How to get more out of reading the Bible
Have you thought about how you read? There are different ways of doing this, and some of these you will find more helpful than others. Here are some practical tips for reading the Bible.
Have a good reason for reading
What is your reason? Good reasons motivate us and inform the actions we take to achieve our goal.
- Some dodgy reasons include feeling guilty if you don’t read, trying to impress others with your knowledge, wanting to be the prominent speaker or making you feel better about yourself.
- Some good reasons are, wanting to see if the Bible is true, seeking to know what God is saying to you, helping you to live better, and helping you to think through issues you are facing
Have a plan
The Bible is a big complex book; it is a good idea to have some methods for how you will read this.
The Bible does not tell us to read it daily. The only place where someone has to read it daily was when a king of Israel had to make his copy of the law (Deuteronomy 17: 18, 19). We need to think about what is in the Bible day and night and how this applies to us (meditation), but this is not the same as daily reading. Having some days when we don’t read can give us flexibility and bring renewed freshness when we do.
Reading plans are readily available on the internet or in Christian bookshops. These give a daily reading section to read through the Bible in a year. They work well for some people but not for others. What do you do if you miss a day, do you have to do a second reading the next day? If you miss a week, you may be facing an awful lot of catch up reading.
If your goal is to read through the Bible in a year, then a daily reading plan may help. A more flexible approach is based on the fact that if you read three Bible chapters each weekday and four each weekend day, you will complete the whole Bible in a year.
Start general before focusing on specifics
It is easy to take little bits of the Bible out of context and therefore not understand and misapply. It is better to read through a book in the Bible several times before attempting to look at the details of the book.
One of the problems with daily reading plans is that they do not encourage the repeated reading of a book and can focus too soon on specific parts. It is better to read a book several times before reading another book as you will retain more with the repetition.
Consider the book’s structure
One way we can view learning is how we organise knowledge. Breaking complex issues down into smaller chunks helps us to understand and retain what we have learnt. As you read through a book, look out for how the writer organised the content. For example, much of John’s Gospel looks at the visits Jesus made to Jerusalem. Areas covered can be arranged for the visits Jesus made.
The Bible has chapters and verses which are useful for finding and referencing. These chapters and verses were not in the original, and they do not organise the book into the structure the writer intended. Chapters and verses are useful for referencing but unhelpful in organising the content.
Recognise the kind of literature you are reading
Not all the material in the Bible is of the same kind. There are stories, letters, prophecies, poetry, laws, proverbs and genealogies to name but a few. Each type of literature requires a different approach. You will find some bits easier to follow than others. Don’t make the mistake of only reading the bits you find more natural to follow. Find ways of helping your reading with the bits that do not appeal to you. For example, when reading a long list of place names (Joshua) have a good Bible Atlas to help visualise what places are. Drawing a genealogy as a family tree can help take the chronic out of (1 Chronicles).
Focus on what you are learning not on what you don’t know
No matter how well you know the Bible, there is always tons of stuff you won’t understand. It is much more encouraging to acknowledge what you do get. There are some things which have puzzled me for years which I suddenly get to understand only now and many others that I will have to hope I appreciate in the future.
You must start with your reading
There are a vast array of reading guides, commentaries and reference materials designed to help us learn the Bible. These need to be used later and not before we read the Bible for ourselves. It is essential that we read the Bible with an open mind and not one that is biased by the other stuff we have. Later we can then access these guides and use our knowledge to judge how accurate these are.
Use a Bible version that is easy to read
There are many different translations of the Bible. Some are useful for intensive word by word study others are more useful for getting a good overview of what is happening. A version that lends itself to general reading may well be different from a text you would choose for an in-depth study of a small section. Several readable versions together may help when reading one book of the Bible repeatedly.
Summarise what you have read
An excellent way to read and retain what you have looked at is to say it back to yourself in your own words. Trying to identify a couple of main points can be a practical way of doing this.
Watch out for roadblocks to understanding
Several issues can make it harder to understand what we are reading. The Bible can use unfamiliar language. Written a long time ago, and the people living in a different culture creates misinterpretation. The place where it took place is foreign to us. There are several resources which we can use to help us tackle these barriers to our learning. A concordance will give the meanings of words we do not recognise. Most useful is a good Bible Dictionary which contains information about history and culture. Finally, a Bible Atlas can help us visualise the geography of places.
Enjoy don’t endure
True Christianity is a love relationship with God and His word. Reading the Bible should be enjoyable and not a task reluctantly performed. If you are not enjoying reading the Bible, ask yourself why and make some changes to how you do this. Are you trying to read too much at a time? Do you feel you should understand more? Are you filtering what you read through a cloud of depression or guilt?
Don’t give up
If you want to read the Bible, don’t give up. As with all skills, practice makes things easier. If you persist, you will become very comfortable and familiar with the Bible.