Becoming a Student of the Bible

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This week I wanted to talk to you about the importance of reading scripture both personally and collectively. Often our lives are filled with a great to do list. That list includes taking care of basic needs and necessities, things like going to the grocery store, making the doctors appointment, managing work, making meetings, and managing children. Most of us are good at carving out at least some time during the day for something that is important to us. That might mean reading a book, doing a hobby, spending time with friends, or making time for a workout. But not many of us are really good about setting aside time to actually reading scripture. And when I say read scripture I don’t mean a few verses. I mean opening the Bible and read a chapter out a book of the Bible.

As adults it is important for us to read the word of God and to be challenged by what we read as it relates to our own life. It is helpful to read the Bible by starting with a particular book and reading through the entire book. These books have deep meaning and stories and they’re meant to be told in context. The other thing I should say about this is that every adult should have a study Bible. Study Bibles provide additional information about historical things that are happening within the text and help provoke new meaning and understanding.

The Bible that I prefer to use is the English Standard Version ESV. But there are many versions available. The New International Version NIV is the easiest to read and is quite popular, but sometimes the translation work in that version is not as closely associated to the original Greek and Hebrew. The New Revised Standard Version NRSV is the translation that is commonly adopted by PCUSA. The Oxford Bible includes additional text that is not a part of the original canon but is text that were written during the same time frame. Many people still like the King James version of the Bible, but for me personally it’s hard to read and based on my knowledge of the Greek and Hebrew I recognize that there are better translations available.

One of the newest translations is The Message. This Bible was written by Eugene Peterson who is now deceased but was a Presbyterian minister. It is his complete interpretation of the Scriptures based on our modern language. I enjoy reading this bible alongside my study Bible to hear how Peterson changes the language for us in order to make the Scriptures have more relevant meanings for our current context in life. It is really interesting to read his interpretations of the Psalms.

So if you do not have a study Bible I would suggest you look online to find one or maybe purchase a copy of The Message and begin to set aside time to actually read chapters of the Bible. Now for those of you who are like me, who struggle with reading, I have good news. There are audio versions of the Bible available. But you will still want a copy of a study Bible to help you understand more about the context of what you’re reading and where there are connections and parallels throughout the Bible. The study Bibles will show you how different scriptures are connected to one another.

The other thing that is important about reading scripture is the communal nature of being in God’s presence where two or more are gathered and learning new insights from other people’s perspectives. And if you have children, I would say other people’s perspectives would include your children. So I want to encourage you to not only set aside time to read God’s word on your own but also in a collective group. Maybe that’s with members of the church. Maybe that’s with some of your friends. Maybe it’s with some of your coworkers. Or just maybe it’s with your family. What is important is that there are other people with you reading the same scriptures and discussing what the group thinks it means both in its context and in our lives today. The answers may not always be clear but the only way we grow in our faith is when we are challenged by new ideas. And those challenges only come to us when we engage with others in relationship to our own understanding of what we know.

I also want to say that is not important that you memorize the Bible. It is important that we know and understand stories but you don’t have to know every single story or every single Bible verse. What we should strive for is a better understanding and relationship with Jesus Christ and in that, we should strive to understand as we read God‘s word and discern what it means for us in our lives today. There’s no Bible quiz, just a better relationship and understanding to God our Creator. As part of my hope for us to begin reading scripture together, next week we will be emailing out daily scripture passages that you can read by yourself or with family or friends. I hope these daily emails will encourage you to find a love for reading scripture and begin making it a priority in your life that you define as a necessity.

Peace and blessings to you, Rev. Elise Renee Neal