How to Read the Bible (better)

The Bible says it, that settles it.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen and heard those words or some close variation of those words. And it makes me cringe. I can’t stand that kind of thinking. It is one of the most dangerous ways of viewing Scripture and has only lead to the harm of others. We need to learn how to read the Bible. 

That kind of reading of the Bible has lead many to a terrible understanding of the Bible and God. Which has in turn lead people to be hurt and marginalized because so many do not know how to read or interpret Scripture in a healthy way.

Hermeneutics = the branch of knowledge that deals with interpretation, especially of the Bible or literary texts.

There’s no way I can, in one article, give an in-depth look at how to read the Bible. What I hope to do is give a brief overview of some basic hermeneutical principles so that we can read the Bible for what it is.

The Bible Is Not Written To You

The Bible is not a book written to you or to the church of our time. It isn’t even one book. It’s a collection of 66 books. Each different, unique, and written for a different purpose. The Bible was written to people thousands of years ago. They had a different language, cultural traditions, and used different analogies.

You would not read a history text book the same way you would read a poem. They are different genres and you read them differently. The history book you read as facts where as poetry might stretch the truth to shed light on the bigger issue. The Bible is full of different genres that you cannot read the same way.

Each book of the Bible was written to a specific group of people in a specific time. We have to understand that culture before we can understand what the meaning of each text is.

Interpretation must be based on the author’s intention of meaning and not the reader. 

Here’s what happens when we don’t do this… In 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 Paul writes, Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.

If your belief is The Bible says it, that settles it then you are going to have a very poor understanding of what Paul is saying. Paul is speaking to a specific issue in the church in Corinth, and not saying this is how every church should be. There’s debate one what issue Paul was addressing. However more than likely there were women interrupting the service causing a distraction that was hurting the church. So Paul tells them to wait to get home. The point of this verse is not that women should be silent. Rather that the church should have proper order and not be chaos. It has nothing to do with the fact that they are women; it has to do with their actions. Had the situation been men, then Paul would have addressed it the same way.

We have to understand that the Bible was not written to us. So we have to understand the original audience before we can land on what specific verses actually mean to us. There is truth in this verse, but the truth is found when we view the verses within the cultural context.

The Bible was not written to you. It was written to a group of people thousands of years ago. In order to properly understand the Bible we must first understand the original audience. 

You Have To Read It In Context

This isn’t just a Biblical principle, this is just true in life. When you are reading a book, an article, listening to a speech, or watching an interview, you MUST view what is said and written in context of the surrounding text. Otherwise you will end up with something that was not intended.

Here’s an example… In Matthew 18:20 Jesus says, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” If all you ever read was this verse one would think that Jesus is saying that God is there when there is a group of Christians. But that’s NOT what Jesus is talking about.

If you were to read the surrounding verses in Matthew 18 you would see a different message. Jesus is actually giving instructions on what to do when you have conflict with a person. It’s actually a very relevant and important message for us today. When we pluck one verse out of the bunch we get a skewed view and miss what Jesus was actually trying to say.

The short fix is relatively simple. When you read a verse compare it to what is said prior and what is said after. But we need to compare what is said elsewhere in the Bible. How does this verse I’m reading now compare to what is said elsewhere? If it contradicts another verse there’s a good chance we interpreted it wrong.

You Might Also Enjoy: The Bible is NOT the Center of Christianity

Consider the Genre Of What You Are Reading

No one reads Shakespeare the same way they read a history textbook. They are two very different styles of writing with different purposes. And the same is true with the Bible. The way that you read Psalms is very different than the way you read Acts. In order to have a correct view of the Bible you have to understand the genre of Scripture.

The Bible is made up of books of law, poetry, history, teaching, letters, and prophecy. When you read you need to identify the genre you are reading. Not every book in the Bible is the same, nor should they be read the same.

When you pick up your Bible and choose a book to read consider the style, or genre, it is written in. Don’t read the Gospels the same way you read Revelation. They are different books with different styles and need to be read and understand in the way they were written.

There Are A LOT Of Issues We Just Don’t Know

Give grace to those that read the Bible differently than you. There are just some issues that we will never fully understand this side of heaven. And that should not divide us. The reality is you and I have things wrong. Guaranteed. We will arrive in heaven one day and realize Wow… Guess I was wrong on that one. We will all experience that. So maybe when you find yourself with someone that interprets Scripture differently than you, show them grace. There’s room for different views.

As long as we can agree that Jesus is our Savior and our way to heaven the other issues will sort themselves out. 

Recommended Resources for Understanding the Bible

Eugene Peterson’s Eat This Book

Grant Osborne’s The Hermeneutical Spiral

Scott Duvall’s Grasping God’s Word

If you follow these four basic hermeneutical principles when you read the Bible you will leave with a much clearer and accurate picture of what God is saying. 

How about you, how were you taught to read the Bible?

Jeffery Curtis Poor
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DISCLOSURE: This post may contain affliliate links, meaning I get a small commission if you decide to make a purchase through my links. This is at no cost to you and helps keep Rethink up and running.
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