Reading the Bible as a Coherent Story, but Not Too Much

Most heresies arise from someone “reading the Bible alone in his closet.”

It is important to read the Bible as a coherent story–but not too much. We must allow its continuities and its discontinuities to press themselves into those parts of our understanding where we are immature, where we are easily deceived, and where we have cultural and sinful blind spots.


Growing up as a new Christian, I learned a lot in a short period of time. Most of which I learned from reading the Bible. Seriously. Just reading it.

But, Bible reading alone is not enough to make a Christian. On the contrary, the proverb is true: most heresies arise from someone “reading the Bible alone in his closet.” Reflecting on that period, I realize that I too developed some theological wrinkles that would later need to be worked out in the context of the leadership of Christ’s church. In short, I had a lot to learn.

Like me, far too many Christians, generally, and American Christians, in particular, assume that wisdom begins with them, here, now, in the 21st century; and that we alone have inherited the key to knowledge when it comes to the sacred truths of Scripture.

Today, I have read through the Bible more times than I can count. Because I had the habit early on of reading through the Bible in a year (Old Testament once, New Testament twice) I know the story pretty well. In spite of this, however, I make a point to consult the ancient commentaries when I preach or teach on almost any passage of the Bible, as a discipline and a check against modern tendencies to arrogance and pride (and my own spiritual myopia).

(Interestingly, it never ceases to amaze me how much we can learn from these ancients interpreters. As a case in point, it is not infrequent to find the Fathers seeing scriptural warnings against the dangers of wealth. All too frequently, modern commentators will miss such warnings.)

Back to my point: most of what I learned as a new Christian I learned from reading the Bible. I started out with a Ryrie Study Bible. That was a great education in and of itself. However, I learned pretty quickly that that godly theologian didn’t always answer, or address, the questions that I felt the text itself was raising. So I kept him on the shelf from that time on: like a friend whom I consulted from time to time, but in my daily reading, sticking simply to reading the unadorned Word.

What I was learning then I couldn’t have put into words. But it was something like this: I had a growing realization that the Bible’s sixty six books seemed to hang together in some kind of grand coherency. Despite the fact that it was written in three languages, over the course of twenty centuries or more, by dozens of different authors, there seemed to be a single, central theme or message. That message came to my heart at that time as follows: God is working out His purposes in the world.

I call this the coherency of Scripture, and many have written about the formal study of the grand story of the Bible, a study sometimes called Biblical theology.

Continue the article here: Reading the Bible as a Coherent Story, but Not Too Much.