Tao Te Ching and New Testament. I even crossed the USA twice. The scriptures were my most important tool: I found that if I wasn’t getting a ride, I could go down into the ditch or under a bridge and read the gospels or the Tao Te Ching for a while, then go back out to the road, stick out my thumb and someone would soon pick me up. It even worked at night in the rain. (Maybe the Tao Te Ching doesn’t fit your theology, but it definitely worked for getting rides.)
I kept hearing, “Read the Bible.” So, being favorably disposed by my hitchhiking experiences, I read the whole thing cover to cover. I got nothing out of it, except a little bit from the four Gospels. Twenty years later I found out why:
The Bible is different from other Scriptures.
I’ve read my favorite parts of the Bible (Genesis, some of the Psalms, Isaiah, Daniel and the minor prophets, and the New Testament) hundreds of times. I’ve also read the Tao Te Ching, the Upanishads, the I Ching and the Yoga Sutra hundreds of times each. The four Gospels and the eastern scriptures are somewhat accessible to the natural mind; like they form a kind of bridge between the natural world and the Spirit. The rest of the Bible is out of reach: you have to be introduced to get it. This is especially true of the Old Testament Prophets.
The Bible is an anthology with at least forty authors.
It has an astonishing internal harmony, but no consistent expressible theology or philosophy.
The Bible is full of paradox.
In straightening out the contradictions and the apparent contradictions you straighten out your thinking. When your thinking is straight your mind works for you instead of against you.
A lot of the Chapter and verse markers make no sense.
None of the Bible was written in chapter and verse. (Bible chapters date from the thirteenth century AD; New Testament verse numbers date from the sixteenth century; Old Testament verses from the seventeenth century.) The placement of the chapter and verse markers in the New Testament, especially the Epistles is so bad that some of them appear to be put there to intentionally confuse the reader (of course it was done out of ignorance, not malice). The Old Testament markers are much better, but not perfect. More…
Most Commentaries are stupid.
The Bible is its own best reference book; the best study tool is a concordance (Biblegateway.com or Biblia.com), which is a book or website in which you look up words or phrases. To understand the idea behind grace, for example, look up how the word “grace,” is used for the first time — it’s usually key — and then follow its use through the Bible; you’ll understand the meaning of grace without asking anyone, reading any commentary or looking it up in a dictionary (Dictionaries originally came from the Bible, not vice versa).
It’s best to use at least three different translations.
Get past the words to what is being said. I used the New International Version until they butchered it by making it politically correct — and worse, pulled all the online concordances for the older version (they also butchered my favorite Tao Te Ching, the Feng/English) (I have to remember to forgive them sometime). These days I slightly favor the Holman Christian Standard. For backups I have nine other versions but I mostly use the King James and the Amplified.
Or learn from a famous teacher
like Kenneth Copeland or Creflo Dollar (don’t be put off by their big-business approach — they know their stuff). Then stick to the Bible itself until you understand it for yourself.
Ask lots of questions. Blind guides resort to jargon or ridicule when they don’t have the answers. Question everything softly, with humility, but without compromise; keep studying and asking around until you’re satisfied.
In studying the Bible, ignore these two sets of voices:
- “The Bible was written by men and can not be trusted to be the revealed word of God.” The Bible is the most influential book in history. See if you can muster a little humility before you open it. There is an outside chance that at least one or two of the Bible writers might know more than you and your friends.
- “The entire Bible is the revealed word of God. Every word is true from Genesis to Revelation.” This brain-dead approach forces you to try to swallow the text whole without chewing. You then have to either ignore the resulting indigestion or stop reading. (If anyone tries to force this extremely popular idea on you, simply ask, “So you’re telling me that Leviticus is as good as the Sermon on the Mount?” and watch them try to escape sideways.)
Wisdom escapes through an open mouth.
After some months or years (or decades, depending on how much time and energy you put into it) of study and meditation, you’ll get the Bible view of life. When this happens it’s very exciting at first. Rein yourself in.
“The fool speaks all his mind.”
“Wisdom is proved right by her actions.”