Do you want to get more out of reading your bible? Is it hard to understand what God is communicating to us as you read through different books? Here are six tips on how to get more out of you bible reading:
One: Read the piece of writing from start to finish
When reading most books of the bible, it helps to read the entire piece of writing in one sitting. Sure, there are a few exceptions like the Psalms, Proverbs, and other similar books. But, for the most part, it helps to read the entire book in one sitting before you dive into its’ particulars, dissecting chapters, paragraphs, and verses (See Three: Read the verse or passage within context for more on the importance of reading the whole piece of writing instead of bits and pieces).
Two: Search for the author’s intent
Could you imagine reading one of my love letters that I had written to my girlfriend? Most likely, you would think that our relationship was weird, you’d have a difficult time understanding why I was writing her (unless it was explicitly stated), and you would be troubled with the
countless inside jokes that we have with each other. Before reading my letters (although I don’t know why you every would), it would help for you to understand the background of our relationship as well as the reason why I was writing her.
While reading through any book in the bible, keep in mind that the Spirit inspired a specific person in a specific time and place to write for a specific audience. For example, before reading Paul’s letter to the Philippian church, you should read how Paul first met and planted the church in Philippi by reading Acts 16:11-40. By reading the background to individual letters, narratives, and other writings, your understanding of the bible will be tremendously enhanced.
Three: Read the verse or passage within context
Imagine this: you buy a new movie and take it home, eager to watch it. After unwrapping the annoying packaging, you take the disc out of its case and pop it into your DVD player. Once everything is turned on, with popcorn in hand, you choose scene selection and begin in chapter eight, not knowing what chapters one through seven were about. And then, just as the movie is gets interesting, you turn it off with about twenty minutes left until the ending. At this point, no person has any right to say that they watched that movie nor even understand what the movie was about. They missed learning the characters’ backgrounds and the plot to the story as well as the ending.
Sometimes, many bible readers read their bible in a similar way. They flop open their bible to a random page and hope that God can speak to them without any understanding of what the passage or piece of writing is about. This is how people take verses out of context. Today, countless bible verses are ripped out of context and improperly turned to application. One of the biggest verses that is often taken out of context is Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). Athletes have it sown on their lettermen’s jackets and people tattoo it on their forearm. Nine times out of ten, when people quote this verse, they truly believe that they can literally do anything they want. This, however, is not what Paul is saying. In the context of the verse, Paul is sharing the countless trials and tribulations that he’s had to endure throughout his Christian walk. And then, in that moment, he proclaims that he has only been able to endure those moments because Jesus strengthens him. He is not saying that he can fly to the moon on a giraffe; instead, he is saying that he can endure any difficult circumstance that comes his way simply because Jesus has extended his grace towards him. When reading the bible, we have to always keep in mind that verses are a part of paragraphs and paragraphs are a part of chapters and so on.
Four: Don’t jump too quickly to application
I cannot stress how key this is. Too often, when reading the bible, people read an individual verse and jump to an application without understanding the verse’s true meaning within its’ context (See Three: Read the verse or passage within context). Be sure to spend some time understanding what the verse, passage, or piece of writing meant to the original audience first. Then, bridge the gap to today’s context and apply it to not only your life but the lives within your social and cultural context.
Five: Approach the bible with a sober mind
The word “sober” implies that one’s vision among other senses as well as comprehension have not been impaired by outside sources. For example, think of someone who is drunk. While under the influence of alcohol, one cannot fully see nor understand the moment in which they are living. Their senses and comprehension of the moment are impaired leading them to incorrectly see what is before them. This is the main reason why people who do drink alcohol are not permitted to drive under the law. When approaching a piece of writing in the bible, it is important to not allow any prior understanding of theology to influence your reading. Instead, allow the scriptures to influence your theology.
Six: Learn theology in community
A community consists of much diversity, whether it be in beliefs, values, desires, or treasures. Five people can look at a Picasso and see five very different things. That same five can also listen to one of Mozart’s symphonies and feel five very different emotions. However, after visiting an art museum or attending a concert, it is always a joy to find a little diner or burger joint to sit and reminisce what had just been experienced. Hearing four other peoples’ varying views that may slightly differ or even sharply contrast with your own views enlightens your own understanding, broadening its horizon. This is why it is important to learn and study theology in community. This is also one of the countless reasons why it is vital for a Christian to be committed to a local church body of believers: to be able to share readings of the scriptures and wrestle with what God is communicating to His people about Himself. A great example of this is the church in Berea. Luke records that they “received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11). As a community of believers, it is vital for us to be going through God’s Word together that we may, as one people, understand and worship our one God because of Who He is and what He has done.
If you’re interested in learning more on how to better read and understand your bible, be sure to check out the following resources:
Jon Nielson’s Bible Study: A Student’s Guide