Questions Friday: How do I read the Old Testament without getting bored?

Questions Friday: How do I read the Old Testament without getting bored? November 15, 2013

This afternoon’s question comes from r/christianity. A member writes:

I don’t read the OT often. In fact, the last time I read it was five years ago and I hit a wall around Exodus 25 – after the ten commandments and when it becomes about building things, “burnt offerings” and “aromas pleasing to the Lord.” It feels repetitive and, frankly, boring… I think the only sections I actually read were Psalms and a few of the shorter prophetic books… Do you have any tips for the …slower sections? Is there any kind of message or meaning or relevance for today I should be looking for? Is there a way I can make it more interesting or a way I can get more excited about reading it? Is my mind just in the wrong place?

– Slogging through the OT – tips? : Christianity.

I think this is a great question.

The Bible is filled with writing that spans centuries and is written to people who have very different concerns then we do (and much longer attention spans too). Keeping scripture interesting is hard work, particularly when you are trying to make it though long sections of genealogies, or understanding ritual practices without experiencing  the context they were actually used in. Here are my 10 tips on getting through the text without tuning out (or passing out)!

  1. Ask good questions before you start – Before you open the book think about what you’re going to be reading. come up with some questions that you will try to answer as you read. My two favorites are “why did this community think this was so important that they copied it down at great expense from generation to generation” and “how does this story relate to who Jesus is.”
  2. Read out loud – The scriptures were not read by most people throughout most of history. Until the age of the printing press a bible was so costly to produce it would have been as valuable as a house, and required the slaughter of an entire herd of sheep to produce enough parchment. Scripture was heard aloud! Try reading the scriptures out loud!
  3. Mix it up – If you hit a dull patch read something a little more interesting at the same time. You don’t need to read the scriptures cover to cover. Read from Leviticus one day and Judges the next. Alternating between what seems dull and what is entertaining can help you develop a discipline of scripture reading that is more enjoyable and consistent.
  4. Do your homework – If you are having trouble understanding why a passage is significant pick up a commentary that talks about it and learn more. Figure out the genre that is being used, and do some research on the historical context of the material. Each verse of the Bible has been studied and written about by brilliant minds over the last few millennia. Get in on the conversation that surrounds the text!
  5. Take notes – Keep a journal, a blog, or a notebook where you can record your thoughts on the passage you are reading. It will help keep you focused and will be an invaluable resource in years to come.
  6. Doodle – Sometimes scriptures paints pictures that are hard to keep track of. I find it helps to doodle these things. Whether you’re trying to keep track of priestly vestments or plotting the tactics in a battle a pad and paper can be a great tool to help build comprehension.
  7. Read intentionally – Know why you are reading before you start. Are you looking for spiritual inspiration or are you trying to understand authorial intent? Knowing why you are reading will help keep you on track once you finally hit the text.
  8. Read it in community – The bible takes on great power and meaning when it is read with others. try joining a bible study, reading group, or book club either in your church or online that is tackling a book in the Old Testament. Communities reading together often find new life and meaning in texts that would never have come out if one were to read all alone.
  9. Look for the takeaway – When you are reading a selection of text try to look for one thing that you can take away from the text. this might just be a word or a sentence that strikes you. Once you find the takeaway write it down and keep it with you for the rest of the day.
  10. Be creative – Nothing helps bring out depth and meaning in a text like using it as fuel for your own creative endeavors. try to use the text in a creative project. You could make it into a poem or song, you could take the words and make a collage out of them. The possibilities are endless. Creativity is powerful!

Do you struggle with reading parts of the Bible? What would you add to this list? Let me know in the comments below!

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