Asher Witmer

rediscovering Jesus

No, You Don’t Have to Read the Bible rediscovering God's intent for Scripture

*Authors note: When I first published this post, it caused a bit of confusion and received mixed feedback. To bring clarity on what I believe about the Bible, I wrote a follow-up post you can read here.

Do you have to read the Bible to know God?

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In a culture that worships science and information, relational dynamics will always be left out of the pursuit of Truth. If you can’t explain something in streamlined, logical ways, it must not be true. And relationships aren’t streamlined. They aren’t always logical. So, when it comes to faith, we prefer the chartable, black and white approach.

The only problem is true spirituality and faith in God are relational. Not intellectual.

Somewhere along the line, Christianity turned into doctrines, morals, a set of beliefs. Getting to Heaven was a matter of getting your belief system aligned with the right ideas.

Growing up, I was taught to read the Bible, know how many books it has and what their names were. As a part of our schooling, we memorized Scripture: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness…” For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword…”

With holy ambition and youthful ignorance, I dutifully set out to become the man of God everyone admired. And what do men of God do?

They read their Bibles, of course.

Every year they go through a Bible reading plan and read through it faster each year. They win sword drills and know the answers to all the Bible questions.

Then one day I discovered an emotion inside of me I wasn’t sure how to handle. All my Bible knowledge, all the verses I had memorized and packed into my head, had no effect on the situations I faced. I was beginning to feel disappointed, and none of the doctrines I had learned explained how to handle disappointment.

Especially, disappointment with God.

You see, to me the Bible had been an instruction manual for life. If I wanted friends, I should be friendly to others (Prov. 18:24). If I wanted to live long, I should obey my parents (Eph. 6:1-3).

But life began throwing situations at me I didn’t have nicely packed vaults of references for. And even when I did, they didn’t solve anything.

I read more scripture. I worked harder to stay on top of my memory work. I learned techniques for studying the Bible. But it all failed. It felt lifeless. Ritualistic.

Soon, I wondered if all the spiritual discipline was worth it. I had read the Bible cover-to-cover several times. And even though older people talked about still discovering new truths, I wasn’t seeing how the Bible solved any of my problems. Was I supposed to just keep reading this book through hoping one day something would click? How did I know this book didn’t just help me escape from the horror of this world and live a fantasy of “heaven” to come?

Is Christianity only a set of disciplines we do, formality we go through?

What I couldn’t get passed, however, was that even Jesus spoke of something more. To Him, faith in God gave life. He spoke of eternal life all the time, how it was the water that quenched our thirst.

And I had a thirst that wasn’t being quenched.

Modern Bible Reading

Our thinking mirrors the pattern of our media. It wasn’t until the print age that Christians began using God’s Word as a reference for knowledge instead of a relational interaction. The emphasis moved away from hearing and doing to studying and knowing. Holiness became defined by how much of the Bible you knew and how often you read it instead of how one with Christ you were.

Donald Miller put it this way,

“The modern view of Scripture originated in an age of industrial revolution when corporations were becoming more important than family (the husband, for the first time, left the home and joined Corporate America, building cars instead of families), and productivity was more important than relationships. How can God help me get what I want? was the idea, not Who is God, and how can I know Him?” (Searching For God Know What, Kindle location 2066)

Jesus warned against this kind of approach to the Bible in the book of John when He told the Jews they search the scriptures thinking that in them they find eternal life (see Jn. 5:39). He goes on to say they find life when they come to Him (see Jn. 5:40). Not when they are acquainted enough with the Torah.

You will not be made holy by memorizing more scripture.

A Word That Lives

In the beginning was the Word of God, and that Word was God. Jesus is the exact representation of God, the full embodiment of His Word (see John 1:1, 14; Heb. 1:3).

When John writes that we shall know the truth and the truth shall set us free, He is not saying that in being able to pass a seminary exam we will discover freedom in our life. Truth is Jesus. When we have a close relationship with Jesus, He sets us free from all our sin. Jesus, not sixty-six books, sets us free from a lifestyle bent on doing things differently than how God designed.

