"In the beginning was the Word," John wrote in his gospel. And that Word was a person. Jesus the Messiah is the final, definitive Word from God. For centuries, Christians have worshiped Jesus as both fully divine and fully human. We call this idea incarnation.God in the flesh, come down from heaven to meet us where we are.
Something similar can be said of the Bible. Christians believe the Scriptures are inspired by God. Just as Jesus is the visible,embodied Word of God, so the Bible is authoritative, written Word of God.
Yet the Bible is also a human composition, written by real people who spoke and wrote in real languages. The biblical writers didn’t use a mysterious, divine code to communicate God’s truth. They used Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. They wrote stories, poems, and oracles. They communicated in languages and literary forms that were readily accessible to the Bible’s first recipients.
Through the Bible, God spoke into our world, revealing who he is and how he’s at work then and now, repairing all that is broken.
"The word of the Lord came to me," as the prophets used to say when they received a message from God. OK, but how did God’s written Word first come to us? What form did it take? It’s a question many of us never ask. But maybe we should.
The words of the Bible have been carefully preserved through the centuries. But the form — that is, the way we read the Bible — has changed significantly over the last two thousand years.
Someone looking at a modern Bible for the first time might think it’s primarily a collection of freestanding, numbered statements. But that’s not the case. The Bible didn’t come to us one verse at a time. Chapter and verse numbers were added centuries later.
At its core, the Bible is a collection of whole books. Each is a unique literary composition, meant to be engaged in its entirety. God inspired the authors of Scripture to communicate through narrative, dialogue, songs, sermons, letters, oracles, and more.
These natural contours of the Bible ought to guide our reading. Yet they tend to get lost when Scripture is presented as a series of numbered, uniform verses.
Does it even matter? Well, yes. Because we’re not just called to read the Bible. We’re called to read it well.
A common thread is woven through the books of the Bible, binding them together. A narrative arc, stretching from the beginning of all things in Genesis to the renewal of all things in Revelation, brings an essential unity to the Scriptures.
Not everything in the Bible is story, but everything in Scripture contributes to the big story or “metanarrative” that God is telling. The main storyline of the Bible develops over the course of six key acts:
Act 1: God's intention
God makes the world to share with his human creation.
Act 2: Exile
Humanity rebels and sin enters the world, bringing death and separation from God.
Act 3: Calling Israel to a mission
God initiates his plan to redeem the world, beginning with one special nation.
Act 4: The surprising victory of Jesus
God comes in the flesh to end humanity’s exile and conquer death.
Act 5: The renewed people of God
Jesus’ earliest followers spread the good news of God’s reign, and God gathers people from all over the world.
Act 6: God comes home
God returns and makes his home with us in a new heavens and a new earth.
Get an overview of the 6-act drama of the Bible with our 60-day reading plan.
The Bible is more than just another story; it’s an invitation. The story of the Bible tells how God triumphed over sin and death. The invitation beckons us to share in his victory.
In other words, the Bible is a drama— a story that’s meant to be activated. Embodied. Lived out. God is the command performer, moving the biblical story forward through each successive stage. He’s also the hero of the story, the one who saves the world from sin and death.
But we’re just not passive observers when we read the Bible. God invites us into the story, to activate it in our lives and in the world around us. The Bible is, in some respects, an unfinished drama. The final act is still to come. Taking our cues from the pages of Scripture, we are called to carry the story forward in our world.
The Bible is a fully divine, fully human collection of books. It's a story meant to be engaged in its entirety. A drama to be lived. So what should we do with the Bible? Here are 3 tips to help you approach the Bible on its own terms.
1. Honor it.
"I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word..."
If the Bible is both fully divine and fully human, then it is a gift of unimaginable consequence. Within the pages of Scripture, the transcendent God of the universe draws near to us.
It’s no accident that God chose existing human forms of language, culture, history, and literature to reveal himself in the Bible. In fact, it’s only because God did so that we can see, understand, and respond to him.
Our first step in engaging the Bible is to honor it for what it truly is: human-shaped writings enveloped with God’s presence. Then we can open the Scriptures with confidence that God will be with us as we explore his Word.
2. Receive it.
"They received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day..."
If the Bible is a collection of books, stories, poems, and other literary compositions — and not just an assortment of uniform numbered statements — then our next step is to receive these elements of Scripture on their own terms.
To receive the Bible is to accept the covenant offered by its authors. To read their work as it was meant to be read. To allow the literary forms in which they wrote to guide our reading. In other words, Paul’s letters are read as letters to first-century churches. Psalms are be read as ancient Hebrew poetry. Revelation is read as an apocalyptic vision.
Once we’ve engaged whole books of the Bible for what they are, then we can “travel up,” reading even larger portions of Scripture, and “travel down,” exploring smaller passages in greater detail. But reading the Bible well starts with receiving and engaging whole books as their authors intended.
3. Engage it.
"Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things..."
If the Scriptures tell God’s true story of the world, then our greatest task is to engage the Bible deeply so we can discover our place in its story.
It’s not about Bible literacy, as if the Bible can be reduced to a collection of facts and figures.
It’s not about Bible reading, as if the Bible is just another nice story.
It’s not about Bible study, as if the Bible were a textbook or an instruction manual.
To engage the Bible is to uncover its emerging narrative, to read the individual parts in light of the whole. Sure, you’ll find plenty of moral guidance, theological instruction, and devotional inspiration as you read the Bible. But the Scriptures cannot be reduced to a mere collection of moral or theological statements. God’s Word is so much more than this.
Above all, the Bible is the definitive revelation of the embodied, living Word of God: Jesus the Messiah. The story of Jesus — his incarnation, life, death, and resurrection — serves as the narrative center of the Bible. He is the interpretive key which sheds light on everything else in Scripture.
Our task is to immerse ourselves in the Bible so we can encounter Jesus, be transformed, and take up our part in his story. To immerse ourselves in Scripture is to read slowly, deeply, and at length. If we want to live out the drama of the Bible, , we cannot merely skim the surface. We must allow it to soak into the deep places of our lives.
You’re invited to discover the Bible afresh… so you can live a new story. It’s easier than you think. Try practicing these 3 principles of good Bible reading:
1. Read the complete story.
No more engaging fragments of Scripture. No more reading one verse at a time. No more treating the Bible like a vending machine dispensing inspiration in sound-bite form. It’s time to engage whole units of thought. To read whole books. And, ultimately, to experience the whole Bible from start to finish.
2. Read the Bible in context.
Often we treat the Bible as if it were a personal instruction manual, reading individual parts without a sense of the whole. Instead, it’s time to read the Bible in context. It’s time to read with first-century eyes. To read letters as letters, poetry as poetry, prophetic oracle as... well, you get the idea. It’s time to read the Bible on its terms.
3. Read the Bible in community.
For many of us, Bible reading is almost an exclusively private discipline, something that begins and ends with “me.” To experience the Bible on its terms means we should engage it like its first recipients did — and that was almost always in community. Many of the books, including Paul’s letters, were addressed to whole communities, not individuals. Let’s recover the art of Bible reading as a team sport.