The Bible Doesn’t Come with Instructions. But We Still Need Guidance to Handle It Well.

Michael Bird offers a trusty primer on reading and understanding God’s Word.

At my seminary, I regularly teach a course on biblical interpretation, and I always begin in the same way: by showing students a picture of the “Bible Bar.” This was a real product (no longer available, I believe) that claimed to offer a truly “biblical” snacking experience.

Each Bible Bar contained only seven ingredients, the seven foods mentioned in Deuteronomy 8:8, which were thought to be plentiful in the Promised Land: wheat, barley, vines (raisins), figs, pomegranates, olive oil, and honey. (Personally, I’m glad they didn’t add any milk from the land flowing with milk and honey, since I’m lactose intolerant, but having sampled the bar once, I can only conclude that it’s a shame Deuteronomy 8:8 doesn’t mention salt.)

Every semester, after introducing the Bible Bar, I ask my students a series of questions: Is this what we are meant to glean (pun intended!) from Deuteronomy? Is the inspired text of Deuteronomy 8:8 a recipe book for the best on-the-go energy boost? Were these foods the only things growing in Canaan? Do these foods alone have “spiritual” significance?

Because our Bibles don’t come with an instruction booklet, readers sometimes come up with unusual uses and applications. When I was in high school, the latest craze was a book called The Bible Code. In it, Michael Drosnin argued that the Hebrew Bible contained crossword puzzle–like codes that supposedly embedded terms like “Hitler” and “Pearl Harbor.”

For a brief time, The Bible Code was a sensation, but it was quickly forgotten for obvious reasons. God doesn’t want us to read behind the text for hidden codes. He wants us to read the Bible carefully and …

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