No, you don’t have to read the Bible to know God. If that was the case, how do you explain Paul’s conversion or Abraham’s faith?

If one needed to first read Scripture to understand who Jesus is, how did Muslims in Iraq know their dreams were about Him? If I need memorize verses to know what God wants me to do, how do I explain the nudge I felt to go and talk with my neighbor who later came to know Christ?

God is spirit, not just words. He is alive and active.

He can touch you and I as clearly and directly as we can touch a friend who wants nothing to do with us. And even when we want nothing to do with Him, when we are busy walking away from Him with our heads in the Bible or in the air, He moves towards us. He gently woos us to Himself.

Spirit Transformation

Eternal life comes when we know God the Father, and His Son Jesus Christ, relationally, not academically.

When we believe Jesus, and confess with our mouths that God has raised Him from the dead, God places the very spirit that raised Him up into our own hearts (see Ro. 8:11). He writes His Word on our hearts (see Ez. 36:26-27).

We are not transformed by packing our heads full of information, by getting our thinking aligned just right. We are transformed by God giving us His Spirit. His Word, the one that is alive and active, now dwells in our hearts when we have confessed our need for a Savior and believed Jesus is He.

We don’t need to cling to the Bible like someone visiting LA clings to a map of the city, as if at any moment we may miss our turn. His Word is within us, guiding us into all truth (see Jn. 16:12-15). And the deeper we know Christ, the deeper we know Truth.

No, You Don’t Have to Read Your Bible to Know God; But, Why Wouldn’t You?

Hundreds of generations have passed since Christ walked this earth. It didn’t take long before faith became an exercise instead of a way of life. Now that we are so far removed from the time of Christ, we especially find it difficult to walk in active, relational communion with God.

People are thirsty. Thirsty for a faith that goes beyond doctrines, a faith that’s authentic and felt.

Knowing God isn’t about reading the Bible; it’s about having an intimate relationship with Jesus. But if we truly desire to know Him, why wouldn’t we read the Bible?

After all, the Bible is His love letter to us. It tells the grand story He is writing. Next to putting His message into human flesh so we could see, hear, and feel Him, the most loving thing God did was put His message into writing so His Spirit could continue showing us deeper insights to His Truth, to His Word.

Therefore, one of the most meaningful responses to His love is to take the time to get to know what He wrote. As we read it, we get to know Jesus in a deeper way.

Eating the Bread of Life

Jesus referred to Himself as the bread of life. Eternal life, the kind we all are looking for, like when I was disappointed with what I knew of God, comes from knowing Jesus in a deeply experiential way. He said that happens when we eat His flesh and drink His blood (see Jn. 6:54).

What was He talking about? How can we eat Him?

The Jews wondered the same. He told them it is the Spirit who gives life and that the words He has spoken to them are spirit and life (see Jn. 6:63).

We eat His flesh and drink His blood, receiving eternal life through a spiritual transformation, when we believe the words that Jesus spoke. So, reading our Bible should not be about getting our thinking aligned just right, as if that’s how we get to heaven, but about listening and hearing what God says.

Whether we believe what He says or not determines whether we continue our relationship with Christ or turn Him down and move on with life.

Why Hearing Is Important

I find it interesting that when Mary came with her sons and wanted to see Jesus, but couldn’t because the crowd was too great, He acted as if He didn’t know them. Someone said, “Your mother and brothers are waiting for you.” He responded, “My mother and brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it” (see Luke 8:21).

I don’t think Jesus was renouncing His family. Rather, I think what He was saying is that being a child of God takes hearing His Word and then doing it.

By saying you don’t need to read the Bible to know God, I am not saying the Bible is irrelevant to a relationship with Christ. I am trying to go beyond the crippling belief that the Bible is the only way we know Him to helping us experience deeper, spirit transformation.

