How Should I Read the Bible?

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Monday, June 2, 2014 0 comments

by Katie Erickson

Last week I wrote about why we should read the Bible, but just because you want to do something doesn’t mean you know how, right? Because the Bible is a living work, there’s more to it than just reading the words on the page. So this week, you’ll see blog posts about how to read the Bible. If you’ve never read it before, hopefully this will help introduce you to this great book. If you’ve already been reading the Bible for many years, hopefully this will still enlighten your reading.

The Bible is a collection of 66 books by 44 authors, written over a period of about 1500 years. Even though verse divisions were added in many years after the original writings, there are a total of 31,173 verses in the entire Bible - that’s a lot of words! No other book can claim to have the variety in authorship over the amount of time than the Bible, and it is the best-selling book of all time. With all that variety, it can be a difficult book to read.

The Bible is composed of a variety of literary types, including history, poetry, wisdom literature, and prophecy. Historical writings are ones that tell a story of what happened in history. This includes books such as Genesis, Exodus, and Ruth in the Old Testament (among others), as well as the four gospels and the book of Acts in the New Testament. Historical books are fairly self-explanatory, as they tell us a story in narrative form.

The primary poetry book in the Bible is Psalms, although the book of Proverbs is considered poetry as well. There are also poetic sections in other writings. These books are slightly more difficult to read, because they aren’t in a story form. Similar to poetry we see in literature classes, these writings may use a variety of language to say the same thing. They are often structured with different types of parallelism for that more poetic feel. In the original Hebrew, these are truly beautiful books! I have personally read a number of Psalms, and I’m working on reading through the book of Proverbs weekly with a group of fellow Hebrew and Greek learners.

The book of Proverbs is also considered in the category of wisdom literature, because it provides wisdom for living our lives in a Godly way. Other wisdom books include Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, and Job. Wisdom books provide us with advice on living and gaining Godly wisdom.

The final type of Biblical literature is prophecy, which foretells future events - whether “future” at the time of their writing, or “future” in the sense that they still haven’t happened. There are many prophetic books in the Old Testament, including Isaiah, Jeremiah, Joel, Malachi, and others. These books especially need to be read with their context in mind. Has what they are foretelling already happened, and how? Or are they speaking to events that still haven’t happened?

This brings up a great point about how to read all of the Bible - in context. When translating from the original Greek and Hebrew, we have a saying that “Context is king.” Every passage of the Bible must be interpreted in its context. When reading and determining the meaning of any passage, don’t just read that passage, especially if it’s just a few verses. Read what’s immediately around it to help figure out what’s going on. In many Bibles, the text is broken up into sections to help readers with this task. But don’t just stop there; it’s helpful to read a chapter or so before and after your selected passage to get the broader context. Going even further out, figure out how this particular passage fits into the broader themes of the book as a whole. This way, you are sure to get the true meaning out of the text, rather than reading into it what you want it to mean. For more on this, I would encourage you to check out this blog post.

There are many resources available to help you figure out what you’re reading in a particular passage. Website such as Bible Gateway (which we link to often) are free and have multiple Bible versions available for comparison, as well as commentaries and other resources. Commentaries are helpful to get scholars’ opinions on a particular text based on their extensive research. Bible dictionaries are helpful to define terms and explain concepts used in the Bible. Study Bibles are useful in providing extra commentary and references, as you’re reading through the text.

My personal favorite Bible software package is from Olive Tree, which can be used offline on basically any electronic device. There are many free resources on it, as well as ones to purchase if you’re serious about going deeper in Bible study. This software has become almost the only Bible I use, simply because of its portability and the wide array of resources available, without having to lug lots of heavy books around.

If you have questions on any of these resources or are looking for further recommendations, leave a comment I (or the other Worldview Warriors team members) will be happy to assist you. I’m not an expert by any means, but I have been studying the Bible for a number of years.

As a final thought, one of the most often asked questions on this topic is: “Which Bible version should I read?” My answer to this question is one that a former pastor of mine always gave: “The best version of the Bible is the one that you will actually read.” This post means absolutely nothing if you are not actually regularly opening up your Bible and reading it, constantly searching for more knowledge of our God, the Creator of the universe, who reveals Himself to us constantly in new ways through His Word.