I’m often asked about how to go about reading the Bible and how to better understand and interpret it. So, I’ve put together the following summary of recommendations and tips which I hope will be helpful. I’ve also included a few links below that lead to additional information.
Recommendations for Interpretation
First, remember the “Christian Story.” That is, as you read the Bible think about how the facts, events, and people in the text fit within the larger narrative of God’s actions for His creation through Jesus Christ. As part of this, keep in mind that the Scriptures are principally about Jesus Christ. They contain a lot of history, genealogy, teachings, and wisdom. In the end, however, they are focused and centered on Jesus Christ; that is, they tend towards the end of pointing us to Christ for our salvation.
In addition, interpret the Old Testament in light of the New Testament. Since the Scriptures point to Christ and the New Testament reveals him more fully, then it makes sense to view the Old Testament in light of the New. As a related matter, the New Testament provides insight into how Christ has fulfilled the Old Testament.
Within the New Testament itself, remember that the Gospels reveal Christ and his actions, while the epistles help to explain why Christ and his actions matter for our salvation. In particular, Paul’s epistles are prioritized above the other epistles, since Paul provides a clear exposition of the Gospel.
This leads to a related point: interpret the unclear passages in light of the clear passages of the Scriptures. If a text is unclear as to its meaning or intent, a meaning should not be forced upon it. Instead, its meaning can often be deduced from other, clearer passages of Scripture. Sometimes, however, you must simply let a passage remain unclear for a time until the meaning becomes clearer at a later date. None of us is ever done learning from the Scriptures, and there is no shame in not immediately understanding certain texts. There will be texts which remain obscure to us for some time until we hit upon the meaning.
Finally, it is often helpful to consult commentaries and the early Church Fathers for their views on the Scriptures to help us in our interpretation. I’m Lutheran, so I prefer the Concordia Commentary Series.
Tips for Reading the Bible
The following are a few tips to help you with your Scripture reading:
- Get a translation you like
- I’d recommend one that is not a summarized translation.
- Translations like the ESV, NASB, NIV, KJV are fine; my normal translation I use is the ESV, but I also like the NASB.
- You can go to Biblehub to view parallel translations of Biblical texts to see what you prefer.
- Read the right type of Bible
- I wouldn’t recommend trying to read one of the large study Bibles end-to-end. You’ll likely never get through it, because its size is just too forbidding, it doesn’t lend itself to reading in bed, and it’s very easy to get sidetracked in the notes. Have a study Bible, but use it just for further study after you’ve first read through the Bible.
- So, instead of trying to read a study Bible, read one of the smaller reference Bibles. These contain just the Biblical text with no or little notes. The type of ESV Bible I use is like this and is cheap, although there’s also a physically nicer version.
- Start with the New Testament, in the following order:
- Gospel of John
- Gospel of Matthew
- Then, the other books
- Then, read the Old Testament
- Genesis through the end
- Psalms in times of need, doubt, or struggles
- Then, the other books
The reason for reading the New Testament first is so that you first hear of Christ’s actions and who he is. Then, later when you read the Old Testament some of it will be clearer to you as you see how the Old Testament was pointing to Christ. It may take multiple readings and study for things to pop out, and – as I mentioned above – you’ll always be learning. That’s the great fun and adventure of reading the Bible; there’s always more to discover.
I hope these tips help. These are a combination of things I’ve been taught, my own observations, and the method I’ve used and continue to use. I’d love to hear of your own methods.
(Image: By Ken Horn – https://www.flickr.com/photos/hornkl/3024796815, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38912164 ).