Bible reading is good. Responsible Bible reading is better. It is not enough to just randomly open a Bible and put your finger down on a verse. There are some good practices that people can use to read the Bible appropriately. One of the ways to do this is to ask questions. Here are five questions to ask when reading a Bible passage.
1. Who is speaking?
I have seen people read the Bible with the assumption that every verse is God speaking. Does that mean that when you read, “I, Paul,” that God’s name is Paul? Without giving up the doctrine of inspiration, look to who is doing the speaking in the passage.
2. What is the immediate context?
Except for Proverbs, no verse can be understood in isolation. Most often, a verse is part of a larger message. Read the verses before and after to understand the purpose of the passage.
3. Is it descriptive and prescriptive?
I have spoken to people who assumed that everything that is said in the Bible has God’s approval. That is not true. Often the Bible is describing the actions of people that are not good. Those stories are not there for us to imitate but to learn from. Find out if the passage you are reading is simply describing something that happened or if it is a command to be followed.
4. How does it fit within the larger biblical story?
This is similar to the question about context. But instead of just looking at the immediate context, this question is about the overall teachings of the Bible. There is a big story and each individual passage should be understood within that story. Part of this interpreting difficult passages in light of clearer passages. Scripture interprets Scripture.
5. How has this been traditionally interpreted?
This is not to say that tradition is always correct. The Reformers believed that certain passages were being misinterpreted. Even within protestantism, there are multiple interpretations of many passages. But if you see a meaning in a passage that no one has ever seen before, there may be a reason. I have changed interpretations of passages over the years, but my options were always within the range of traditional interpretations.
Bonus question: Am I looking to just support my own ideas?
Bible reading should be about letting the Bible speak into our lives. There is a constant temptation, however, to look for passages just to support what we already believe. remember that even Satan can quote Scripture.
One of the best books that I have read on reading the Bible is How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart.