How To Read The Bible
I grew up in a home without a dishwasher. To be more accurate, I grew up in a home of four children. We were the dishwashers.
Then, one summer in high school I landed a nannying job watching two little boys. And it all went well until I broke their kitchen.
Being a helpful young woman, I loaded the dishwasher after lunch one day and decided to run the wash cycle. I fished around under the sink and found a solo container of soap. Dish soap.
Did I mention that my family didn’t have a dishwasher?
I loaded that little dispenser area with the blue gel and ushered the boys into the playroom. 20 minutes later I returned to find child-size mountains of bubbles building on the hardwood floors, overflowing from the dishwasher like lava from an industrial volcano.
I thought back to that mortifying experience as I started writing this post. And this is the first time I’ve been grateful for such an embarrassing mistake.
Sometimes we approach the Bible like an unfamiliar machine. Afraid that we’ll somehow get something wrong and ruin the whole experience. Well, I have good news.
You can’t break the Bible.
There are however, some helpful things to keep in mind *and heart* as you get started reading God’s Word.
How to Read the Bible:
Ask. Talk with God. Let Him know that you want to hear from Him. Quiet your heart. Put away your to-do list and don’t give space for random thoughts of squirrels and shiny things. I keep a notebook nearby to write down things that may distract me from my time with the Lord—once I get them down on paper I don’t have to give them any further thought.
Seek love not knowledge.
“Knowledge puffs up while love builds up” (1 Corinthians 8:1b, NIV).
It’s easy to read scripture for the sake of knowledge. To know things. To check it off the list. That’s the lesser option.
Look for the love in what you read because God is love. We don’t want to settle for knowing about Him. We want to know Him, and that level of knowing comes when He talks with us through what we read. I spent so many years learning facts and trivia about God. Knowing Him is WAY better.
What version to read? We are blessed with access to many translations of the Bible. Many new believers like to read the New International Version (NIV). The most accurate translations for in-depth study are considered to be the King James (KJ), the New King James (NKJ), or English Standard Version (ESV). There’s no harm reading other versions, in fact, I like to read the same passage in multiple versions to see what wording God may use to speak to me. I especially enjoy the modern and creative wording of The Message (MSG) version, although these same creative liberties make it difficult to use for word study. Please hear me though, creative words may inspire, but they don’t replace the direct translation of the original word meaning, which we’ll talk about in a bit.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. ” (John 3:16-17, NIV).
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:16, ESV).
“This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again” (John 3:16, MSG).
- Context. What’s happening in this scenario? Who is the audience? A particular verse may speak to you, what does that verse mean in context of the whole passage?
- Word meaning. What is the meaning of the word in the source language? The Old Testament was written in Hebrew and a few books in Aramaic, and the New Testament was written in Greek. Looking up words in the source language gives a depth of understanding you don’t get when just reading in English. For example, I may read “For God so loved the world” in John 3:16. My mind naturally thinks of “love” as affectionate or romantic, but that’s not what this verse means. In the original Greek, “love” in this verse is agapaō which means good-will, to be fond of. God’s love for us, the love that led Him to give Jesus for our sins, was not an emotional response. It was prompted by love of good will. If you’re interested in doing word studies I like using the free website Blue Letter Bible. Pick the KJV and check the box for “Strongs” and it will show you concordance links next to words so you can easily see what they mean in the original language.
- Connections. Next, we want to look for connections within the passage and to other passages. How does John 3:16 relate to the rest of the chapter? What other passages speak to the same topic? For example
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8, NIV).
- Application. How does this passage apply to your life? What is God saying to you through it?
Where to start reading? A great place to start reading is with the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) as they give four different accounts of the life of Jesus, based on the perspective of their authors. Psalms and Proverbs are also great books to begin with as Psalms is full of praise and Proverbs is basically tweetable-sized tidbits of wisdom.
Reread. Read the same passage multiple times. Sometimes I’ll do this in one sitting: I read the whole chapter, then go back and reread looking for key words or phrases that stick out to me. You can also reread the same books over and over. God uses familiar passages to say new things. All. The. Time.
Ask. If you don’t understand something, ask. Ask God. Ask friends or leaders you trust to help you discern what a scripture means. Google to find other passages of scripture that speak to the same topic. Read trusted commentaries from Bible scholars and then ask God to help you discern how you should receive their interpretations.
Implement. Even considering all of the steps above, this step is one of the easiest ways to “break” the Bible. We must do what it says, otherwise, it’s a bigger mess than putting the wrong soap in the dishwasher. When we don’t apply God’s Word to our lives we settle for pride and deception and not the blessed infilling of God’s transforming love.
“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do” (James 1:22-25, NIV).
Know that God longs to speak with you through His Word. Seriously LONGS. Like more than I desire chocolate. Respond to Him, He’s willing, ready, and waiting.