Chapter 5 --- Not By Piecemeal
Simply Read The Bible Start to Finish
If you look on the Internet, typically you are given a wide selection of methods to study the Bible. There is the chapter study method, the biographical method, the topical method, the book background method, the book synthesis method, etc. (For an example, see this link.)
These are all methodologies built upon piecemeal analysis. It may have a place later. But for those wondering how to start to study the Bible, this is clearly the wrong starting point. It even causes you to overlook the greatest proofs of the Bible’s inspiration, as explained below.
Unfortunately, few, if any, ‘how to’ authors ever insist strongly that you should study the Bible by initially reading it cover-to-cover. How would you read any other book? From sections at the end of the book? Or in the middle? If you would not do so with other books, why would you choose to do topical studies of the Bible that cut up snippets from disjointed topic-relevant verses? Or begin in the middle or at the end? If piecemeal analysis fails studying any other book, why would you ever think it will work here as a starting point for analysis of the Bible?
Learn from some secular wisdom (common sense) in this respect. When you wish to grasp any book of some complexity, what you do at minimum is skim from start to finish before going back over it with more care. Esther Lombardi explains in “How To Read a Difficult Book,” at About.com:
Don’t let the book discourage you. Read the entire book, so you’ll get a sense of what the book is about: who the characters are, what is happening, what some of the themes or contexts may be, etc. This technique is sometimes called ‘skimming,’ but make sure you read as much as possible. The idea is to get a sense of what the book is about and what the author is trying to accomplish with the work; so when you go back and re-read the material, it won’t be as difficult.
This is a skill I use as a lawyer too. Anytime I read a legal opinion of any difficulty, I skim it first quickly from start to finish. Then I bore in on difficult holdings and statements. I go back and re-read, making sure of the context, until I have a complete grasp of the legal holdings that I wish to cite in my client’s case.
But if I start and take a quote out-of-context, I am liable to err. I have done that, and been burned. I have learned by experience that you never can do that. You can’t study a decision in piece-meal.
For the same reason, piecemeal methods of study are an improper grounding method to study the Bible.
A Spiritual Benefit From A Full Overview First
In fact, let me share one spiritual benefit of this excercise of reading the entire Bible first. One of the amazing proofs of the Bible’s validity as God’s word is that from the beginning all the way to Jesus, it sounds like it comes from one voice even though there are dozens of independent authors. The Torah, Prophets and Jesus’ words all weave together in a logical well-fitted tapestry. How could this be unless there was a divine origin? Thus, if you study the Bible piecemeal, you lose out on its greatest proof of its validity as God’s word.
In fact, the flaw of the piecemeal approach is that it asks you to assume this is God’s word without any effort to convince you rationally that it indeed is God’s word. A cover-to-cover start is the best way to convince the rational mind that here indeed is the word of God.
But why then does the piecemeal approach dominate?
Perhaps because the ones teaching you down deep only have a faith it is God’s word, but do not truly believe it is God’s word. Many of those in the Christian church who teach think there is a way of accepting something as true — which they call faith — but which at the same time they freely admit the mind cannot give rational assent. They, however, have a flawed understanding of faith that the Bible intends to bring about.
The entire premise of God revealing Himself through written words is an appeal to reason. By giving us an amazing text whose validity as God’s word can be rationally proven, just like examining the stars reveals a (miraculous) origination point which science calls the Big Bang, the study of the Bible contains its own proof of a divine origin. Hence, if in the Bible we find truly God’s word, as I most sincerely believe is present, then we must allow God to convince us by reading His book in the order He revealed it. Indeed, that is its best proof for its divine origin: its cohesiveness despite the many different human contributors.