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Scripture Reading

The only possible foundation for the Christian's faith and the only guide far his conduct is the Bible, and it is self-evident that he should read and study it regularly. Yet there are people who call themselves Christians who are very ignorant of the Bible, including some who profess that they belong to the Lord Jesus but seem to rely on some 'experience' which they have had, and show little desire to know mare about the basis of their faith. Such believers do not grow into spiritual maturity and, moreover, can be very easily led astray by false teachings.

The Lord Jesus said, "If a man love Me, he will keep My ward" (John 14:23), and we can only find His words in the Scriptures. We may be troubled by the many interpretations put upon the Scriptures but the Lord Jesus also said: "If any man willeth to do His (God's) will, he shall know of the teaching" (John 7.17).

Of course, it is possible to study the Bible diligently and yet not to come to a living faith in Christ. The Lord said to the Pharisees, "Ye search the Scriptures, because ye think that in them ye have eternal life; and these are they which bear witness of Me; and ye will not come to Me, that ye may have life" (John 5:39,40). There is a painting showing the Boy Jesus in the Temple asking and answering questions of the rabbis and the aged rabbi who holds the scroll of the Law is obviously blind. They knew the words of Scripture so well but preconceived ideas and prejudices prevented them from seeing their fulfilment in Jesus of Nazareth. Today, many in the 'liberal' theological colleges approach the Bible in a critical and unbelieving spirit and do not find life there.

Scripture reading will follow different patterns. There should be the devotional reading of very well-known passages bringing to remembrance the Person and work of the Lord. Private reading of this kind provides a good preparation before coming to the Breaking of Bread. The closing chapters of the Gospels, Philippians 2, Colossians 1, Psalms 22, 24 and 100, Isaiah 53,

Revelation 4 and 5, are passages which come to the mind of the writer, and the reader will think of others.

We need to study the basis of our faith, tracing the great doctrines thr9ugh the Scriptures. We need to know the Scriptures, so that we are "ready always to give answer to every man that asketh you a reason concerning the hope that is in you, yet with meekness and fear" (1 Pet. 3:15).

We need to come to the Scriptures for they give very practical instruction as well as dealing with profound mysteries and, indeed, these are closely linked in many passages Philippians 2 and 2 Corinthians chapter 8 and verse 9 are examples which come to mind.

Can we put in a plea for family Bible reading? In past days, when working hours were longer and leisure time less, the family reading and prayer was a usual practice but nowadays it seems less common. It is one of the practices which can help to keep the family together and bridge the gap between parents and children which widens so easily today.

We consider now the public reading of the Scriptures. There is a graphic account of such a reading in Nehemiah chapter 8. Before the introduction of printing, books were very costly and bulky and the ordinary Israelite had no chance of possessing a personal copy of the Scriptures. How privileged are we by comparison! It was, therefore, a great occasion when those who had returned from Babylon gathered to hear the reading of the Word of God. Very reverently they stood up when the Book was opened and then listened attentively for several hours. Because the people were, it seems, no longer fully conversant with Hebrew, an explanation was given by the Levites, for it was so important that the people should understand the Word.

In the first century, much time must have been spent in the meetings of the churches recounting the words of the Lord and incidents in His life, since there were no Gospels to turn to. In later centuries, when Bibles were still scarce and many people illiterate, public reading of the Scriptures was of great importance and the Reformers gave it a prominent place. These conditions no longer prevail, in the more developed countries at least, but we would suggest that the public reading of the Word is still of great importance. We have heard speakers apologising for fairly lengthy readings, but a clear, accurate and expressive reading is a valuable ministry in itself.

Most of us will have read the Bible in a translation. We have not the time, or perhaps the type of mind, required to master Hebrew and Greek. It is necessary also to realize that a very thorough study of an ancient language is necessary before one is in a position to understand the shades of meaning in the original words and phrases.

What English version of the Scriptures shall we use in our reading? This article is not the place in which to discuss critically the various versions, even if the writer were competent to do so, but perhaps a few remarks may be of use. The English-speaking peoples have been especially blessed in the quality of the translations available to them. It is a remarkable tribute to Tyndale that his translation, undertaken under such difficult conditions and fierce persecution, had such an influence on subsequent translations, including the Authorised (or King James') Version of 1611, still the translation in most common use. Its fine English contains many words and phrases which are either not used in our modern language or have quite changed their meaning, thereby making some passages difficult to understand and also tending to encourage unbelievers in their view that the Bible is an obsolete book.

A revision was published in 1881. This was undertaken because many more manuscripts, some of them older than those known in 1611, had become available and much scholarship had been devoted to revising the Hebrew and Greek texts. The language of 1611 was retained, including some obsolete and misleading words such as 'candlestick' for 'Lampstand'. The revisers tried to be consistent by translating a single word in the original by one English ward where this was appropriate whereas the translators of the A.V. had deliberately varied the English words used, so enriching the English but unfortunately in some places sacrificing clarity or accuracy.

The present Churches of God were being formed a few years after the R.V. appeared and it was agreed to use that version, since it conveys the meaning of the original with greater precision than does the A.V.

During the present century many English translations have been published with the object of providing the reader with a more easily understood text than the older versions. These are undoubtedly easier to read and a few are written in a reverent style but they are without exception less accurate, owing to the freer method of translation now in vogue. Another common defect is their preference for textual variations which gloss over the vital doctrine of the Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ.

We suggest that the R.V. is still the best version for serious study but others such as the R.S.V., if used with discretion, can be helpful and may provide a fresh view of some passages.

The study of the Scriptures can be assisted by some other books but we must beware of reading these instead of the Bible. A concordance is, of course, very useful, especially the massive concordances compiled by Dr Young and by Dr Strong. These not only give all the occurrences in the A.V. of each English ward but tell us from what Hebrew or Greek word it has been translated.

Bible dictionaries are useful as they give background information on places and people and contemporary history. Commentaries are also useful but in doctrinal matters it is very necessary to test the commentary by the Scriptures. Commentaries on the Epistles by John Miller (published by Needed Truth Publishing Office) are very helpful.

However, many believers have mined much 'gold' from the Scriptures without any 'helps' at all. Some, indeed, have only been able to read with difficulty. It is the attitude of heart and mind that matters. If we say, like young Samuel: "Speak; for Thy servant heareth", the Holy Spirit will make the Bible a living ward from God to us.