A Reading Comprehension Lesson from the Bible

Well, I said I would give you an example of how I have used the steps from my last post to better understand scripture and to make it relevant to life.  It hasn’t quite been a month since I posted that, but it’s close and I’m finally getting to the example.

Note: I wanted it to be relatively short 1) for the sake of me typing it all out and 2) so it’s quick and painless for you to follow along in one sitting.  **Shameless plug – I absolutely LOVE YouVersion!  You can find it at YouVersion.com and there is a free app available the device of your choosing.  It’s all FREE!  They make no money off of it, therefore I’m certainly not getting anything for promoting it, but it’s a fantastic Bible-reading application that is painless to use and gives you so many translation options at your fingertips!  Ok, that’s over, let’s begin…

Colossians 1:20-23 (KJV)

20 And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.21 And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled22 In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight:23 If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister.

#1: ID your pronouns – Yep, lots of him’s and he’s and you’s and ye’s.  Let’s find out who’s who.  My first step is usually to go to the amplified version of the verse – that’s my natural tendency because my paper bible is a parallel bible KJV/AMP so I just switch columns on the same page.  I gave Ken a NIV/MSG parallel for his birthday one year and so that makes 4 translations in 2 volumes when I’m in a place to page-flip.  So, start with the version you’re most used to and branch out from there (again, thank you YouVersion!)

Colossians 1:20-23 (AMP)

20  And God purposed that through (by the service, the intervention of) Him [the Son] all things should be completely reconciled back to Himself, whether on earth or in heaven, as through Him, [the Father] made peace by means of the blood of His cross.21  And although you at one time were estranged and alienated from Him and were of hostile attitude of mind in your wicked activities,22  Yet now has [Christ, the Messiah] reconciled [you to God] in the body of His flesh through death, in order to present you holy and faultless and irreproachable in His [the Father’s] presence.23  [And this He will do] provided that you continue to stay with and in the faith [in Christ], well-grounded and settled and steadfast, not shifting or moving away from the hope [which rests on and is inspired by] the glad tidings (the Gospel), which you heard and which has been preached [as being designed for and offered without restrictions] to every person under heaven, and of which [Gospel], I, Paul, became a minister.

See?  Lots less pronouns – and we can see that sometimes “he” is God, and sometimes “he” is Jesus Christ, though there are still some that may be questionable.  I

n verse 20, “all things should be completely reconciled back to Himself” – that’s God, and “the blood of His cross” – that’s Jesus.

In verse 21, “estranged and alienated from Him” – that’s God.

In verse 22, “in the body of His flesh through death” – that’s Jesus.

And in verse 23, “And this He will do” – that’s God.

In most of the letters written to the New Testament churches, “you” definitely refers to the church members, but (whether you like it or not) it can be extrapolated to “you” the present and future Christians who will be reading it.

#2 History – There’s not a lot of cultural history context to this passage but there is “Gospel” history.  This passage actually takes you all the way back to the beginning where we (the human race) became separated from God and throughout the fabric of time, God had a plan to reconcile that separation once and for all.  It also references the detriment of sin, saying that we were of hostile attitude and wicked activity.  It also gives you insight into the purpose of the crucifixion and resurrection – why it had to happen and who played what part.  All things that happened before this letter was written (Remember, Colossians was a letter from Paul to the believers in Colosse [Gentiles]).

#3 Definitions and origins – When doing this with the verses from the amplified, I’ve learned not to get bogged down because a lot of the verses have a built-in thesaurus (that’s why it’s amplified!).  But sometimes the vocabulary still ends up ambiguous, so it’s important to take the thesaurus words and simplify, especially since one of the goals for this process is for you to be able to summarize in your own words.  I’ll be pretty thorough for this example.  (Most of the words I just Googled definitions to, to save time).

Reconcile – restore friendly relations; make compatible.  (Yep!)

Estranged/Alienated – isolated; separated; unwelcome (Yep!)

Faultless/Irreproachable – beyond criticism; without defect or error (aka holy)

The fun one for me in the verse was “the Gospel”.  In the amplified verses it says “glad tidings”, which is the cute way to say “good news”.  We’ve all heard the Gospel referred to as good news before, so that doesn’t add a whole lot of depth to these verses.  I’ve heard and read a lot of people talk about “the Gospel” as being one of 2 things – Salvation (believe in Jesus and go to heaven) or Redemption (salvation from sin plus all the other things that are listed as part of the curse of sin – death, sickness, poverty, etc).  My “eureka!” moment was seeing that all the verses (in this example) before the word “Gospel” even shows up are defining “the Gospel”!!!  So what’s the good news?  That God worked out this plan, by sending Jesus to earth to die, to reconnect all of us back to Him in the same way that Adam was connected to Him before he sinned (and thus reap all the benefits that connection affords).

*Something that I didn’t plug in the first time I did these verses, if you replace the word “faith” in a lot of places with the word “sonship”, things make a lot more sense.  And there’s a whole other exercise (longer than this one) that can help you see that the substitution is not arbitrary, but you’ll have to do that one yourself.

#4 Re-write it

So here’s my own words…

And God made a plan that, through the intervention of His son, all things on Earth and in Heaven should be completely reconnected back to Himself by the means of the blood of the Son’s cross.  And although we were, at one time, disconnected from the Father, now, Christ has reconnected us to God through the death of his faultless body, in order to present us holy and free of defect in the Father’s presence.  And God will do this, provided that your sonship (new attitudes and actions) remains in Christ, and don’t move away from the hope inspired by the reconnection with God, that was designed to be offered without restrictions to every person under Heaven.

So, it’s good news that God worked his plan and by believing it and acting on it, you are reconnected with God in the same way Adam was in the garden, and can reap the benefits of that connection.  And this opportunity is available to anyone on the planet!

What I learned:  Having this understanding of the Gospel (because it’s not just about knowing verses) has changed the way I see and do life.  I had to work on Easter Sunday and it was because I understood these verses in this way (thus the meaning of the Easter/Resurrection celebration) that I could do it without feeling condemned or like I was missing out on a touch from God.  I’ve been reconnected to God, I’m a “son”, I’m not missing out on the benefits from my relationship with Him just because I was sitting in a Walgreens pharmacy rather than a church service!

One other thing: can you imagine seizing the opportunity to talk to someone you know that needs God in their life, and you know that they’ve been Bible-bashed, street-preached to that you’re not sure what new you can tell them?  Can you imagine the response you’d get when you actually talk to people in English, like humans – and instead of always quoting John 3:16 or trying to take them down the Roman Road, you were living out and “continuing in your sonship” (based on what you learned in these verses) and presented them with this Gospel?

YouVersion is now my version

Here’s a shout out to the folks at LifeChurch.tv and a wonderful product they’ve provided called YouVersion.com.

Sign up for free.

Many versions of the Bible available.

Keyword searches.

Parallel view options.

Your own personal journal and notes section.

A community to share with.

Even mobile apps.

It’s easy to navigate and you can hightlight (star) and save passages that you want to come back to. While bulky concordances and commentaries can be intimidating, having a resource I can trust for quick, accurate results and cross-referencing when writing lessons.

My new favorite thing:  One-year reading plan.  You can get daily reading updates in your email or as an RSS feed (for all you super-bloggers) to read the Bible in a year.

I encourage you to check it out – YouVersion.