How to Read It—Hints and tips

This page presents some invaluable tips for getting more out of Bible reading. We shall look at things like paying attention to the context, reading slowly, thinking about echoes and cross-references, and asking good questions of the Bible text. Armed with some of these pointers - most of which are common-sense - it is possible to take one's Bible reading to the next level.

If it’s true that the Bible is the world’s most read book (which it is), it’s also probably true that it has been the world’s most mis-read book. People have taken things out of context, twisted verses to make them mean what they want, mistaken the allegorical for the literal and so forth. So what are some of the principles that are important if you want to become a good Bible-reader?

Here are some starting points. Not a comprehensive list, but some useful hints:

  • Ask for God’s help in prayer, but don’t expect it to replace the need for effort on your part! It’s His book, after all, but you have to show you’re interested!
  • Pay attention to the context. Remember the well-worn phrase ‘a text without a context is a pretext’. Take an extreme example: the phrase ‘There is no God’ is a quotation from the Bible, but if you look at the other half of the verse (the immediate context), then a very different picture emerges: ‘The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.”’ Don’t pull isolated verses out of their context – make sure you understand them in their context before you draw too many conclusions.
  • When you are studying a passage, read it, and read it again. Take time to let the words sink in. Don’t assume that you can quickly glance at a verse and exhaust its meaning in two seconds. Great poetry, for instance, doesn’t work that way; why should the Bible be any different? Reading the Bible is not like reading Hello! magazine!
  • Be prepared to give the Bible a fair hearing. It’s easy for a modern reader to read an ancient work and assume it must be naïve or primitive, just because it was written a long time ago.
  • If you don’t understand something, don’t worry – carry on, and perhaps come back to it later. Even better, make a note of the verse and what you didn’t understand. While there are some passages that will always be difficult to any Bible reader, you’ll be surprised to find how often a passage that once made little sense is perfectly obvious when you have a little more experience.
  • Remember that different parts of the Bible can have different perspectives on the same subject, or approach it from a different angle. The Bible doesn’t contradict itself.
  • There are many different translations of the Bible – it can be very interesting and helpful to look at different translations, especially if you are reading a tricky passage. Be careful about assuming a given translation is right just because it’s easy to understand, however. Every version has its faults and advantages. Good translations to start might be the ESV or NKJV (this site uses both). Many Bible readers still prefer the old King James or Authorised Version (KJV or AV – two different names for the same translation) and it’s very useful for Bible study. The NIV is also a popular translation. Try not to rely on a translation which uses paraphrase too much (for example the GNB, NEB, or the Living Bible) – it’s better to work from a translation which is more accurate to the original text and to occasionally compare the paraphrases.
  • Ask yourself questions like: what does this tell me about God and His character and expectations? What does this show me about what human beings are like and how they may need to change? Why might God have chosen to preserve this passage in His word – what’s it doing here? How might this inspire me to change my life – what’s the take-home point?
  • Enjoy yourself!

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