This is part two of a series of posts called Habits of a Disciple.
Today the entire bible is available in 554 languages. Over forty writers contributed to it over 1,500 years. It is the most accessible book in the world today with countless websites, apps, and paper copies available absolutely free. All of this seems even more impressive once we realize that the bible is not a small book. Most versions of it are more than 1200 pages long, making it the longest book most people ever attempt to read. Simply put, there is just nothing out there like the bible. Even if it wasn’t true, it still stands apart as a most unusual book, worthy of time and consideration.
However, the bible does not merely claim to be just another book, but the unique production of God’s inspiration and activity. “All scripture is breathed out by God” (2 Timothy 3.16). Prophecies contained in the bible did not come about “by an act of human will, but men moved by the holy spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 1.21). For example, Paul, in a moment of frustration with his hard hearted hearers, said “The holy spirit rightly spoke through Isaiah the prophet to your fathers” (Acts 28.25). When speaking about a couple of David’s psalms, Peter recognized that they were not the result of unaided human thought, but what “the holy spirit spoke before hand by the mouth of David” (Acts 1.15). Jesus, likewise, when referring to another of David’s psalms introduced his quotation with the words, “David himself said by the holy spirit” (Mark 12.36). Although such claims would not convince an unbeliever that the bible is truly inspired and authoritative, again, he or she would still have to admit, that most authors lack the audacity to make such statements.
Beyond these internal claims that the bible is from God, I have five more reasons that I personally find quite convincing. They spell out the acronym “PUMMA”: predictive prophecy, unflattering honesty, medical insights, martyrdom, and archeology. Although I won’t have the space to go into each of these in detail, I will give brief explanations before moving on to some practical reasons for reading the bible.
Predicting the future is extraordinarily difficult—even for the meteorologists with all of their sophisticated equipment. If it were easy to know the future, gambling casinos would quickly go out of business, and everyone would have gleaming stock portfolios. However, if some book can predict the future, especially hundreds of years before the fact, that would indicate something beyond the natural realm is happening. This is precisely what the bible does repeatedly and accurately. From Ezekiel’s prophecy about the city of Tyre to Isaiah’s prediction about the suffering of God’s servant to Daniel’s foretelling the year of the messiah to Jesus’ warning about the coming destruction of the temple, the bible has an incredible track record.
I call my second reason for believing the bible is true “unflattering honesty.” If an apostle wanted to make up a story about himself, wouldn’t he put himself in the best possible light? Yet, the people of the bible—even the greatest heroes—are painted realistically rather than artificially airbrushed so as to conceal their faults. Noah gets drunk; Abraham lies about his wife; Jacob tricks his blind dad; Moses murderers an Egyptian; David commits adultery; Peter rebukes Jesus; Paul persecutes Christians. If the bible was made up by these people, why would they include such unflattering details about themselves?
Although medical knowledge was in its infancy during the whole biblical period, somehow the laws God gave Israel contained unusually accurate insights far ahead of its time. For example, circumcision on the eighth day coincides with when the human body produces the highest concentration of prothrombin to aid in blood clotting. Did Abraham use trial and error until he figured that out? If he did, wouldn’t the bible tell us, considering its commitment to unflattering honesty? Somehow, he just knew the eight day was when to do it. Other medical insights include quarantine for infection and touching dead bodies, food laws to prevent eating animals more prone to cause sickness, and the understanding that the life is in the blood.
My fourth reason is martyrdom. Now just because someone dies for their cause, doesn’t make their cause true. However, what it does show is that the martyr is sincere. When it comes to those who die for causes or beliefs, it is hard to make a case based on martyrdom. However, those who are willing to suffer and die for their eye-witness testimony are in a completely different category. Not only did the first generation followers of Jesus face severe persecution, but they also lacked a motive to concoct a story about Jesus rising from the dead. Did they gain riches or power or fame in their lifetimes? If they did make it up, why didn’t one or more of them crack when facing death?
Lastly, archeology confirms much of what the bible says. Archeologists have found the Taylor Prism, a hexagonal cuneiform clay tablet containing the annals of Sennacherib, the mighty king of Assyria. In it he mentions having Hezekiah caged like a bird in his capital city in agreement with the book of Kings. Among many other archeological finds are a stone with Pilate’s name inscribed on it, a stone mentioning the “House of David,” the Dead Sea scrolls, the stone casket of the high priest Caiaphas, and a clay seal mentioning Jeremiah’s scribe, Baruch. These physical remains demonstrate the bible’s names and places are historical rather than fictitious.
