Studying the Scriptures:
A Necessary Discipline for Orthodox Christians
Everything written in the Scriptures was written to teach us in order that we might have hope through the patience and encouragement that the Scriptures give us. –Romans 15:4
The Holy Scriptures are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation. All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching the truth, rebuking error, correcting faults and giving instruction for living rightly. – 2 Timothy 3:15-16
The best way to find what is fitting for one’s life is to meditate upon the divinely inspired Scriptures. – St. Basil the Great (329-379AD)
Ignorance of the Scriptures is a great cliff and a deep abyss. Not knowing the Scriptures is the cause of all evils. Reading the Scriptures is like possessing a great treasure. A Christian cannot help but read the Scriptures. To be a Christian is to rejoice in the power of the Holy Spirit and the Spirit speaks to us through the Scriptures. – St. John Chrysostom (354-407AD)
Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ. – St. Jerome (347-420AD)
The holy occupation of the reading of the Scriptures is a light to the mind, a guide on the path and an inspiration during prayer. – St. Issac the Syrian (7th century AD)
The words of the Scriptures are written for us not simply to understand them but also to do them. – St. Hesychios of Jerusalem (4th century AD)
Tips for Reading the Bible
Tip 1: Always pray before you read the Bible that God will help you understand what you are reading in order to put His Word into practice in your daily life. One possible prayer to use is from the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom:
The Prayer before the Reading of the Gospel
Loving Master, shine the pure light of Your divine knowledge in our hearts. Open the eyes of our minds that we may understand the message of Your Holy Gospel. Instill in us reverence for Your blessed commandments, that having conquered our sinful desires, we may pursue a spiritual life, thinking and doing all those things that are pleasing to You. For You, O Christ our God, are the light of our souls and bodies and to You do we offer glory, together with Your Father who is without beginning and Your all-holy, good and life-giving Spirit now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.
Tip 2: Set aside a few minutes every day just for Bible reading –in the morning, afternoon, or before you go to bed—whenever is best for you. Don’t say you don’t have the time. You can make the time. Everybody, no matter how busy, can set aside 5 or 10 minutes each day in order to read the Scriptures.
Tip 3: Begin reading the Bible by reading those books that are easiest to understand. This means: in the New Testament, begin with the Gospel of Matthew and Luke, focusing on Christ, and then perhaps the First Letter of John. In the Old Testament, begin with the Book of Proverbs and then the Psalms. For first time readers it is generally not advisable to attempt to read the Bible straight through, starting at Genesis and ending with Revelation. Very few people who begin this way get much past the first half of Genesis.
Tip 4: Don’t read too much at one time. Concentrating on a few verses and what they mean is far better than skimming through a whole chapter superficially. But if the Bible is totally new to you, you might want to read through a whole book quickly just to get a sense of the whole and then go back and focus on smaller passages.
Tip 5: As you read the Bible, try to focus on what this passage means for us today and how we can actively apply the Bible’s teachings to our lives today. The Bible is not just a history book – it is the record of God’s Word addressed to each of us and our guide for Christian living!
Tip 6: Don’t worry about passages that seem strange to you or that you don’t understand. Ask God to help you to understand them in time. Every Scripture verse has to be understood in terms of its immediate context and in context of the entire Bible and the life of the Church as a whole. Always beware of people who quote a Bible verse in isolation and draw strange conclusions from it.
Tip 7: The Bible is the Book of the Church. It is the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, that provides the proper context for interpreting the Scriptures, not any one individual (including ourselves). Therefore, in any question of Biblical interpretation, we must seek to learn what the Church teaches about it by consulting the lives and writings of the saints, the texts of our liturgical services, the icons, etc. “First of all, you must understand this: no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation” (2 Peter 1:20)