Saturday, April 24, 2010

How to Read the Bible

My second major question, after where to begin reading (answer: the beginning), was "How do you read the Bible?" Well, there are two parts to this seemingly innocuous question. I bet if you asked even the most dutiful Christian it would throw them off.

Should I approach it as if I am reading a piece of fiction or as a historical account?

This is important because the way I approach the reading changes the meaning of what I read.

Is the Bible to be taken literally? Or, are these things to be take symbolically, like a huge giant allegory? I'm inclined to think the latter. Was the apple really just an apple (probably not, apple used to mean a fruit other than berries; it could have been a mango they ate for all we know), or does it represent something else entirely (sin, right)? My dad, though atheist now, has always believed that the apple is a representation of adultery. I have no idea how this is possible with just Adam and Eve chilling there, but it is an interesting theory.

Decision made : approach reading as a piece of fiction.

The Bible as fiction is not necessarily a bad thing - fiction teaches us more than we can imagine, so don't get your magical panties in a twist. I will, in all honesty, probably get more from this approach than going in reading the Bible as if everything was fact.

I had to read a book for English class entitled How to Read Literature Like a Professor (I recommend it), and it has deeply improved my knowledge of symbolism. I think applying what I learned from that English class - in which I once wrote an essay connecting the weather in Frankenstein to Dr. Frankenstein's internal struggle and damnation - and the book, it will provide a new, fresh look at biblical stories.

For example, Noah's Ark. It rained for 40 days and nights, right? Have you ever thought of the symbolic meaning of rain? Rain is cleansing (it removes sin), it represents fertility and life. In movies and novels, when it rains you know there has been a transformation of some sort - a new life is beginning. Does this knowledge change the story of Noah's Ark, give it a deeper meaning?

Plus, I never really liked the idea of a book being the entire basis for living your life (I will continue to eat shrimp, Leviticus).

And, if it is fact, who knows what leeway the writers took and all the mistranslations which have inevitably changed the original meaning. It would be like a historical painting - it's based on something that did happen, but it wasn't quite like they (the painter) depicted it.

Ultimately my goal is to understand, on a profound level, this book, not search for proof of something; I feel once that happens, only then will I truly be able to have a connection with God. I don't need his, or his son's, biography to do that, and I'm sure he does not mind.

What techniques will best allow me to pick up on the subtle meanings and teachings of the Bible?

Google once again leads me to answers.

Never read the Bible trying to proof your belief on any subject. It is human nature to take ideas out of context.
Oh I just said that above! Go me! I find this often happens with people who use the Bible to prove that homosexuality is wrong and sinful - they skip over the parts that don't apply to the situation and take things out of context.

When you are reading and come across something that does not make sense, reread the paragraph or chapter again. If you still do not understand, write down the problem area and continue onward. You may discover the answers later in your reading.
I plan to do this on this blog, as a matter of fact. If you cannot see already, I like dissecting a problem, appraising it from many angels before finding the most suitable and logical answer.

I also plan to write down verses that strike me in an emotional way, convey interesting imagery (or diction, I love diction), ones I like or dislike, and of course what I have learned from a particular section that I feel needs to be shared, can be applied to a recent situation, or has a connection with popular culture.

Do not read large amounts of the Bible in one setting. Take breaks often. Or stay with about 4-6 chapters a day.
Good advice - it seems like a silly thing to say, but I probably would try reading as much as possible in one sitting (like I did reading the last Harry Potter book). This would lead to me missing out on what I am looking to discover. You can't understand something if you skim over it and take no time to meditate on it.

Find a Bible friend with whom you can discuss and share your readings.
This is where people who read my blog come in handy. I absolutely adore having discussions and debates, there is always something you can learn from listening to another person's point of view.

Don't be afraid to underline or highlight passages in the Bible. Keep a pen and notebook, and write down things you discover and questions that arise
As a rule I don't write in books. It feels wrong and hurts my soul. I will keep a notebook by my side to write in.

Ask questions.
How could I not? I've already proven I'm beyond inquisitive.
Examples: What is this passage saying about God? What is this passage saying about Jesus? What is this passage saying about the Holy Spirit? Is there a command to obey? Is there a principal to learn? Is this saying something to my life right now? Is there a prayer I can pray? How can I apply it in my everyday life?

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