How to read the Bible
Over and over again, we’re told that studying the Bible alone, in a quiet space, is a habit we must do if we want to grow closer to God. And I believe that’s true.
But there’s a problem. The Bible is confusing.
How many times have you picked it up, flipped to a random book and chapter and tried to start reading, only to find you have absolutely no idea what the Bible is talking about?
I am so guilty of this.
On January 1 of this year, I started reading through the Bible along with Munger Place Church, HPUMC’s East Dallas Campus. At first, everything was going well; each day I would faithfully sit down and do my reading, which consisted of a short passage from each of the Old Testament, New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs.
Then I encountered Leviticus. And Numbers. And Deuteronomy. It wasn’t long before I was lost. I still read the passages each day, but if I’m honest, more often than not I ended my readings more confused about the Scriptures than I was before I started.
Thankfully, Munger put tools in place to help with this, through a daily blog and links to videos from The Bible Project. But that made me think about something; what do you do if you don’t have these tools?
How can the average person pick up a Bible for the first time and understand what it says?
The hard truth is that none of us will ever fully understand the Bible. In fact, the more we think we understand, the more we discover just how deep and profound the story of the Bible really is, and how much more is left to discover.
There are people who spend their entire lives studying the Bible, yet they would tell you that, even in their old age, they’ve only scratched the surface.
Yet, it’s clear from Scripture that we are called to study the Bible and grow in our understanding of its 66 books. So how do we do this? Over the past few months, I’ve made answering that question my personal quest. And if you will indulge me, I’d love to share a few things I’ve learned along the way.
Remember the big picture.
One of the most eye-opening things I’ve learned through studying with the Bible Project is the fact that the Scriptures tell one big, unified story that points people to Jesus. No single passage can be understood outside of this framework.
We need the Old Testament to truly understand the power of the New Testament. The more we learn about Abraham, Moses, King David, and Jeremiah, the more we come to fully appreciate the remarkable, unfathomable Grace that comes through Jesus.
We cannot rely solely on sermons that focus in on short snippets of Scripture, or devotionals built around a single verse to get the full picture of what God is telling us through the Bible. Instead, we need to add a few more things to our toolbox.
This is probably the most important thing to remember: the Bible was written FOR us, but it was not written directly TO us.
What do I mean?
The Bible was written to an ancient people group, in ancient languages, within the context of an ancient culture. Therefore, we cannot possibly hope to fully understand what it says, unless we understand the time period and culture in which the Bible was written.
Many of the misconceptions and misinterpretations we have about the Bible can arguably be traced back to this. When we disregard the Biblical author’s original intention behind a passage, by adding in our own ideas about words or images, we miss out on the deep, profound wisdom the Scripture offers us.
Ignoring the culture, and taking passages out of their original context, can completely change the meaning of Scripture. And when we’re talking about God’s word to us, is that a risk we really want to take?
Don’t go at it alone.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying we shouldn’t read the Bible alone. On the contrary, daily Bible study is an essential spiritual practice we should all work toward building into our lives.
But, it’s not the only practice we should rely on.
The Bible was designed to be read in community. Don’t believe me? Watch this. We are meant to gather together, read passages from the Bible out loud, and then talk about what we’ve just heard.
This is how we grow in our understanding of the Scriptures. By reading the Bible with others, we open ourselves up to new perspectives and ideas, we allow ourselves to learn from those wiser than ourselves, and we allow the Holy Spirit to work in us and through us.
So, how do we read the Bible?
There’s no way we can understand the context of the Bible by just reading it by ourselves. And how can we possibly understand the significance of certain details, if we don’t know Jewish culture and history? And if we only ever read bite-size chunks of the Bible at a time, how can we ever truly grasp the big picture of Scripture?
This may seem like an impossible task. But I promise it is not out of reach.
Truly understanding the universe that is the Bible is a life-long journey, and we were never meant to take on this challenge alone. That’s why HPUMC has intentionally designed resources to help you learn how to read and understand the Bible.
Where to start.
Looking for a great place to begin? Want to get a broad overview of the Biblical story? Sign up for this six-week, entry-level course, “How to read the Bible,” where we will explore practical tools for reading Scripture and making sense of the Biblical story. You’ll learn what the Bible is, what makes it unique, and how the entire story points back to Jesus.
The Next Step.
Want to go more in-depth? Disciple Fast Track is a 24-week endeavor that will take you on a whirlwind tour through the Old and New Testaments. You will explore key stories and themes, and talk through commonly asked questions, all while learning the cultural context and perspectives of the text. By the end of this course, you’ll understand how the entire Bible fits together.
Make learning a habit.
If you want to make understanding Scriptures a life-long habit, Kerygma is the place for you. Every Sunday at 11:00 am, Rev. Walt Marcum leads a teaching service at HPUMC. Instead of a traditional sermon, Rev. Marcum presents an extended exploration of the scriptures and core teachings of the Methodist church. You’ll learn about scripture in its original context, so you can be more informed in applying those scriptures to your life today. Can’t be there in person? Catch up on current and past series online.
Getting to know the Scriptures is hard work. But it’s also beautiful and rewarding work. I can’t tell you how much my love for God has grown over the past year since I took on this challenge.
I still find myself lost occasionally when reading Scripture. But it’s happening less and less. And more importantly, as my understanding of the Bible grows, so does my thirst for reading more of it.
All I can pray is that this cycle would continue, forever and ever. Amen.