(This is the third of three posts on How To Read the Bible.)
In this short series, we’ve looked at how to read the Bible superficially and how to read it for familiarity, based loosely on Mortimer Adler’s book called How To Read A Book. There are different ways to read a book and there are different ways to read the Bible – the Book of books.
Reading the Bible for mastery is precisely what it sounds like – reading in order to master its contents. When we master a subject (whether it be Civil War history, another language, gardening, sports trivia, computer code, or Lithuanian literature), we know it. We know it well and we’re able to share that knowledge with others.
When we make it our aim to know the Bible, or at least one of the books of the Bible, like that, we’ve mastered it. We know it well and can share it with others. This is the most intense level of the three. Reading the Bible in order to master it is more difficult and time-consuming than reading it for superficiality or familiarity. Reading the Bible for mastery is reading with a laser beam, not with high-beams.
There are two keys to mastering the Bible – reading repetitively and reading carefully.
In order to master the Bible, we have to read it. Then read it again. And again. And again. Repeatedly read the Bible, in other words. One of the best ways to put this into practice is to read one book of the Bible over and over again. James Gray recommends reading a particular book of the Bible – in one sitting – until you’ve mastered it. John Mac Arthur has modified Gray’s method by saying that a book of the Bible should be read every day for thirty days. John Mitchell, founder of Multnomah University, recommended reading a book straight through fifty times in order to master it. If you have a case of “sticker shock,” it’s understandable, but the book of First Peter can be read through in no more than twenty minutes (it’s only five chapters long). Reading the same book over and over again gives you a familiarity, and ultimately mastery, that you won’t get if you read it in small sections or single verses at a time.
The first step to implementing this is to choose a book that lends itself to being read in a single sitting. Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, First John, Ruth, Jonah, First Thessalonians, or Galatians. Longer books can read in the same way, either in one sitting (the Gospel of John takes approximately 90 minutes to read), or broken up into smaller chunks (John 1-5, 6-10, 11-15, 16-21 for example). The second step is simple – read it over and over again. Read it repeatedly.
In order to master the Bible, we have to read it carefully. When you read the Bible, pay careful attention to it. This might involve taking notes and writing out your reflections, thoughts, and questions. You might make an outline of the book you’re reading and studying. Look for the purpose of the book and then it’s structure. Find the flow of thought and logical argument of the book. Ask questions such as who wrote it, to whom was it written, and what were the circumstances of the writing? What does the book teach about God the Father, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, man, salvation, the church, or the end times. Make sure to think about how you can apply what you’re studying, too.
If you read repetitively and carefully, you’ll master the contents of the Bible.
There are two things we need to remember: we can master the contents of the Bible, but the ultimate goal is for the Bible to master us; and the point isn’t to become a Bible trivia expert, but rather to know the true and the living God.