Reading the Bible for Understanding and Not Just Information (quote)

One enemy of good reading is confusion about which mode of attention is appropriate to a given book. I am certain that this very confusion makes it almost impossible for anyone to read—genuinely to read—the Bible. In both the Hebrew and Christian Bibles, narrative and other more-or-less literary forms are dominant, which seems to call for a strategy of reading for understanding similar to what one might use in an encounter with, say, Homer; but these books’ status as sacred text suggests, to many modern readers anyway, that their purpose is to provide information about God and God’s relation to human beings. “Strip-mining” the Psalms, or the Song of Solomon, or even the more elevated discourses of the Gospel of John, “for relevant content” might not seem like a promising strategy, but many generations of pastors have pushed it pretty hard, as though the Bible were no more than an awkwardly coded advice manual.

Alan Jacobs, The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction (Oxford University Press, 2011), p. 99.




  1. Dwight Gingrich says

    Hear, hear!! How often I need to remember the basics: The Bible was written FOR me but not TO me… Ask not merely “WHAT does this mean?” but more pointedly “WHY did the author include this?”… Read, read, and read again (and memorize whole books if possible) to get the big picture…

    I’ve concluded that a big reason God sent me to be a English Lit major is not so I could be a drop-out high school teacher (which I am :-)) but so that I could learn a little more about reading.

    God bless your blog-work!


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