Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Good and Bad Bible Reading

Today is Day 3 of our "Read the Bible Through in a Year" schedule.  Today's scripture is Genesis 6-8; Mark 3; Psalm 104.  The readings for the rest of the week are:

  • Gen 9-11; Mark 4
  • Gen 12-15; Mark 5; Psalm 148
Today, I want to give an example of some bad Bible reading.  Everybody can misread the Bible from time to time, declaring "God told me such-and-such today" when in fact they were merely extrapolating from the Bible what they wanted to get out of it.  This is especially true when you follow a "balanced-diet" Bible reading plan like the one I'm using.  From time to time, you'll be able to look at the plan and find commonalities between all the scriptures for the day.  Then, you'll be tempted to take the commonalities as a sure sign that God is definitely speaking to you about that common thread.  Today's scriptures give a perfect example for me to highlight this kind of thing:

Genesis 6 (ESV)
12 And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth. 13 And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh,[c] for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth. 14 Make yourself an ark of gopher wood.[d] Make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch...18 But I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons' wives with you. 19 And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every sort into the ark to keep them alive with you. 

Mark 3 (ESV)
Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the sea, and a great crowd followed, from Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem and Idumea and from beyond the Jordan and from around Tyre and Sidon. When the great crowd heard all that he was doing, they came to him. And he told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, lest they crush him, 10 for he had healed many, so that all who had diseases pressed around him to touch him.   

Psalm 104
24 O Lord, how manifold are your works!
    In wisdom have you made them all;
    the earth is full of your creatures.
25 Here is the sea, great and wide,
    which teems with creatures innumerable,
    living things both small and great.
26 There go the ships,
    and Leviathan, which you formed to play in it.[b]
27 These all look to you,
    to give them their food in due season.

Today's scriptures all make reference to boats, or ships.  A Bible reader might say, "Wow!  What are the odds that all three readings today have to do with boats?  God must be telling me that He wants me to go out and buy a boat!  After all, a boat was a refuge for Noah, and a boat was a refuge for Jesus."

Is this good Bible scholarship?  Probably not.  Though God can tell people to hop a boat (Noah and Jesus, for example), the Bible is also full of folks who shouldn't have boarded one (Jonah comes to mind).  Simply because three out of three of your Bible reading passages for the day mention boats, that doesn't mean you need to take out a second mortgage and buy that yacht you've always wanted.  It's important to remember the randomness of a Bible reading plan, and not overemphasize the times when themes least, not to the degree that you make a doctrine or a divine mandate out of something.

So, am I saying that there's no place for hearing from God in occurrences like this?  No--I'm simply saying that I'd be careful before saying something like "God told me today that I need to buy a boat."  God often speaks through the things in His Word that stand out prominently to you.  For example, this recurring boat theme today might make me say, "God wants to be a refuge for me," or "God wants me to trust Him to carry me--He's reminding me to relax and float on His love."  That would be a much more sound reading of the Bible.  

There's a difference between Bible study (understanding history, language, literary genre, etc) and devotional reading (asking, "What's God saying, specifically to me, today?").  Every Christian should engage in both types of Bible reading.  Both need to be sound in their approach.  When you find that multiple passages in one day have to do with the same thing, don't take it as an omen--but do let that be a sign for you to put up your spiritual antennae.  Tune in to what God may be saying to you--but try to be responsible with it as well.

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