How to Read the Bible

For centuries people have approached the Holy Bible with a broad spectrum of intentions. The vast majority, though approach the Bible with the intention of connecting with the God of the universe, which is the only true way to approach the words of scripture.  Peterson (2006) called this approach ‘spiritual reading’, a reading that “enters our souls as food enters our stomachs, spreads through our blood and becomes holiness and love and wisdom” (p. 4). Reading scripture is not simply an intellectual endeavor, nor is it an emotional free-for-all with haphazard interpretation. Rather, it is an approach that encompasses the entire being of the reader for deeper development of the relationship with Yahweh.  Unfortunately, even those seeking a deeper relationship with Yahweh seem to have varying degrees of outcomes and successes. Two primary ways to approach the passages from God are analytical and meditative (Issler, 2012, p.119).

An analytical approach to scripture can be incredibly rewarding and enriching.  It is through deep analysis doors of understanding are opened up.  It is this analytical approach that is honored more in the scholarly tradition where words like ‘Bible study’, ‘exegesis’, and ‘hermeneutics’ are used, and the interpreter asks deep questions followed by diligent research (Issler, 2012, p. 119). This process of questions and research uncover the objective truth of God’s revelation (Issler, p. 119). to guard against heresy and proof texting.  For many individuals who study scripture, the analytical approach is underutilized and often considered less of a spiritual approach.

There are many methods available to an interpreter to aid in the discovery of scripture.  Some such methods are word studies, historical-cultural contextual analysis, and socio-rhetorical criticism. In word studies, the interpreter digs out the original meaning of the Greek and Hebrews words understanding the author had an original meaning to words chosen (Duvall, 2012). Historical-cultural contextual analysis bridges the gap between God’s words to an ancient people in an ancient world vastly different from the modern world (Duvall, 2012, p. 99).  The socio-rhetorical criticism steps away from meaning of the passage and looks at the textures that inform the meaning (Robbins, 1996, p. 1).

Understanding scripture should move from the analytical approach to embrace a meditative approach.  Unfortunately, the analytical endeavor discovering the details of scripture can short-circuit the relational intentions originally held by an interpreter. Toon (1993) noted the separation often found between the scholarly pursuit of scripture and the devotional need is not inevitable, but very common (p. 73). The meditative approach provides the relational connection found when one visits with God.  The meditative approach is a different tone and texture where the reader patiently waits and listens for God’s voice to speak in a personal way (Issler, 2012, p. 119). King David said, “Search me O God, and know my heart, try me and know my thoughts. And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting (Psa. 139:23-24). This is not an analytical endeavor David is expressing; it is an expression from the deepest areas of his heart.

The use of scripture enters into every area of life, particularly the world of leadership.  Since Jesus is “arguably the most effective leader and change agent the world has ever known” (McCabe, 2008, p. 33), it would stand to reason effective leadership theory and practice would come from his life and the principles found throughout scripture.  The study of scripture provides deeper understanding for leaders to grasp the methods Jesus used to change the world. Leadership is a study in human behavior and the development of the personhood of the leader (Ayers, 2006, p. 5), so scriptural values found in scripture can grow the personhood of a given leader. Furthermore, a meditative approach to scripture in the context of leadership moves readers beyond a list of tools and practices to be applied, but also speaks to the hearts and motivations of leaders as they interact with their followers.

Personally, biblical understanding has become the foundation for my leadership philosophy and practice.  Through prayerful consideration, understanding the historical and cultural elements of a given narrative allow me to put myself in the context of the events happening.  Once I have ‘lived’ the event in my mind’s eye, I have a clearer understanding of what further questions should be asked, what gaps of understanding exist, and what other non-narrative portions of scripture inform what I am studying. Having a 360-degree understanding of a given portion of scripture further allows me to see the application to my own life and how God is directing me live out what he is speaking to me.  It is the depth of scriptures that has opened up my mind to leadership and the importance God places on living out a life of influence.

The study of scripture and the application of leadership theory are two fields of study that should walk hand-in-hand. Deep analytical and meditative approaches will deepen the understanding and devotion of the reader to the ways of God.  The values and principles found in scripture will provide tools to apply to the daily practice of leadership, while the personal relationship with God will provide insight and strength as the leader navigates the challenges of leadership.  Jesus commanded his followers to exercise influence and lead people with his final words to his disciples (Mt. 28:19-20) Leadership and Biblical analysis should not be exclusively utilized, but rather they should be partnered in everyday application to the life of every disciple of Christ.

Ayers, M. (2006). Towards a Theology of Leadership. Journal of Biblical Perspectives in Leadership1(1), 3–27.
Duvall, J. S., Hays, J. D., & Strauss, K. J. V. and M. L. (2012). Grasping God’s Word: A Hands-On Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible (3 edition.). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Issler, K. D. (2012). Approaching formative scripture: reading with both head and heart. Journal of Spiritual Formation & Soul Care5(1), 117–134.
McCabe, L. (2008). Jesus As Agent of Change: Tranformational and Authentic Leadership in John 21. Journal of Biblical Perspectives in LeadershipVolume 2(No. 1), 32–43.
Peterson, E. H. (2006). Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing.
Robbins, V. K. (1996). Exploring the texture of texts: a guide to socio-rhetorical interpretation. Valley Forge, Pa: Trinity Press International.
Toon, P. (1993). The art of meditating on Scripture: understanding your faith, renewing your mind, knowing your God. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan Pub. House.

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