The kind Jesus gave people.

Old and New Truth

Jesus said it was important for Him to leave this earth so the Holy Spirit could come and teach us all things, and bring to our remembrance all that He said (see Jn. 14:25-26).

This means two things:

First, when Jesus says “all things,” he is saying there is more truth to come, more that Jesus didn’t say, more insights, expanded knowledge, deeper realities. Pastor Shane Hipps suggests, “Jesus is pointing us to a God who keeps communicating an ever-evolving message. That is why the Spirit is given.”

Second, when He says “the Spirit will remind you of everything I have said to you,” he is saying that what He said back then is still valid. Hipps goes on to say, “The teachings that went before aren’t nullified by the new. The old should be included or integrated into our expanded understanding. It may mean the old is understood in new ways, but it does not make it void, irrelevant, or untrue.” (Flickering Pixels, Kindle location 1532)

Knowing God is a relational interaction; not an intellectual one. And relationship with God happens at a spirit level because He is Spirit. We do not depend on the Bible for this spiritual relationship. But when it comes to knowing God, there is no better place to start than the book of letters He wrote explaining His design, His creation, and His plan for redemption.

I am coming to believe that one cannot be close to God and know Him fully without also being close to His Scriptures.

Today more than ever we need to be grounded in Truth. I do not believe that Truth is limited to the black and white of a leather-bound book, but it certainly includes and corresponds with it.

If we are not in God’s written word to the point where His spoken Word illuminates our hearts and minds, we begin cherishing other things above God. We begin reading His word and understanding him through the lens of our spirituality or sexuality, instead of understanding our spirituality and sexuality through the lens of His word and His design.

5 Simple Tips for Developing a Life-Giving Habit of Hearing God’s Word

Unfortunately, “being in” God’s Word is difficult. Especially, in the digital age. The Bible is a complex and profoundly deep book. Not only was it written thousands of years ago, it was written in another language. It takes patience and hard work to read and understand it.

That doesn’t bode well for those of us who were born since the birth of the Internet. Our attention spans are small, our imaginative ability depleted. And it takes time, attention, and imagination to understand the Bible.

We find it challenging to glean anything from the Bible not because it’s a meaningless discipline, but because we live in an age where we aren’t stretched to think abstractly.

I am grateful my parents taught me how to study and memorize Scripture. My own misunderstanding of the role of Scripture wasn’t their fault, and their faithful obedience to the Word of God is an inheritance beyond anything else I could ever want.

But how do we read and study the Bible without lifting it up to a pedestal God never intended for it?

Let me close by suggesting five tips I have discovered for developing a life-giving habit of hearing and listening to God through the Bible.

  1. Make time. Don’t just wait for a good time, make time to read. Set aside time when you can be quiet before the Lord. The point is not necessarily to read lot at one time, but to hear God’s Word and then do it.
  2. Pray as you read. Reading the Bible is about deepening your relationship with Jesus. Reading is one part, praying takes it even deeper. I have been more convinced of God’s existence through prayer than I have been through anything written in the Bible.
  3. Read small bites and meditate on it. Take a verse or two and roll it over in your mind and heart for a while. The point isn’t speed or amount; the point is hearing what God is saying.
  4. Read big chunks to grasp the over-arching story. Taking time to read large amounts in a short period can clarify the over-all story God is writing.
  5. Listen to audio Bible. We catch different parts when we listen instead of read. Holiness is not about reading the black and white of Scripture. It’s about becoming one with Christ. Hearing and doing. And sometimes we need to just listen quietly to the written (or in this case, spoken) words of God’s messengers.

Question: Do you agree that you do not need to read the Bible to know God? Do you agree that if you truly want to know Him, you would read the Bible? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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About Asher Witmer

I am a son of God, husband, father, and difference maker. I love helping people sort through hard questions they face and rediscover Jesus. I have written three eBooks dealing with church frustrations, and send out daily posts addressing faith, church and relationships.