Three Approaches to Bible Reading

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Reading any document, even the Bible, can become routine and boring. If we try to discover the messages that our reading can convey us we can find it more lively and useful. We can discover those truths that can be found beneath the actual words if we make our reading intentional. When we become intentional about our reading the Bible with a particular method or approach in mind, the Bible can speak to us in new and exciting ways.

Three primary approaches in reading Bible

There are three primary approaches in reading Bible. They are: the socio-historical approach, the literary approach and the theological approach. By following any one of these approaches, we can constantly interact with the words of the text and their context. Each of these approaches can reveal different aspects of the Bible. By exploring these we can deepen our experience with Scripture and deepen our awareness of God.

1) Socio-historical reading approach

This approach is primarily in the world-behind text, which means the social structures, historical background, customs and social issues related to power and class. We learn to ask questions about the events described or assumed in the Biblical text, the important places mentioned there, and the political scene within ancient Israel in the Old Testament or the Greek-Roman world found in the New Testament. Our attention to the social world behind the text can involve exploring such issues as how the characters relate to one another in terms of power and class, what customs and traditions are assumed in the Biblical text and also how the world is shaped by the religion and philosophy of the larger world like Egypt, Babylon, Greece and Rome.

2) Literary reading approach

We can find various aspects of literature in Bible. The literary approach is interested in the words of the text itself. It is to find out how the words are put together and how they convey the Biblical message. This approach helps us to enjoy the literary features like the key words or themes that are repeated throughout the passage, the type of literature, the use of unique or unexpected words, the literary context of the passage and how the plot is developed.

3) The theological reading approach

It is the devotional part of the three approaches. This approach is more persona than the other two. It seeks to discover new truths about God and our relationship with Him. It is interested in the overall purpose or intention of the passage. It tries to answer questions like ‘What can I learn from that passage’, ‘What did I learn about my relationship with God or Jesus’, etc.

If we are intentional about reading God’s Word, we will select a passage and read it several times following the approaches given above. Whatever may be the approach we follow, there is a challenge for us all to become more and more aware of the relevance of the Bible and how we are going to be changed by making it a part of our lives. 

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