Is Reading the Bible Different from Reading Any Other Book?

The Bible is the world’s best-selling and most widely distributed book.  A Huffpost Survey indicates that 88% of respondents own a Bible, yet only 1 in 5 Americans read the Bible on a regular basis.  At one end of the spectrum are those who consider it alongside and equivalent to any other ancient text.  At the other end, it’s seen as a magical book that we can open anywhere and find immediate and personal guidance. Furthermore, multiple surveys reveal that biblical illiteracy is at an all time high (and growing!).  Has the Bible become the book that we revere . . .  but never open?

In Reading the Bible Supernaturally, John Piper addresses the way we handle Scripture, and like a physician, prescribes regular and hefty doses of Truth for the health of the human heart, for the heart contains a “template with a form that corresponds to the glory of God.”   With our hearts “packed hard with loves of other things,” it’s easy to live an entire life without ever seeing and savoring the glory of God.  Since God has, indeed, revealed His glory in His written Word, can we read words on a page and come away with spiritual transformation?  Is reading the Bible different from reading any other book, and, if it is, how and why?

A Different Purpose

Building a case over the course of several chapters, John Piper uses intense imagery and moves back and forth between the voices of “Dr. Piper” and “Pastor John” to argue that the ultimate goal of reading the Bible is this:

” . . .that God’s infinite worth and beauty would be exalted in the everlasting, white-hot worship of the blood-bought bride of Christ from every people, language, tribe, and nation.

He introduces each new implication by devoting a chapter to its unfolding, and then pauses for frequent review along the way.  The apostles Paul and John provide the foundation for the truth that it is possible for the glory of Christ to be put on display for 21st century believers by reading a text that was written by eye-witnesses — and, thereby, to share in the very same glory that they saw.  

First, the familiar words of John 20 (which give the purpose of the gospel) tie the written word to belief, and then, in his first letter, John affirms that his readers will see the glory of Christ “shining through the inspired writing.”

In addition, Paul, in Ephesians 3:3-8, essentially states, “When you read my words, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ.”

A Different Response

The point of all this seeing of glory is two-fold:

  1. God has provided His Word as a means for believers to grow in affection for God, to savor and to enjoy God.
  2. The intended outcome of this emotional response to truth is transformation into the image of Christ.

Jonathan Edwards was on to this centuries ago when he wrote:  “God is glorified not only by His glory’s being seen, but by its being rejoiced in.”  If you are hearing echoes of Piper’s signature statement that “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him,”  we’re on the same page!

A Supernatural Reading

Reading the Bible Supernaturally, then, is the only way to accomplish God’s purpose for the reader, for “God intends for us to read His Word in a way that involves actions and experiences of the human soul that are beyond ordinary human experience.  Seeing the glory of Jesus is not accomplished merely with our ordinary physical eyes, but with ‘the eyes of [our] hearts (Eph. 1:18).”  We depend upon God’s supernatural help because we are predisposed to spiritual blindness and bent on colluding with the enemy in our own deception and destruction.

It is this need for divine intervention that was behind Jesus’ accusation that the Pharisees (proud scholars of The Law, every one!) had “never read” the Scriptures!  Their eyes had certainly passed over the scrolls, and chances are they had memorized great chunks, but a supernatural reading (a right reading) of Scripture has not occurred until the essence has been absorbed and the heart has interacted with the substance of the message.

Fullest Use of Your Natural Powers

Without an open book, open eyes, the ability to make sense of grammatical structures, and the ability to intuit meaning from written words, there will be no reading.  Add to this the need for focused attention, a rested brain, adequate nutrition and exercise (and caffeine?) to aid in alertness, and the possibilities are endless, because — going back to our original question — the answer is Yes and No.  Reading the Bible is different from reading any other book because of the need for dependence on God to accomplish His spiritual purposes.  However, it is exactly like reading any other book in that it will not yield its contents from a remote spot on my nightstand or in my backpack — unopened.

The plain hard work of sitting oneself down in a chair for repetitive reading with a pen and an open book and a list of questions — only half answered — is the natural component of reading Scripture.   It is met with the supernatural work of God Who takes the natural birth process and incarnates a Messiah, and, therefore, is able to intervene and bring about spiritual enlightenment to a human heart.

“God gives the miracle and we act the miracle.”

For someone who has been reading the Bible her entire adult life, Reading the Bible Supernaturally offered truth that I already know but practice so imperfectly that it was important for me to hear it all again in a new way.  Those familiar with Piper’s writing will already know his acronym for the cooperation between God and humanity in spiritual formation (A.P.T.A.T.).  I had not stumbled upon I.O.U.S., but copied it into my journal as an important reminder that when I open the Bible, I am dependent upon supernatural help for the kind of seeing, savoring, and transformation that God desires for me:

I – Incline.  “Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain” (Ps. 119:36).
O – Open.  “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (Ps. 119:18).
U – Unite.  “Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name” (Ps. 86:11).
S – Satisfy. “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days” (Ps. 90:14).

