Posted On February 23, 2018

Ryle, Reading, and Reverberation

by | Feb 23, 2018 | Theology

Reading the Bible consistently and expectantly at the same time can be a bit challenging. We often find ourselves doing one or the other, depending on where we’re at. I can read the narrative of Genesis pretty consistently (which I’m doing right now, actually), because I want to know what’s up next or just enjoy the storyline.

Reading it expectantly (that is, reading it expecting God to use it in my life today), that’s a different animal, my friend. “The Table of the Nations”, Jacob’s engagements to Leah and Rachel, and Joseph’s brothers selling him into slavery can be kind of difficult to relate to. There simply aren’t many “commands” that I can immediately take and apply. I have to find principles in these texts that are rooted in a sound hermeneutical approach.

Ryle on Reading

J.C. Ryle helps us with these texts. Ryle was a Reformed writer and pastor who was dubbed by his contemporaries as “a man of granite with the heart of a child.” Some of his most popular works include Practical Religion, Christian Leaders of the Eighteenth Century (1869), Expository Thoughts on the Gospels (7 vols, 1856–69), and Principles for Churchmen (1884).

Here are Ryle’s 7 tips when reading the Bible [1]:

1) Read the Bible with an earnest desire to understand it.

2) Read the Scriptures with a simple, childlike faith and humility.

3) Read the Word with a spirit of obedience and self-application.

4) Read the Holy Scriptures every day.

5) Read the whole Bible and read it in an orderly way.

6) Read the Word of God fairly and honestly.

7) Read the Bible with Christ constantly in view.

These are wonderful principles to remember when we come to the Bible. In light of these, here are some of my own thoughts regarding personal Bible reading and study.

Devotional Bible Readings

This is the unique challenge in Bible reading — it is, in fact, a very old book. Even if God allowed us to allegorize the whole thing (He doesn’t), it would still be challenging to take and use.

Our task is to study to show ourselves approved by God and to rightly divide the Word of truth. So we read, and read, and read some more. Click To Tweet

Our task is to study to show ourselves approved by God and to rightly divide the Word of truth. So we read, and read, and read some more. Bible reading plans are important, particularly those that put you in a few different areas of the Bible at once. These plans familiarize us with areas of the Bible other than the New Testament Epistles, which is critical. The Gospels and the Epistles lean heavily on Old Testament revelation. So, I start in Genesis 1, Joshua 1, Ezra 1, Psalm 1, Isaiah 1, Matthew 1, and Romans 1 every year. That’s seven chapters per day, and, because I’m all over the Bible, I get exposed to multiple genres every time I sit down. I also feel like I’m making legitimate progress through Scripture.

Because of time, I don’t actually sit down and do hardcore exegesis through these readings. This is my devotional time with the Lord in the morning. If there is a section I find particularly difficult to understand, I’ll grab a commentary to find out what on earth is going on. Most of the time, however, I rely on prior knowledge of the big storyline of Scripture and where these specific accounts fit in. That’s where reading big picture Theologies comes in, like this one and this one and this one and this one. In every instance, however, the plain sense makes the most sense, and sound hermeneutics act like guideposts while I read.

As is the case with hardcore bible study, “Context is King.”

Hardcore Bible Study

We take a literal, grammatical, historical approach to Bible study, so there are some difficult bridges to cross in order to understand and apply it correctly. When it comes to hardcore Bible study, that is, verse by verse exposition, we have to have a certain understanding of geography, history, the original languages, grammatical relationships, genre, and the cultural background of a text.

After we do our homework with commentaries, dictionaries, cultural background dictionaries, and lexicons, we must, as best we can, arrive at the original application that the author intended for his readers to hear. Then and only then can we find the principle of the text and seek specific application for ourselves.

We shouldn't just read the Bible devotionally. We should also study the Bible with depth, eager to synthesize it with the rest of Scripture. Click To Tweet

As a dear brother in Christ often says, “The Bible never means what it never meant.”

We shouldn’t just read the Bible devotionally. We should also study the Bible with depth, eager to synthesize it with the rest of Scripture. The Reformers called this the analogia scriptura: the Bible fits together, and no Scripture contradicts another.

Why So Serious?

The reason we study and teach is so others can study and teach. It’s kind of simple. We work really hard to understand the Bible so we can help others do the same for somebody else. Our aim is to have spiritual grandchildren one day who far exceed our love and devotion to Christ. Our busy culture makes this process really difficult, but this just isn’t a good excuse — as much as I’d like it to be. Remember what Paul wrote to Timothy, “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.”

Our aim is to have spiritual grandchildren one day who far exceed our love and devotion to Christ. Click To Tweet

In other words, “Timothy, everything I’ve been telling you, take it and give it to someone else.”

[1] Practical Religion, “Bible Reading”, [Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1998], 131-33.

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  1. Jason Marianna

    This was good stuff, Justin.

    I appreciated your suggestions for daily study, and I thought the breaking down of the differences between devotional reading and hard core Bible study type reading was particularly useful. Thanks!


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