Though I have more reasons than these five, I don’t want to get too off track here and will instead turn to the benefits of engaging and studying God’s scriptures along with some tips on how to make your bible time more fruitful. When I was a landscaper, I was reading my pocket bible in the truck while my crew leader was driving us to the next job. Somewhat befuddled by my interest in the book, he asked, “Why do you read that thing anyhow?” I replied, “If someone you love wrote a book, wouldn’t you read it?” He saw my point and didn’t criticize me anymore. If we say we love God, then surely we would want to read his book. Furthermore, the bible is our key source for knowing God: his character, his actions, his preferences, and how he wants us to live. Our tendency is to make a god in our own image, but without our limitations. This is dangerous because it can easily result in idolatry—worshipping something as God other than the real God. Instead, we need to take God at his word. He has revealed himself in scripture so that we can know who he really is.
Reading scripture also helps us to center our lives on what God says is right, rather than the constantly shifting standards of our society. Our cultural norms are like swimming in the ocean. After an hour, we are far away from our original location, but we don’t perceive how we’ve moved. The current just carried us along in one direction, gently and persistently. We usually don’t perceive the constant pressures around us squeezing us into the mold of this age from television, movies, radio, social media, coworkers, friends, and a million other sources. How can we hope to resist such multifaceted and subtle forces moving us to act and think like the prince of the power of the air? Scripture is our anchor, both so we know how to think about critical issues and how we should live. Although everything else is constantly in flux, the bible is our foundation stone. On it we can find the firm ground we need to stand strong. By studying the bible and applying it to our lives we enjoy continuity not only with other Christ-followers around the world, but also with those who likewise have taken scripture seriously over the ages. We belong to an ancient tribe, following the teachings of a Jewish rabbi in a distant land. Of course we are going to be different than twenty-first century America!
As we meditate on and digest the scriptures, they change us. We find ourselves becoming more sensitive to the holy spirit, more in tune with how God sees things, and less susceptible to error. By engaging the bible, we learn for ourselves what doctrines hold water and which ones are merely human traditions. We gain encouragement from the many inspiring people who walked with God throughout time. We learn what to do when we make mistakes and how to live in a wholeheartedly godly way. The scriptures build our faith so we can do more than we ever thought we could on our own. It shows us the purpose of our lives and helps us find our place in the local body of Christ to serve. God’s book teaches us about truth, forgiveness, peace, freedom, joy, and the power of his spirit.
Although, many of us believe God inspired the bible and know that reading it helps us tremendously, we struggle to pick it up daily and spend time with it. Our lives are busy and it is hard to find the time to sit quietly, even for just a half an hour. Here are some tips, I’ve found helpful to make the bible a regular part of my life. (1) Set out a consistent time of day that works for you. For many of us, this is the morning with a cup of coffee or tea. For some of us, it may be during the lunch break at work. For others, the best time is before bed each night. Once we determine a time, stick to it every day so it becomes habit. If something happens and it throws off your routine, don’t mope around feeling guilty that you missed a day, just get back on the horse.
(2) Skip or skim the parts that you find difficult. This especially applies when you are first starting out. You read through Genesis and the first half of Exodus, and then start to lose focus reading all of the minute details about the tabernacle’s construction and implements. Give yourself permission to skim through these parts until you reach something that grips you. Otherwise, you may simply run out of gas and find that you are only half way across the lake. You can always come back to the parts that you skipped and study them more intently later. Another similar idea is to jump from the Old Testament to the New Testament. For example, read Genesis then Matthew then Exodus then Mark, alternating so you keep your mind from feeling worn out on one section.
(3) Have a purpose in mind for your reading. Of course it’s fine to just read through the whole book from cover to cover, but a lot of times you might need a shorter term goal. For example, pick a book or topic and really delve into it. Track down all of the prophecies about the kingdom and make a list. Figure out the connections between Daniel and Revelation. Determine where each of the prophets fits in the books of Kings, Ezra, and Nehemiah. If you have something you are chasing in scripture, you will engage better and be less likely to read the same verse over and over without grasping its meaning.
There are plenty of other ways to encourage your bible reading. Try reading through the bible in chronological order. Get a bible buddy that reads the same portions as you, so you can discuss any questions or points you might have. Listen to the bible while you read it to help you keep focus. Study topics in the original languages. Write blog posts about your discoveries and share them with the world. Put together your own harmony of the Gospels. Engage in discussion (online or offline) with people who disagree with your theology. This will force you to plunge yourself headlong into the book so as to find support for your beliefs. Find what motivates you and jump into the scriptures. For in them you will mine the greatest treasures available this side of the kingdom.
Read part three: Prayer and Fasting