How to Read the Bible
Many of us are absolutely and completely sick of this tired ol’ book. Some of us find it utterly irrelevant in this day and age. I used to find myself in both of these categories. People are sick of it because it was probably stuffed down their throat from a very young age, whether they wanted it or not, whether they were curious and interested or not. Other people may find it irrelevant because either they are not at all familiar with it and tend to take it literally, or because they think the world has evolved past the point where thousand-year-old text are useful anymore.
These views are both pertinent without question, however, I believe that there is more to it. Of course, there is the other group of people who believe that the Bible is either written by God or the exact word of God. They believe that the Bible is perfect and complete exactly as it is; nothing can be changed and nothing should be added or removed. I believe this is potentially one of the most destructive views one could have. I believe it is so because this view is totally and utterly opposed to change and, therefore, progress. Moreover, if you take the Bible so gravely and seriously, then you are very likely to miss the point entirely. This happens because you are so afraid to use your brain, your life experience, your gut or intuition to draw wisdom from these texts. You end up either taking everything literally or adopting an interpretation passed down to you from the pulpit.
My goal here is not to discredit the Bible, but confer to it the respect, consideration and attention it deserves; because you cannot make proper use of it if you don’t put it in its right place, in other words, if you don’t relate to it properly. If you expect it to be a scientific journal, then you will — of course — find it very poorly written, contradicting itself, making big claims without bringing forth the due evidence, although they’ve done a good job on their references. You will try to read it literally and you will put it down in the first chapter of Genesis because of the myriads of insults to your intelligence.
Or, perhaps, you were taught that you have to believe everything that is written there, exactly as it has been written and if you don’t do it, you’ll go straight into the depths of hell. Now, wait until you hear this. It came as quite of a shock to me as well… The idea that the Bible is the ‘Word of God’ is a fairly recent one. It came about in the 1500s with the Protestant Reformation. People were sick of the way clergy took advantage of the people in their parish. Priests were an intermediator between God and people they were seen as the highest authorities among men. The situation degenerated to such an extent that priests were charging money for the forgiveness of sins. No wonder why some more empathic of them got outraged. To ensure that nothing like this would happen again, the Protestants took the Catholic Bible and endowed it with the greatest spiritual authority. They called it the ‘Word of God’; considered it perfect, complete, infallible and unchangeable. Then a few centuries after, in the 1820s, they changed it, removing some books from the Old Testament…
Not sure how far back do I need to go with the history of the Bible but I’ll give you a few other facts. The Bible is composed of two parts: the Old and the New Testaments. The Old Testament is mainly composed of Jewish writings starting from as early as a few thousand BC. These ‘books’ were written by different people, at different times, on different topics. The New Testament is composed of ‘books’ written after the life of Jesus. They also span over a few hundred years, have multiple authors and are concerned with different topics. Even the word ‘Bible’ comes from Koine Greek (tà biblía) and it means literally “the books”. The first version of the Bible was put together in the 4th century AD, by the catholic church. There wasn’t even a Jewish bible back then. Basically, a few dudes in power of the catholic church decided which writings go in and which writings don’t go in the bible. Based on… Ok… then there were the numerous different translations… then the changes… then people decided that it was the ABSOLUTE word of God… and then some other changes and translations and so on…
Let’s spell it out. Even if the Bible did come down from Heaven on a golden carriage with an army of angels, it suffered all these human alterations that it can no longer be thought of as perfect. It was written by humans and it may have human flaws in it, so the best thing to do is, at least, take what you read with a grain of salt. I know, I know, sometimes the language used in the bible is a bit archaic and may be interpreted as holy commandments from the throne of Heaven, as we are quite used to the authoritative tone and melody that comes down from the pulpit. You know what? They just learn in ‘preacher school’ how to modulate their voice to make them seem like they have authority, like they know and believe what they are talking about.
Now that we’ve got the nasty part out of the way, let’s get to the actionable bits. Take the Bible as a book of human wisdom being passed down from ancient times, written by people who have spent time in deep contemplation and awe of this universe we’re in. They have written down their discoveries and lessons learned from their life experiences in the best language available to them, so that people that come after them may learn, may overpass them in knowledge, understanding and wisdom; that people may not repeat their mistakes; that the world may improve and become the heaven that we so long for.
Read multiple translations. If you know more languages, then read passages in multiple languages. Also, have a look at the old Greek and Hebrew (where available) texts. It’s incredibly easy to get hung up on words and you may get the deeper meaning of the message this way. You’ll know when you get the message right because it will announce itself to you, in you.
Whenever you don’t understand something, instead of taking it literally and just ‘accepting’ it, or asking a higher authority to interpret the text for you, take some time, ask inwards for clarification and then leave it. At one point you will just know, the meaning will just present itself to you.
The point is this: If you don’t want to read the Bible, then, by all means, don’t force yourself to read it. If you are curious, then give it a chance, but take what you read with a grain of salt. Don’t assume it’s perfect, for it will get you in all sorts of trouble. Don’t think it’s the only true word of God, there are many other writings, many other saints, teachers that have served people as spiritual guides.