I know, right? – “How to Read Your Bible” – sounds kindof silly when you really think about it. But so many of us read through the Bible and just don’t “get it.” Have you ever done that? You section off that specific time of morning or evening – 10 min or 20 min – and then read your assigned passage for the day… but an hour later, you can’t even remember what you read? So often we concentrate on finishing a chapter or a book… then on to the next segment. I think we as a church may have pharisaically brought this on ourselves. So much emphasis is placed on reading your Bible every day, or on reading the Bible through in a year, or in two years. I highly suggest you read your Bible every day… and it would be great for us all to complete the biblical text in its entirety in a year or two. But when we focus on segmented completion, it’s kindof like putting the emPHAsis on the wrong SylLAble. The letters, words, and phrases pass through our spiritual ears, but are we really understanding what we’re reading? Is the goal to obsessively read every letter, phrase, chapter, and book of the Bible so that we can say, “I read it?” Or is the goal to understand biblical truth?
I believe that every word of scripture is inspired (breathed out) by God… 2 Tim 3:16. And if that is true, then shouldn’t we be hanging on God’s every word? If He had a divine purpose in revealing His truth to us, shouldn’t we be eager not just to hear that truth, but to understand it? Then why are we satisfied with a routine approach to habitual segmented completion? It seems awfully pharisaical to me. Reading your Bible every day is a great idea – but understanding what God intended to communicate through it is an even better one.
Here are some tips to understanding what you read in your Bible. I use these every time I open God’s Word. I hope they prove useful to you as well.
1. Go for depth, not breadth. In some books of the Bible, it may take me a couple of weeks to get through 3 or 4 verses. For example, when reading through the NT book of Hebrews, the language is so rich, and there is such allusion to Old Testament scripture that it may take me three or four days of cross-referencing to completely understand just a couple of words. But after all of that cross-referencing and reflection, I always come out with a much clearer understanding than I would have if I had just kept reading. Pick a book of the Bible (if you’ve never done this before, I suggest the Gospel of John) and decide not that you’ll read the whole book over a certain period of time, but that you will understand the depth of truth presented. You may be able to read through a whole chapter one day, and then really need to focus on just a couple of verses for a week or so. The goal is not to cover a good breadth of passage (not to get through “x” amount of pages or chapters every day), but to grasp the depth (the deep truth) presented.
2. Ask yourself questions about the text. This is quite possibly the best suggestion I can give you. Start with these questions:
- Who is writing (under God’s inspiration), and to whom are they writing?
- What challenges or situations may the hearers/readers of this original message have been facing? Can I relate to those challenges or situations in any way personally? My family? My church? My country?
- What general or specific message is the original author trying to convey?
- Does this sound familiar? Are there other passages of scripture that I need to cross-reference to understand this passage more completely?
- How does this message apply to me in my own personal life right now?
- What am I going to change about myself today that will make me submissive to this truth?
3. Pray for understanding. God wants to reveal His truth to you. He desires that you understand. Pray as the Psalmist prayed:
Help me understand the meaning of Your precepts so that I can meditate on Your wonders…. Teach me, Lord, the meaning of Your statutes, and I will always keep them. Help me understand Your instruction and I will obey it and follow it with all my heart. – Psalm 119:27, 33-34.
4. Ask a pastor or church leader/teacher whom you trust. Most pastors, Bible-study leaders, and biblical teachers are delighted to explain to you the deep truth of God’s revealed Word. Good ones will first make sure you have gone through suggestions 1,2, and 3 first… and then if you still need clarification, they consider it an honor to lead you into a deeper understanding of biblical truth. Be careful, however, that you never place too much emphasis on other people’s interpretation of scripture. There is only one interpretation that is correct, and that is God’s interpretation… after all, He’s the One who wrote it. Pastors and church leaders can get it wrong too. So test what they tell you against scripture, and don’t stop praying that the Lord will give you understanding.
5. Don’t get hung up on anything. There are some passages of scripture that you will struggle with for quite some time… praying, studying, and seeking help… but the answer still will not come. Don’t let that shake your faith. As you continue to grow in the knowledge of God’s Word, things that once stumped you will come to light. Other scripture you come across later may even give you the interpretation you were seeking. Seemingly contradictory passages are often worked out over time through further study, rethinking of possibilities, or even a sudden divine revelation from the Holy Spirit. Don’t get so hung up on one passage that it shakes your faith and hinders you from continuing to grow in God’s Word.
I pray this is helpful to you. Please don’t misunderstand my intentions. The desire to read through the Bible in its entirety is an honorable one. But let’s not get so focused on human accomplishment or obsessive, habitual repetition that we loose sight of the main goal in scripture reading… understanding God’s truth. He has revealed Himself through scripture. Read to understand.
Grace and Peace,