The Right Way to Read the Bible by Martyn Lloyd Jones
All the passages below are taken from Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book “Expository Sermons on 2 Peter.” The sermons were preached at Westminister Chapel, London, from October 1946 to March 1947. It was originally printed in 1948-1950. The current publication is in 1999.
What then is the right way of reading the Scriptures? Let me give you the headings as they are suggested by the Apostle’s teaching. The first thing is the Scriptures must always be read carefully and studiously. We must never read them hurriedly, we must never rush our reading of the Scriptures and we must never jump to conclusions. There is nothing more fatal than just to open your Bible and look at a verse, or to extract a verse here and there out of its context—the Scriptures must be read through carefully and studiously. Shall I be misunderstood if I say that the most dangerous Book in the world is the Bible, because it is the Word of God, because it is the greatest Book, because it is a Divine Book, because if we misread it we can, as Peter says, wrest it to our own destruction. Therefore, I say, let us approach the Scriptures carefully and studiously.
The second point is, we must read it as a whole. We must not just read a portion here and there, or a particular section that may happen to appeal to us. At a time like this, especially, nothing is so important as to read the whole Bible. The danger is that people should say, `Well, I am feeling tired and depressed and things are rather difficult. The Psalms are very comforting; they seem to understand me.’ So they turn to the Psalms, or to a certain favourite passage in the New Testament. But I say, read the whole Bible, go through the history, read the law, read the Prophets, see its ultimate outcome—read the whole Bible and not just favourite parts.
Then, thirdly, we must read the Bible with fairness and with an open mind. In other words we must not read the Bible just to conform our own ideas and support our own theories. We cannot enter into this now, but this is what Peter has in mind, and this is what Paul has in mind when he corrects this tendency—the danger of coming to the Scriptures with your own ideas and theories. Read the whole of the New Testament; do not read it with a theory in your mind. I need not tell you of the many ways in which that is being done today. Think of the many theories that are current; look at the strange doctrines that are current, look at the cults that are round and about us, look at the notions that some people harbour about our own nation and country. And the trouble is that they tend to see these things everywhere in the Bible. That is what I mean by going to the Bible, with a theory instead of with an open mind, and then, instead of reading the Bible and allowing it to speak to you, you are just looking for a confirmation of your own theories and ideas. That is one way of wresting the Scriptures to your own destruction. In other words we must come with an open mind, and if we do not understand we must say so, and we must be content not to have a perfect theory. We must say there are certain points in the Scriptures which we cannot fathom.
Further, we must turn to the Scriptures with a spirit of humility and with a readiness to learn. Now there is a glorious example of that in our text. Looked at in a purely personal way it is wonderful. Peter says, `Account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you.’ That is the spirit! What does it mean, You remember how we are told in the second chapter of the Epistle to the Galatians that Paul had to withstand Peter to the face. Peter at Antioch had gone astray; he had misunderstood the doctrine of justification, and he had told the Gentiles that they must in certain senses become Jews. And Paul had had to reprimand Peter. There he is, a great man in the Christian church, in a sense the leader, and yet this man Paul questions him and corrects him and puts him right. Now many of us in that situation would never have forgiven Paul for that, and we most certainly would not have recommended the people to read his Epistles. But this is how Peter put it, `Even as our beloved brother Paul also, according to the wisdom given unto him, hath written unto you.’ Here is a man who is humble, here is a man who has recognised that he was wrong and that Paul was right; he was prepared to listen and to learn—that is the spirit! We must go to the Book in that spirit of humility and with a readiness to listen and to learn. Though my pet theory may prove to be wrong it does not matter; I must go in that childlike manner; even as Peter listened to his beloved brother Paul.
In other words, finally, we must approach the Book in a prayerful manner. We must realise the greatness of its message, we must realise the feebleness of our own minds, we must realise our tendency to be governed by carnal, worldly, merely human thoughts. So I should never open this Book without praying, without humbling myself and asking God to give me understanding, and by the Holy Spirit to open my mind, to open my intellect, to open my heart. I must go to it with reverence, with a spirit of supplication that I may receive unction and knowledge from the Holy One. Why? Because this Word of God can be a dangerous word to me, for I might wrest it to my own destruction.
That then is the Apostle’s method of facing the tendency to fall and to falter and to wander away. That is the way to be steadfast, that is the way to be loyal and to be true, and to continue without faltering. Not just a little psychological encouragement, not just turning over the pages and feeling you are being entertained by reading the Scriptures and studying the doctrine, but doing so in this humble and reverent manner. If you do that, says Peter, all the taunts of the scoffers and all the heresies of the false teachers will leave you quite unaffected. The world may persecute and even threaten to kill you, but seeing these things, having a view of the glory that awaits you, you will be able to smile at it all and stand firm and continue steadfast in your most holy faith. Amen. [215-217]