God invites believers into an aggressive pursuit of Truth — and then stands by to assist.  When we open the pages of Scripture, there is more going on than meets the eye.  He “watches over [His] Word to perform it.”  He makes huge claims that the Word will accomplish His purpose and will not fail.  The natural act of reading the Bible supernaturally is a metaphor for the entire process of sanctification, a delightful paradox in which God inspires our work, enhances the impact, and radiates His glory as he accomplishes His purposes in the world.

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This book was provided by Crossway in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

CaptureReading the Bible Supernaturally is John Piper’s follow up to his 2016 work, A Peculiar Glory, in which he examines the concept that the Bible reveals its complete truthfulness by the shining forth of a self-authenticating, peculiar, divine glory.  It provides helpful background, but even more important, it helps to put on display the uniqueness of God’s Word as the means by which we see and savor the glory of God.  I reviewed the book last year when it came out, and you can read my thoughts and get an overview here.

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Michele Morin

Michele Morin is a teacher, blogger, reader, and gardener who finds joy in sitting at a table surrounded by women with open Bibles. She has been married to an unreasonably patient husband for over 25 years, and their four children are growing up at an alarming rate. Michele loves hot tea and well-crafted sentences, poems that stop her in her tracks and days at the ocean with the whole family. She laments biblical illiteracy and advocates for the prudent use of “little minutes.” She blogs at Living Our Days, and you can connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.

50 thoughts on “Is Reading the Bible Different from Reading Any Other Book?”

  1. “Reading the Bible is different from reading any other book because of the need for dependence on God to accomplish His spiritual purposes. However, it is exactly like reading any other book in that it will not yield its contents from a remote spot on my nightstand or in my backpack — unopened.” I think this is incredibly poignant. Reading the Bible is more active than reading for leisure in that it calls for analysis and attention like that of a scholarly work or one of history, but this attention goes a step further by requiring another level of awareness. Thank you for this recommendation and in-depth analysis!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This caught my eye, Michele –>’regular and hefty doses of Truth.’

    Regularly and a substantial portion. For me, that requires less wandering around online and a commitment to some kind of early morning time block.

    ‘Cause I really do want to spend focused 1-1 time with my Best Friend. Your review’s a gentle reminder to go there.

    Like right now.

    Like

  3. I have not read John Piper before and was wondering if his books are difficult to read. Meaning does he write at a level that challenges but perhaps is over your head. My older son likes John Piper and that is one of the impressions I got from him.

    I am always thankful for your reviews. I know I need to be a more committed member of the 1 out of 5 group who read the Bible. I am in a period right now where I am not in my Bible everyday. I feel challenged to change that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Piper goes deep, but his style is to keep circling back: here’s what I’m going to say; he says it; now, here’s what I said. And he helps his readers to keep seeing the big picture as they go. So, no, I don’t think of him as being difficult to read. What I hear when I read his books and listen to his sermons is a love for the Word and for the process of communicating to others. It’s very infectious.

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  4. Now I wish the book were in my hands, Michele! Thank God for the Holy Spirit who teaches us.
    Thanks my sweet friend for faithfully sharing your Book reviews.
    I know it’s been a while! Studies are winding down. Please put me in your prayers as I would be on the verge of submitting my final piece! Let favor be showered upon this project.
    God Bless..

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  5. Michele,
    I will have to remember I.O.U.S. – also I loved the reminder that a larger part of the purpose of reading and studying God’s Word is so that we can grow in affection and enjoyment of God. Sometimes I approach it SO seriously that I forget to just simply enjoy God and draw close in His love. My study of His Word always needs fine tuning….thanks!
    Blessings,
    Bev xx

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  6. Michele, this sounds like a fascinating book. It is easy to open the Bible and read without really ingesting the spiritual truths and meditating on all that God says about Himself and the world He has created. I often pray before I ever open His Word. Your post has shown me why it’s important to do this. 🙂 Inviting God to reveal Himself to me through His word is the only way I’ll get more out of that time I spend with Him. Thank you for sharing this!

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    1. Yes! I’ve used a one-year Bible several times. I have one that is chronological as well, and that was a fun and enlightening way to read. Thanks for sharing the importance of seeing the entire narrative arc of Scripture.

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  7. John Piper never misses with his experienced bold truth telling. Thanks for the great review. His theme reminds me of something I read by Esther Meeks: “Study God’s ways as the relationship unfolds, not so you can predict the future, but so that you will recognize God when He shows up. Expect to be surprised, but also expect, if you have attended to Him in love, to recognize Him. The Bible is the unfolding drama of the covenant relationship between God and his people. When you read it, you attend carefully so that you get to know God, so that you will know his signature moves, so that you will experience them in your own life.” I am currently reading her book, Longing to Know.

