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It may come as a surprise that Bible reading is not Bible study. There are, however, substantive differences between the two.  While Bible reading is beneficial, real spiritual growth generally takes place through Bible study.  These differences become apparent after looking at the nature of engaging a book.

In their book How to Read a Book, Mortimer J. Adler et al. (See M. J. Adler & C. Van Doren, How to Read a Book, Simon & Schuster, Inc., New York, New York (1972)) define four basic levels of reading.  Adler et al. call the first level Elementary Reading because it pertains when a reader learns the basics of reading.  Unless a person is learning to read using the Bible, the concept of “elementary reading” ought not to apply to either Bible reading or Bible study.

The second reading level reading is at the Inspectional Level, which Adler et al. describe as skimming or pre-reading.  At this level, the reader strives to complete a reading assignment within a short time limit.  The idea of inspectional reading does not have widespread application to Bible reading and in all likelihood none at all to Bible study. 

The third level of reading is Analytical Reading which is more complex and systematic than either of the first two.  Adler et al. characterize it as “… thorough reading, complete reading, or good reading – the best reading you can do.”  See Id. at p. 19.  Analytical reading best describe what comprises Bible reading with the objective being to gain a basic understanding of the text.  More intense analytical reading corresponds to Bible study through which the reader (or student) tries to observe better, interpret and apply the passage.

Finally, the fourth reading level is Synoptical Reading or comparative reading.  Adler et al. describes this level as comprising reading a plurality of related books and then making a thorough comparison.  While synoptical reading requires the same intensity and time expenditure as does Bible study, in-depth Bible study is not the same. 

Keeping in mind the four kinds of reading described by Alder et al., Bible reading seems to fall between the inspectional reading and analytical reading.  Typically, Bible reading does not correlate to having unlimited time.

Synoptical reading is distinct from most Bible study which is along the lines of analytical reading carried out with the intensity and thoroughness of synoptical reading.  Bible reading is analytical study that requires diligent effort because its goal is to gain a correct and thorough understanding of the Word of God.  Theologian R. C. Sproul makes the Bible reading vs. Bible study distinction.  A person does Bible reading for leisure or entertainment in a casual way.  This is in stark contrast to Bible study which, “…suggests labor, serious and diligent work.”  See R. C. Sproul, Knowing Scripture, IVP Books, Downers Grove, Illinois (2009), at p. 20. 

Upon reflection, the existence of a real distinction between Bible reading and Bible study makes common sense. As we will see from Part 2B, this distinction is consistent with the teaching of Scripture.

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Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version) copyright 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.