The Bible: three ways to make reading and applying the world’s most impossible (and important) book possible
Nick Page, author of just published book The Badly Behaved Bible, gives his tips …
Pick it up and open it.
This sounds pretty basic, but it's where most people fall down: they never actually open the thing and read it. It’s too daunting. Well, there is a lot that can frighten us about the Bible – its age, it's complexity, the amount of words, the sheer size of the thing. But, in the words of another great spiritual text, The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, ‘Don't Panic’.
Just start with something bite sized. I’d recommend one of the gospels, but you can start where you want. There’s no right order. And there’s no official version, either. Make sure what you've got is readable. The King James Version has lovely language, but even its first readers in the 16th century thought it was a bit over the top. There are a lot of good modern translations, so grab one of those, sit down and open the thing.
And take your time. A lot of people do those ‘Read the Whole Bible in a Year’ things as if reading the Bible was some kind of extreme sport. You're not doing this so you can tick a box and say ‘I've done that’. This is not like running a marathon. It's like going on pilgrimage. Deep breath. Open the book. And look around.
Listen for God.
I want to ban the phrase ‘Bible Study’. I mean, who in their right mind wants to do something as boring as that? I don't believe the Bible is something to ‘study’, like a lab specimen or an archaeological object. I believe the Bible is, first and foremost, a place of encounter. It is a place where we meet God. That's what we mean when we say the Bible is ‘inspired’.
It's not because God wrote it. He didn't dictate it or deliver a typed manuscript to the desk of St Paul by some kind of angelic FedEx. The word ‘inspired’ means God-breathed. That's what's special about this book: God brings it to life. So, as you read, listen out for what God is saying to you. Are there words which really speak to you? Is there an image which jumps out and demands you look? Pay attention. Listen.
The other thing that the phrase ‘Bible study’ does is that it reinforces the impression that reading the Bible is an academic pursuit and that there is a ‘right’ way to read it. They treat the Bible as a textbook and if they get the answers wrong there will be weeping, wailing, eternal damnation and a lot of teeth gnashing.
But the Bible is literature. It is story. We have two God-given gifts to help us: curiosity and imagination. So ask questions: what’s going on here? Who are these people? Why are they writing this?
And use your imagination – imagine the people in the scene, or the people who are being addressed. Ask, ‘who am I in this story? How would I react?’ When God or Jesus asks a question, imagine he is asking it of you. How would you answer?
So, grab your Bible, open it, pay attention, ask questions and don't be afraid to wonder. I believe that if you do that, then you will hear from God.
- Prized for his skills as a writer, speaker, unlicensed historian, applied ranter and general information-monger, Nick Page has written over 70 books, including The Tabloid Bible, The Longest Week trilogy, The Dark Night of the Shed, and his most recent addition to the Nearly Infallible series, A Nearly Infallible History of the Reformation. Nick lives in Oxfordshire with his wife Claire and their three daughters
- The Badly Behaved Bible (Hodder & Stoughton £16.99) sees Nick tackle what the Bible is and what it isn't, how we can critically read this inspired text and how we approach the difficulties in its content.