How to Read the Bible
Can a normal, everyday person understand the Bible? Absolutely!
Is it easy to read the Bible? Most of the time… No. Check out this blog I wrote about why.
Is the Bible worth the effort to read? Yes! I have a blog about that too!
Is there a wrong way to read the Bible? Oh yeah.
So, what is the best way to read the Bible? That’s what I want to share with you in this blog. I am going to give you my top five ways you can get the most out of your study. Let’s dive right in!
1. Learn about the layout
Maybe you’ve opened a Bible before and were immediately confused by all of the numbers and book titles. It is a lot to take in! If you already know what these numbers mean, you can skip this section, but, if you were as confused as I was when I first opened the Bible, here is a mega-brief introduction to how the Bible is laid out.
The Bible is made up of 66 books. Each of these books was written separately and later compiled into the books of the Bible. Some of the books are really short, and you could read them in ten minutes or less. Other books are huge.
In general, though it is not a rule, the books are ordered chronically from the beginning of creation to the end of time. Many times, the books are titled either based on the author of the book or on whom the book was written to.
The 66 books of the Bible are split into two sections called the Old Testament and the New Testament. The difference between these sections is simply the person of Jesus. The Old Testament tells the dramatic story of God’s interaction with humanity and leads up to Jesus’ birth in the first chapter of the New Testament.
There are 39 books in the Old Testament and 27 books in the New Testament.
Each book in the Bible is split into “Chapters.” These chapters are represented by big numbers in the text. Each chapter is then split into a certain number of “verses.” These are represented by itty bitty numbers usually at the beginning of each new sentence.
The chapter and verse numbers help readers reference the massive contents of the Bible easily.
For example: My friend Jake mentions to me that He was reading John 3:16, and it was really impactful to him. I can then flip my Bible open to the book of John, turn the pages until I see the big number 3 and scan down until I reach the little number 16. The “16” marks the verse Jake was reading.
Life Hack: Not sure where to find a particular book in the Bible? There is a table of contents at the beginning of every Bible that will tell you what page number every book starts on!
2. Let the Bible do the talking
The #1 mistake most people make when reading the Bible is that they forget themselves. They forget each one of us brings truckloads of pre-conceived notions about the Bible, even if we have never read it before. Instead of allowing the Bible to speak for itself, we tell the Bible what it should say.
This happens all of the time. I do it when I read the Bible too. It is so easy to forget or not even realize that I am assuming the Bible is saying one thing when it is actually saying another.
To combat this, when reading the Bible, take time to forget what you’ve been told and ask yourself if that is actually what the Bible is saying. Take a step back, and be ready to admit you were initially wrong.
3. Be ready to be challenged
Don’t read the Bible for what you want it to say. Read it for how it can challenge you to live differently.
If I want Philippians 4:13 to mean that I will win the football game on Sunday, then I can convince myself that is exactly what it says.
But then I lose… and I’m not so certain anymore God exists or loves me.
If you are not ready to be tested by the Bible, you will miss that a verse like Philippians 4:13 is actually a very powerful challenge. Many skip over this challenge because they don’t want to hear it.
In Philippians 4:13, the author challenges the reader with his own experience. He says he has found what it means to be content in all situations. Whether he was full or starving, rich or poor, free or in jail, he reminds the reader God was with him through it all.
Are you able to go hungry and still trust God? Are you able to live in utter poverty and still know God is with you?
That’s a powerful challenge and encouragement.
Are you ready to be challenged? If you said yes, then you are ready to get the most out of the Bible.
4. Context, Context, Context!
Did you know the Bible actually says the words, “There is no God.”?
Yep it is true. The words are there. Wow… what a book full of contradictions, am I right?
Mmm not quite. The full verse says,
“The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.”’ (Psalm 14:1)
Anything can be taken out of context, and the Bible is one of the most common victims. So, what can you do to avoid taking the Bible out of context? Read it. 😁
The more you read, the more you will learn the context of the Bible. When you read a verse you want to learn more about, start gaining more context by reading the five verses that come before and after it. How do those verses impact the meaning of the text?
Move on to reading the full chapter the verse is located in. How does the rest of the chapter impact the meaning of your verse?
Need more context? (Clue: the answer is always “yes.”) Read the chapters before and after the chapter your verse is in. Then read the entire book your verse is in. Then read the entire Bible.
The more context you have, the more you will understand what God is trying to show you in the Bible. It is not a quick and easy task, but it is worthwhile.
Bonus: Context is always important, but it is extraordinarily important in the Old Testament. The Old Testament was written over thousands of years of human history, and the authors constantly built upon what God showed them in the past.
The first five books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) are especially important to have some knowledge about, because the authors of later books simply assume you already know them BY HEART.
5. Don’t get discouraged
Are you going to nail the meaning of every passage you read the first time? Nope. I’m not either, and I have Masters in this stuff. 🤪
Learning the Bible and getting to know God is a lifelong process. It’ll take time. Move at your own pace, and don’t feel bad about it. God is NOT the God of shame. He is patient with us. Read the Bible—you’ll see that theme pop up all of the time. 🙃
If you ever start reading a book like, say… Leviticus, and you are confused beyond what you thought possible, don’t give up. BUT feel free to take a break from Leviticus. Leviticus is a great book… that I don’t understand either. 😂 There is a lot of history and culture to sift through to understand it.
So, take time to read the Bible every day if possible, but also take your time. Read the Bible to understand what God is trying to say to you, but don’t feel bad if that isn’t clear at first.
Be ready to learn, grow, be challenged, and be encouraged.