Bible

How to Read the Bible (better)

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?

30 comments on “How to Read the Bible (better)

  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 3 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 2 people

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

    Liked by 2 people

  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.

    Liked by 2 people

  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.

    Liked by 2 people

  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

    Liked by 1 person

    • 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 3 people

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

        Kind regards
        J Arnn

        Liked by 1 person

  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.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Hi, you make a great point about understanding the interpretation and the context when reading the Bible. I think that’s where everyone misses the point. Also the idea of taking one verse in the Bible without doing any further study to understand the context of what is being said. I don’t think the Bible is complicated or hard to read but its lack understands that makes it harder for many to discern.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. brandonwestmoreland

    Very well said, thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 3 people

  10. Thank you for this excellent practical advice.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. I just realized you are a Pastor. Now I am going to be hyper critical of what I write and post! Hehe… Actually I already am…. Continually editing…trashing posts… Ugh, yeah… affraid I’ll get something wrong…say something wrong…and lead some one in the wrong direction. It is a learning process for sure…and if I get something wrong feel free to call me on it…though, Pastors make mistakes too. So….. Great post! Context I agree is so important…

    Liked by 3 people

    • We all say and believe wrong things. Don’t worry about being wrong. But when you realize you are in the wrong be full of humility. The goal isn’t to be perfect, that’s why we have God’s grace. The goal is to be more like Jesus today than yesterday.

      Liked by 2 people

  12. People will always read the Bible or any other book as they want to read it. For approximately sixteen centuries they could only hear it in Latin from a Catholic priest. The Reformation changed all that and very quickly we had a huge proliferation of veiws. For me that was good news men and women could debate and decide what it meant. It wasn’t such good news when they tried to kill each other or torture each other over the interpretation but it happened. Now we have all sorts of versions besides the King James and some have got so up tight about it they have become labelled King James onlyists . Next step are the King James onlyists a sect ? Much more debate .
    The modern contention lies around same sex relationships and women ministers and no doubt reams of deep theological discussions have kept the best scholars busy. I love the Bible for its ability to pierce the mental armoury of men and women however smart they seem.

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  13. Pingback: 3 Ways People Misuse The Bible (And What You Can Do) – rethink

  14. Pingback: What Jeremiah 29:11 Really Means – rethink

  15. This is very insightful. I’ve also found an article that brings out additional helpful tips to understand the Bible. Here’s a link https://www.jw.org/en/bible-teachings/questions/understanding-the-bible/#?insight%5Bsearch_id%5D=33c22fe9-8fa9-41e8-a77a-8860003b0c5b&insight%5Bsearch_result_index%5D=0

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  16. Paul, in 1 Corinthians, specified what the issues were in the church chapter one and following. However in the context of that verse is church edict. Also taking the context of the book Chapter 11:3 (Before 1 Cor 14:31) states this clearly, “But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.” Although we are men of the church to do work in the church you also have to understand this verse, “The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife.” (1 Cor 7:4). The role of the women in the church is not to serve in worship, that’s all Paul is saying. The role of men and women in the church is the beauty of the church.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m not sure what you are pointing too. This article is written about how to read the Bible in context. I think you missed the larger point of the article. However I have written extensively on women in the church and what their role is. I would be more than happy to talk about that. Although from the looks of it you and I will come down on opposite ends of the spectrum.

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      • I see the point of the article, however if understanding the Bible is the main point it’s important to look at context of the books and the chapter. Looking at Paul’s writing style is also very important. The article is sending a proper message but taking the context out of verses is extremely dangerous.

        Liked by 2 people

      • The error in that thinking is that the words stand by themselves. In your example you took a few verses from Paul’s writing and are standing on the words alone. That is what makes interpretation dangerous. Since I was only using the verses you pointed out as an example I did not have the space to show how I got there. How I got to my theological position on womens/mens role in the church is by following the process in this article.

        Just because the Bible says it doesn’t mean that we can instantly apply it. First we must understand what was going on in the culture and in that church. Then we evaluate what the author (in this case Paul) is trying to tell that specific group of people. Once we have all that we can then figure out what the baseline truth is and apply it to our lives. That is what this article is trying to help people do. Healthy interpret the Bible. If you are interested in learning more about hermeneutics I would be happy to give some great books/resources.

