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10 Tips for Reading the Bible

The web site of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has a list of ten points for fruitful reading of Scripture. Here are a few of them, with a link to the rest:

  • Prayer is the beginning and the end. Reading the Bible is not like reading a novel or a history book. It should begin with a prayer asking the Holy Spirit to open our hearts and minds to the Word of God. Scripture reading should end with a prayer that this Word will bear fruit in our lives, helping us to become holier and more faithful people.
  • Get the whole story! When selecting a Bible, look for a Catholic edition. A Catholic edition will include the Church’s complete list of sacred books along with introductions and notes for understanding the text. A Catholic edition will have an imprimatur notice on the back of the title page. An imprimatur indicates that the book is free of errors in Catholic doctrine.
  • The sum is greater than the parts. Read the Bible in context. What happens before and after – even in other books – helps us to understand the true meaning of the text.
  • Reading isn’t enough. If Scripture remains just words on a page, our work is not done. We need to meditate on the message and put it into action in our lives. Only then can the word be “living and effective.”(Hebrews 4:12).

Two Common Myths about the Bible

There are two popular myths about the Bible that prevent a lot of people from reading and studying it.

The Bible is too hard

Some people have the nation that the Bible is too difficult to understand unless you are a degree-holding theologian with years of training. They might say, “Every time I try to read the Bible, I don’t understand it.” Maybe they’re hoping to hear, “Yeah, you need to take classes at a seminary if you want to study the Bible.”

But God hasn’t chosen some obscure and difficult means of having His revelation recorded for generations. The revelation found in the Bible was given to and written down by ordinary people, not some small group of elite scholars who are the only ones who can understand it. If you can read a blog post, you can read and understand the message of the Bible.

The Bible is too boring

Some people can understand what they’re reading, but it doesn’t excite or interest them. For whatever reason, the content of the Bible just doesn’t meet their reading preferences.

But the Bible is full of all sorts of characters who portray the whole range of human emotion, and who go through all types of the human experience. Their lives are dramatic. There is hate, love, anger, joy, fear, courage, death, life, revenge, forgiveness. There are words of wisdom and wit, of regret and rebuke, of contrition and comfort. The Bible contains more than just the story of God: it contains the story of humanity.

Why Read the Bible?

I’ll let St. Jerome answer this question, from the beginning of his famous commentary on the book of the prophet Isaiah:

I interpret as I should, following the command of Christ: “Search the Scriptures” (John 5:39), and “Seek and you shall find” (Matthew 7:7). Christ will not say to me what he said to the Jews: “You erred, not knowing the Scriptures and not knowing the power of God.” (Matthew 22:29) For if, as Paul says, “Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor 1:24), and if the man who does not know Scripture does not know the power and wisdom of God, then ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.

Itaque et tibi et illi per te reddo quod debeo, obediens Christi praeceptis, qui ait: Scrutamini Scripturas; et, Quaerite, et invenietis. Ne illud audiam cum Judaeis: Erratis, nescientes Scripturas, neque virtutem Dei. Si enim juxta apostolum Paulum Christus Dei virtus est, Deique sapientia; et qui nescit Scripturas, nescit Dei virtutem ejusque sapientiam: ignoratio Scripturarum, ignoratio Christi est.

(English translation courtesy of Crossroads Initiative)