By R.E. Olsen
Reading is an amazing activity. The author is not there to agree with or refute what you are thinking. You can read something over 3,000 years old. It was originally written in a language that no longer exists, within a culture that disappeared long ago, and yet you make an immediate connection to the author. You understand him through the word.
You are alone with some written material. You begin to read. You are deciding each moment what it says, what it does, and what it means. What is says is the mechanism of interpreting the marks on paper; what it does is how you react; its meaning is most complex of all. You must do all three at once when reading or you will not understand anything about the matter. Like riding a bike you must control speed, balance, and direction at all times or you will crash. You must decide what the text says, does and means simultaneously.
There are different ways to read. One is to lose yourself, forget where you are, forget even that you are reading; you are in the action, and you dread, rejoice, grieve, cry and laugh. Another way to read is to be aware of the author. Ask questions, who is the author, what did the author mean, what is the intent? Does he want me to laugh at what I just read? If so, what words and writing technique were used in the attempt to get me to laugh? What is the author’s purpose in making me laugh?
It is best to use the first technique with authors you trust and whose main desire is to entertain. The second technique should be used whenever someone wants you to take action (outside of reading): do they want you to buy something or vote for something? Keep in mind that some written materials can do both. Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol to entertain people, to sell books, to make money for himself as well as to engage his readers in making London a better place. He wanted people with the means to be generous to join in efforts to reform the “Poor Laws” of his day.
When trying to understand (as well as discuss) a written text, there are three ways it is generally done. First is to restate it. Second is to describe it. Third is to interpret it.
The Bible is written text. There is One Author and He meant one thing when He wrote it. We are to read and understand, to restate, describe and interpret the Word to humble the proud self-righteous sinner and to comfort those who are brokenhearted because of their sin.
2 Peter 1:20-21 (NIV) states:
“Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”
We need to diligently seek understanding and God will help us, as Philip did for the Ethiopian in Acts 8 (NIV):
26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” 27 So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means “queen of the Ethiopians”). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. 29 The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”
30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.
31 “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.
32 This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading:
“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth.
33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.”
34 The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?”
35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.
Here was a man who had traveled far to worship God, and was diligently reading His Word but did not understand. God took care of him. God will take care of you too. Read His book daily. Eat and drink the Word. Worship Him daily and in your prayers ask for meaning. He will unfold truth to you at the right time.