4 Things To Do When You Read The Bible

We must understand these basic principles before we can interpret what the Bible is telling us.

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.

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. The Bible 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 Top 3 Most Misunderstood Bible Verses

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.

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. Read more on this: The ONE Thing Christians MUST Believe

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?

13 comments on “4 Things To Do When You Read The Bible

  1. This is definitely something to consider. I know a lot of people struggle understanding the time frame in which things were recorded. I believe we most certainly can learn and apply teachings from the Bible to real life. But there are definitely pieces that raise eyebrows, and it’s these pieces people struggle with. I also believe the Bible interprets itself, as God is the same from the beginning. He inspires the prophets, the disciples, and us. He is the same. His teachings and ways are consistent. With this knowledge, when we look at scripture, we look for consistency as well. This is my personal take, at least. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Joe Butler

      Excellent! The Bible does interpret itself. We simple humans sometimes think that we have the right to differing interpretations of God’s word, but rest assured, He has an intended meaning that He wishes all of us to wisely discern through the Holy Spirit and use no matter what generation we live in. God’s word may have been written to an audience different from me or you, but because He doesn’t change (and the word is God) we can know that the meaning for us is the same.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I got more understandig and more clarified on how to read the Bible. I love it and wish to receive more teachings


  3. Great article. I was just getting ready to write a blog post on this very topic. I still might, but you’ve already said some very good things, so I’ll be linking to your post. Thank you and keep up the good work.


  4. Thank you for this considered and erudite posting that will be enormously helpful to those who want to find God guidance through scripture and into their situation.

    Please write more.


  5. The Bible Is Not Written To You – Jeffery, how can you make this statement when the scripture clearly states that God preached the Gospel to Abraham; Galatians 3:8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, “In you all the nations shall be blessed.” So, if the bible, as you state, is not written to us, then why would God foreseeing the justification of Gentiles by faith would preach the Gospel to Abraham and tell him that in him all the nations shall be blessed? The simple message of salvation is for everyone – if the bible was not written for everyone then why would John 3:16 be so globally encompassing?

    John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. This sounds as if it is written to everyone who would call on His name (Jesus) would be saved into eternal life.

    You wrote: 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. Like the Pharisee, you know the scripture, but you do not understand the gospel. Yes Jesus is dealing with the Jew at their level of understanding the law and He is speaking of witnessing against one another when it comes to disagreements or of correction – however, when you see Jesus as Savior and not lawyer or teacher, and couple this with John 20:19 Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled,for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

    So even in your darkest moment, when you are shut in by your fear, with seemingly no way out, no where to go or run Jesus will come in the midst and bring you peace. See the deeper meaning – see the love of the Father not the law of the Just. You must review the context of the passage against the context of the chapter against the context of the bible. You cant just simply stop within the book or chapter – you must look for context in the entirety of the gospel through revelation – if you do not have revelation from the Holy Spirit then your just reading a book.

    Substituting grace for truth is a dangerous teaching, but sadly one that seems to be the path of the world today. So many Christians are ready to dismiss the cross or set aside their beliefs in order to work with other religions to better community. I am not against bettering the community but not at the expense of setting aside the cross and what it represents. Therefore, extend the truth of the Gospel in all things and reveal Jesus Christ in every opportunity not setting Him aside in hopes of just getting along with another belief or wrong belief. There is only one divine, God inspired religion on the face of the earth and that is Judaism. Christianity is not a religion, it is an invitation to faith. You will never see Christianity described as a religion in your bible – again, that is because it is not a religion it is an invitation for relationship with God through Christ Jesus. All other man made religions are imposters and false. More pastors need to stand up and declare this.

    I agree with you that we must rightly divide the word. Paul told Timothy to do this and God instructed Paul in the same. Very few pastors understand past truths from present truth. They do not understand what is meant for the believer apart from the unbeliever or what is meant for the Nation of Israel apart from the Church. When you mix these together it brings confusion where people begin to believe that the bible contradicts itself – when, if you rightly divide the word, you alleviate all confusion – a quick example of this is the Lords prayer – for the Jew not for the church – the Lord’s prayer was for the Jew to pray for the Kingdom of Heaven to come on earth in a literal Kingdom with their Messiah as King. The church does not have the blessed hope of the Kingdom as do the Jews – the church has the blessed hope of the return of Jesus and the wedding in Heaven. Then the church will come back with Jesus to reign with Him over the Kingdom. The church has not need to forgive trespassers because God through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ has justified them by faith apart from works and all their trespasses have been forgiven and they have been found guiltless. Israel has a requirement for national repentance but the church has no such requirement.

    The bible is written to you and for you – it contains a very simple message – believe – whosoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. That’s it and it is for you – all of you.

    Kind regards,
    J Arnn
    Jewish Studies for Christians


    • I stand by that the Bible is not written to you or me. It was written FOR us, but not TO us. That’s not to say it’s not useful. But we must understand the culture in which it was written first. Take Paul’s letters, they were written to specific people, in a specific place, at a specific time. They are not written too me, Paul even addresses the letters as such. However that does not negate the importance.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I think it a very negligible semantic viewpoint, but to be clear, I did write this to you.

        Kind regards
        J Arnn


  6. Pingback: How not to read the Bible | Laced up Lutheran

  7. Such a great blog post and a reminder for all Christians of various denominations.

    I liked your statement. “The Bible was not written to you… In order to properly understand the Bible we must first understand the original audience.”

    The fact that we, as people and Christians sometimes have a limited underatanding of what the Bible is actually saying, we can misinterpret the Biblical scriptures.


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