“Don’t let the Bible become just another textbook.”


“Sacred reading” is vital—literally—in order to ensure that our Bible study is life-giving. When studying the Bible, we all too easily forget to read it and especially to hear it, as the Bible itself exhorts us in the words of the Shema, “Hear, O Israel” (Deut 6:4).

In principle, all of our reading and studying of Scripture should be sacred reading. While much of Bible study focuses on what the passage meant in its original context, sacred reading focuses more on what it means to the people of God today. In sacred reading, we listen to God’s present voice through voices from the past. Sacred reading—or lectio divina, as it has been called in church tradition—has a biblical basis.


How to Do “Sacred Reading”

  1. Reading (lectio)—Reading the text. Listen to the Scripture as you read it aloud several times over. What does the biblical text say? Our first act of interpretation should be reading the passage aloud in a way that is appropriate to its contents and literary form (e.g., narrative dialogue, command, lament). At the same time, we must “hear” what we ourselves are reading: Hearing is fundamental to our reception of the Scriptures. We who live in literate cultures have forgotten the skill of listening to the voice of Scripture.
  2. Meditation (meditatio)—Thinking about the text. What did, and what does, the biblical text mean?
    1. Enter imaginatively into the living, breathing world of the text and have a look around. Deliberately step beyond the words on the page into the scene painted by those words.
    2. How are God, the people of God, and outsiders characterized or portrayed?
    3. How does the passage read differently through its expanding circles of context: within its biblical book, the Old Testament, the New Testament, other passages of the same literary genre, other passages of the same historical period, etc.?
    4. What parallels of situation and character types does this passage have with our contemporary world? What differences? How does the passage match our modern-day expectations? What surprises does it offer?
    5. What existential and experiential issues and questions are raised?
    6. Ask yourself: Do I genuinely believe what I have read? How do I feel about this passage?
    7. Using the checks and balances of interpretation, ask yourself: How do my subjective impressions square with the plain meaning of the literary text and with my faith tradition?
  3. Prayer (oratio)—Praying to God about the text. What can I say to God in response to this text?
    1.  Narrate to God your own discoveries about the passage, elucidated by your earlier questions.
    2. Ask God questions about the passage, and petition God for understanding and for a heart that is willing to listen.
    3. Ask God for insight into how this passage should apply to believers today and to situations in our contemporary world.
    4. Offer your own confession, prayer, intercession, thanksgiving or praise in response to the passage.
  4. Contemplation (contemplatio)—Listening to God. What is God saying to his people through this passage? We allow God’s Word to change us from within. One of the key differences in sacred reading is that we hear Scripture in the context of relationship with God—as a personal (though not always private or intimate), living communication. We are not merely reading and studying literary art, an ancient document, or a historical and religious artifact. It is not merely text; it is speech.
  5. Action (actio)—Acting in thought and deed. How will I change my thinking and my behavior today in response to hearing this text? Sacred reading is meant to affect our daily life and work in the world. At the end of his last sermon in the book of Deuteronomy, Moses presents a fine summary of the practice of sacred reading or more accurately, sacred confession and action:

Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?’ No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe (Deut 30:11–14).


The Word of God is more than a good book in our hands (the habit of the literate culture); it is meant to be expressed as a word in our mouth (the forgotten habit of an ancient, oral culture). It should be incorporated into our heartfelt motives, and be incarnated into our actions. It is in doing the will of God that we discover that the Bible’s teaching originates from God (e.g., John 7:17).


The above notes were taken from the book, "When the Bible Is Complicated" written by Craig C. Broyles