        For sake of finishing my argument in the case of the Pauline passages on women in church this is addressing a cultural issue and not a universal truth. There were a group of women in the church that Paul was writing to that were disrupting the church service and causing disunity in the body. Paul is addressing this SPECIFIC group of women saying to knock it off and save your words for outside the church. This is not a universal truth. The truth that we can pull from this is the importance of order and unity within the church. As you say “The role of the women in the church is not to serve in worship” is a very dangerous thought and not back up in the slightest in scripture. Jesus himself place women time and time again in valuable places in his ministry. I’ve written on that before. If you were to read through Acts and the rest of Paul’s Epistles you will see women serving in the local church. Even in the early church many women served as pastors as well.

        There’s room for argument of course. There are plenty of people much smarter than me that would disagree to the extent i would take this. But almost no, reliable, Bible scholar would say that women cannot serve in worship.

        I would also caution you with how you interpret 1 Corinthians 11:3. Pulling out of one verse that men have authority over women can lead to very dangerous practices.

        Liked by 2 people

      • The Bible is built to not have to be read by a scholar to find truth. Are the letters written by Paul not also inspired by the Holy Spirit? By saying that he directed this letter to Corinth therefore we ignore that portion of text, is like the idea of being selective of text. Every word in these books are valuable. There is a purpose behind each of these words and the Holy Spirit works in this way.

        The interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11:3 is very valid as well, there is no dangerous interpretation if the Bible is straight to the point. Looking into the context, Paul is talking about men not covering their heads. The reason why is because men are shown to be the head of the church. If my interpretation 11:3 is incorrect, I wish to correct the wrong of mine.

        Reading throughout the New Testament and Old I never have heard of women being placed in the spot of a preacher however you have told me, “If you were to read through Acts and the rest of Paul’s Epistles you will see women serving in the local church.”. Serving in the local church is different than the directing of worship. I can serve in the church by greeting visitors as they walk in or simply helping those that are in need. Simply said, I never read Jesus appointing a woman as a leader in the church. Jesus had only appointed the apostles however you see that he finds women among his time on Earth but I have not read anything about the placement of a woman in worship. If the evidence is based off a historian finding evidence of a woman as a preacher, there were already divisions among the church.

        Throughout the Bible as well you don’t see a woman preaching, but you do see men like Paul and Barnabas. You don’t truly need a Ph D in Bible to understand the Bible. The lifestyle of following God’s Word is that narrow gate that few will follow. It’s important to test your faith, why ignore 11:3 and say it’s dangerous when it can lead to a study that might be needed?

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      • You are 110% right that you do not need a PhD to read the Bible. However you do need to understand the culture and context it was written in. That doesn’t require in depth study, in most cases. But it does require more then just taking the words for face value. The Bible was written to a group of people thousands of years ago that lived in a different culture. A quick glance in Paul’s writing you will see a plethora of these.

        I would STRONGLY recommend that you read a few basic books on biblical interpretation. They aren’t complicated and the good ones don’t tell you want to believe. They just give you tools in understanding the Bible and it’s message.

        An argument based around “you don’t see…” in your case is a women preaching doesn’t add up. with that logic Jesus only appointed circumcised Jewish men. So therefore only Jewish circumcised men should preach. I agree a study on 11:3 is needed. But you HAVE to look at the church Paul was writing too. I could go on, but you can search for an article I wrote on Jesus valuing women. And if you are really interesting I have a more in depth research paper on it. However I doubt we will see eye to eye on. Which is fine, I actually like different views. At the end of the day if we are both following Jesus our other views don’t matter; much.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I believe you misinterpreted what I previously stated, the apostles came from different backgrounds and never were only appointed “Jewish circumcised men” which I had not stated previously. I must say that I know the church of Corinth as I’ve studied the letters many times. I will have to take a look at these books you recommend me to. However I strongly recommend that you take a look at ApologeticsPress.org which is a site founded on finding scientific evidence for the Bible as well as topical interpretations based off of verses from the Bible. Thank you for consulting about the Bible.

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  17. I don’t know about preaching, but Deborah was set aside as both a prophetess for God and a judge in the book of Judges. After Sisera is killed, by another woman, she sings a song about it. (In reference to some past comments). I found the conversation very insightful. 🙂

    Like

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