We’re about to start a new year. If you read the Bible through each year, you’re about to start over with Genesis. Then comes Exodus. Then Leviticus. You know, you don’t have to cringe when you read the word “Leviticus.” God doesn’t want you to cringe. He wants you to read with joy.
Learning to read Scripture to the best of your ability is a life-long goal. As you grow in that ability, here are a few basic helps.
Tip One: Check the Address
Read the OT like it was written for you.
Now I don’t mean that you’re the focus of the Bible. I mean that you should read it as an intended recipient. After all, that’s what the NT teaches you to do.
For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.1
For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop. 2
Okay, you say, but Paul could simply be speaking to his contemporaries! Two other passages, however, make the point crystal clear.
But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. 3
Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did….Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. 4
We also are those who “believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord.” And if those in Paul’s day were the ones “on whom the end of the ages had come,” we certainly must be as well.
Notice, Paul is not saying we should apply the OT words. He’s saying they were written for us. The church community was not an afterthought, but an intended recipient.
Tip Two: Connect the Dots
Read the OT as part of one connected story.
If you do not connect the dots, you will inevitably end up simply moralizing the Scriptures. Moral lessons aren’t bad. But they’re not distinctly Christian.
The world thinks religion is just about learning to be a “better person.” If you fail to connect the dots, you will inevitably end up filling that bill.
Further, Christ expected his disciples to see the arc of Scripture.
And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. 5
You cannot connect the dots properly without tip three.
Tip Three: Observe Christ
Read the OT with Christ in full focus.
How do you properly observe Christ in the OT? Let me suggest a starting point with three questions.
- How does this passage anticipate Christ?
- How did Christ perfectly obey this text?
- How does this passage picture Christ (or the gospel story)?
Let’s take the book of Jonah as an example. Here are some brief meditations for each question above.
- Anticipate: Christ is the consummate prophet. Where Jonah rebels and refuses to deliver his message, Christ came to reveal the Father. He doesn’t simply speak the revelation of a prophet, he himself is the consummate revelation of God. Indeed, in the face of Jesus Christ we see the glory of God! Jonah teaches us to anticipate—to long for—the perfect prophet of God.
- Obey: Jonah resisted God’s will, Jesus submitted to it. The Ninevites repented, but returned to their own ways within a few years. Jesus submitted to John’s baptism and was crushed by God’s wrath for sins he did not commit.
- Picture: Jonah pictures Christ by comparison. For instance, both were prophets, both ministered to Gentiles, and both were dead (or in Jonah’s case maybe considered dead) for three days before being raised up. Jonah also contrasts with Christ. Jonah ran while Christ spoke all the words God gave him (John 17:8, 14), Jonah asked others to kill him so he could avoid God’s will while Christ let others kill him to obey God’s will, and Jonah sorrowed over those who repented while Christ sorrowed for those who would not repent.6
C.S. Lewis strikingly portrays spiritual growth in his Narnian novel, Prince Caspian. Late at night, Lucy wakes and hears her name called. She slowly moves through the trees and they suddenly become alive. She nearly hovers through the forest for the joy she feels until she arrives at a clearing. Lewis writes,
A circle of grass, smooth as a lawn, met her eyes, with dark tress dancing all around it. And then—oh joy! For he was there: the huge Lion, shining white in the moonlight.
She rushes to him with unmatched joy and throws herself around him. “Aslan, Aslan. Dear Aslan,” sobbed Lucy. “At last.”
As she sits before him, he speaks to her.
“Welcome, child,” he said.
“Aslan,” said Lucy, “you’re bigger.”
“That is because you are older, little one,” answered he.
“Not because you are?”
“I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”
As you learn to see Christ, your capacity to see increases. Expanded souls see more of Christ and see Christ as more.
May we read the Bible as Christians this year.7
- Romans 15:4 ↩︎
- 1 Corinthians 9:9–10 ↩︎
- Romans 4:23–25 ↩︎
- 1 Corinthians 10:6, 11 ↩︎
- Luke 24:25–27 ↩︎
- “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem…how often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! (Matthew 23:37) ↩︎
- For more in-depth study on reading the Bible, see one of the following resources: How to Read the Bible for All it’s Worth, The Word Made Fresh, Old Testament Exegesis, or Invitation to Biblical Interpretation ↩︎