The Bible isn’t the easiest book for the modern day reader to understand. Filled with dated words, strange metaphors, various styles of literature and written for a cultural very different from ours, it can be a bit perplexing to know how to correctly interpret what we’re reading. But the Word is meant to bless us, not perplex us—so if you’re struggling to read your Bible effectively, here are a few simple tips from Relevant Magazine writer Bronwyn Lea that will help.
1. Read “You” differently. “Almost all the ‘you’ words in the New Testament are plural you’s rather than singular you’s,” Bronwyn writes. The epistles were written for the corporate body of believers, not believers alone. So while the beautiful promises and stern admonitions are for you personally, don’t forget to think about how the authors were writing to groups of Christians, working toward living out the gospel together.
2. Recognize that lamenting is OK. Sometimes we Christians think being filled with the hope, joy and peace of Christ means we never have reason to be sad. But believers can and should mourn and lament-these are natural reactions to sin and suffering. “Just look at the Psalms,” Bronwyn notes.
3. Realize that prophecy is more often FORTH-telling than FORE-telling. When we read the words of the prophets, we often want to ask, “what did they say about the future?” However, as Bronwyn reminds us, “often the prophets weren’t talking about the future (foretelling), they were explaining and interpreting Israel’s history and current predicaments in light of their covenantal behavior (forth-telling), and had little to do with the future. Israel may have painfully aware that they had just suffered military defeat at the hands of the Babylonians, but it took the prophet’s words to explain from God’s perspective why this had happened and what lessons they were to learn from their experience.”
4. Become familiar with the idioms Jesus used. Jesus “spoke of eyes being lamps and people being salt,” Bronwyn says. “Language often so far removed from my understanding it was temping to skip over the gospels to the much more familiar epistles.”
“However, if we have called Jesus "King" and “Lord,” we dare not skip over His words just because they are hard. Commentaries and a little Internet research on the gospels go a long way towards filling in some of the cultural and linguistic blanks. As his followers and servants, it is our responsibility to keep on seeking understanding.”
5. Remember what you learned in English class. The Bible is written in a variety of literary styles, and to fully understand what the Bible has to say to us, we have to know what type of genre of literature we’re reading. Poetry and Wisdom literature (like Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes), should read differently than a historical book (like 1 Chronicles), which is also different than reading a prophetic book (like Micah). Knowing what style of literature you’re reading can bring incredible clarity to the text.
Want more? You can read the rest of Bronwyn’s helpful tips here.
Knowing how to read the Bible is critical for all believers. I’ve written on this before—we can’t rely on pastors and Sunday school teachers to tell us what the Bible says—we need to be able to read and interpret Scripture on our own. And knowing how to spend time in the Word should be a lesson taught in every Christian church and a priority of every Christian leader to pass on to those whom God has given them to lead.
Want to learn more about how to study the Bible? Check out Bible Study Minute—a site we’ve created that can provide you with quick, helpful tips to help you study God’s Word. Each post, video and link will help you dive into the Bible a little more everyday.
You might also want to check out Jen Wilkin’s blog and newest book on equipping women to study the Bible (though I think men can glean just as much from her writing!) Jen graciously sat down with us and talked about how churches can better equip their members to study the Bible—you can see our interview with her here.
Kelly Givens is the editor of iBelieve.com.