How to read the Bible

In his 55th chapter, often heard at the Easter Vigil, Isaiah compares the Word of God to rain that makes the wheat grow. Just as the rain does not fall uselessly on a grain of wheat, neither should God’s Word fall uselessly on the human heart. As rain ultimately produces bread to feed hungry bodies, so the Word of the Lord nourishes hungry hearts. Reading the Bible, as it is meant to be read, involves both the sacred page and the heart of the listener. When the Scripture is read to us at liturgies, it is meant to form us deeply into the worshiping people of God. That people, says Paul, has become the Body of Christ.

1. Experience the Bible’s spiritual power.

When the Bible is read with faith and prayer, it rarely fails to communicate a sense of the Lord’s presence and spiritual power. The spiritual classic, “The Imitation of Christ,” tells us we should feed upon the Lord, both at the table of Scripture and the table of the Eucharist. When Jesus instructed the apostles to go out and evangelize, he advised them to say, “Shalom,” that is, “peace,” upon entering a house. The implication was that peace-giving power resides in the holy Word. When Jesus calls us to open the Bible, the first word coming forth is basically, “Peace be with you.” If your heart is open, you will experiences God’s peace.

2. Learn how to hear the Lord’s voice.

Read the Bible as though having a conversation with a friend. It may help you to read scripture out loud, so that your ears hear the words as well as your eyes seeing words. Reading must be understood much more as listening than turning a page. In any good conversation, there is speaking and listening. Your reading is your gracious listening to Christ. Your voice, forming the holy words is your prayer. If God has the courtesy of listening to our prayers, should we not have a similar attentiveness as we ponder the sacred words drenched with the Holy Spirit’s presence. It has been said, “Go over the text again and again until it seems to disappear — and the Lord himself appears.” Reading the Bible well involves both the sacred page and the heart of the reader — a conversation far more profitable than gossip or useless talking.

3. Read the Bible with enthusiasm for truth, love and a relationship with God.

Avoid reading Scripture as though it is a textbook that demands we read it frantically to prepare for some exam. Yes, it contains many fascinating ideas. Yes, it is filled with rules for living. Yes, it is worth making notes, underlining attractive thoughts, but it is not an updated textbook. St. Jerome, one of history’s greatest Bible scholars, reminds us that “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” Begin reading with trustful believing and you will feel God’s merciful love. Believe that you may understand. And never give up.

Norbertine Fr. McBride is a popular lecturer and author of more than 40 books.