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    1. Sounds SOOOO good! Especially the idea of knowing God’s “signature moves.” This makes me want to spend plenty of time listening to His voice so that when He speaks, I will recognize the sound.

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  8. Yes! I am one that wants the eyes of my heart opened and enlightened! Thanks so much for sharing a couple tools to do just that. I had not heard of APTAT and IOUS but my nerdy brain loved the acronyms so much I had to copy and paste them in my quote journal.

    I just want to say that lately I’m discovering that almost every time I’ve focused on scripture I’ve managed to find a nugget God has hidden there for me. It’s not my efforts but it is my doing the work – reading, praying, asking for a Word, then doing a little digging to see if others have insight. Together all those things have been keeping me going in this season of uncertainty.

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    1. Oh, I’m always up for a good acronym. Nerds to the end, my friend! And thanks for sharing those thoughts on focus. So often, we go looking for truth in all the wrong places (for me, primarily inside my cobwebby brain), but if we ask God to incline our hearts to the truth, to open our eyes, to unite our heart (one purpose) and to satisfy us with his lovingkindness, we free Him to work in a way that I don’t think would otherwise be possible — we get in our own way!

      Like

  9. When I first read the title of this blog post, it brought to my remembrance something I have been experiencing so much lately and that is how alive and active His word is. I am currently doing a Bible Study on the book of Colossians where we were asked to read through the entire book, five days in a row. I was in awe at how many different insights became apparent to me with each new day’s reading and not only that, I had just read through Colossians in my own personal progression of reading the Bible during the fall and had entirely different insights that the Lord brought to my mind at that time.

    Indeed, it is to be read differently, in the power of the Holy Spirit to illuminate our hearts to all the treasure that lies within.

    John Piper is such an excellent writer. This book sounds like it will rival any of his other great works.

    Thanks for sharing this review.

    Like

  10. I’ve only learned of Dr. Piper in the past few years, so I’m thankful for this review. The IOUS really jumped out at me. It’s a precious reminder, in my mind, that God wants us to learn about Him. Stopping by from Suzie Eller’s linkup.

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  11. I’ve been reading the Bible all my adult life, too, but I always benefit from reading books about reading the Bible. I just saw recently a quote that many just read their favorite parts of the Bible, and that’s like reading just the first chapter of Moby Dick over and over and saying we know what it’s all about. The Bible is truly a supernatural book, and how we need the Holy Spirit teaching us as we read. Thanks for this review – I had not heard of this book.

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  12. Love your insights here! I’ve got this one on my TBR and I’m looking forward to reading it. Just hoping it comes out in paperback soon, as the hard copy is so expensive!

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  13. Thank you for the helpful review Michele! I really like the acronym you shared!! I have a soft spot for good books that teach, exhort, and remind how precious and unique the Word of God is. Taking God at His Word by Kevin DeYoung is a favorite of mine. I’m currently reviewing Word-Centered Church by Jonathon Leeman and enjoying it as well.

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  14. As a reading teacher, sometimes I have students partner read. It helps them to clarify and reach new depths of understanding. That’s how I tend to read Scripture, asking the Holy Spirit for clarity and understanding so I may apply it to my life, and/or give an accurate account of it in my writing. That’s the goal, but one that is sometimes not met.

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    1. I love the image of “partner reading” with the Spirit as our guide. I try to write down the observations He brings to mind so that when I come back to it the next day, I have a starting place. Thanks for sharing this great thought!

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  15. John Piper’s writings greatly influenced my walk with Christ several years ago when I first read Desiring God. I’ve since read it several times, along with Future Grace and other books of his. Thanks for sharing about this one. Looks like another very good book.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s good to hear! I know that I’ll be coming back to the book myself, simply because there is so much good content that warrants another look — and I’ll be referring to topics for teaching in the future.

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    1. Yes, John Piper has a real gift for communicating truth about the Bible, and also help for those who want to mine that truth for themselves. Do you ever check out his Look at the Book sessions?

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  16. I love John Piper’s books, and hadn’t heard of this one – definitely going to check it out! I also knew about the IOUS pre-reading prayer acronym and am planning to write a post on it. Thank you for your thorough reflections on the power of Scripture!

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  17. This sounds like a great book Michelle – thanks for sharing your wonderful review at The Book Nook at Create With Joy! We cannot understand the Bible without the Spirit of God to guide us. Without Him, the wisdom of God remains foolishness to us.

    Not only that, but the more time I have spent in God’s Word, the deeper an appreciation and a greater understanding I have had for authors and pastors such as Edwards, Piper, and other greats of both today and yesteryear!

    Have a blessed weekend. See you at Inspire Me Monday! 🙂

    Like

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