How to Read the Bible - The Basics

Often, new Christians or those exploring Christianity are told to read the Bible, but they’re given little-to-no instruction of how. Depending on your temperment, it can be a fairly intimidating place to be, due to the size of the book itself; the amount of information, names, places, and concepts packed into every chapter; and the importance of the material.

There are a lot of ways to read the Bible. However, I’ve found that this simple method is a good place to begin. If you’re looking to go deeper, I’d highly recommend How to Read the Bible For All its Worth by Gordan D. Fee and Douglas Stuart. It’s a readable, relatively short, book that teaches you how to approach your Bible reading in a way that will allow you to ask useful questions and begin arriving at answers.

Prep

Before you start, take a moment to meditate on what you’re about to do. You’re about to open up the word of GOD and read it. That’s crazy. Take a minute to pray and ask God to show you what you need to see. Approaching our time in the word with humility - being willing to see whatever God is going to show you - is a prerequisite to reading the Bible well.

Also, get out a notebook and pen. If you were studying for an important exam, would you just look at the textbook and try and remember it all without jotting down important points, connections you see, or questions you have? Maybe you would, but you shouldn’t. Neither should you if you’re looking to get the most out of your Bible study.

Begin

Read whatever chapters you’re going to read, and look first to understand the facts of the passage. This is core reading comprehension stuff. Questions you can use to guide yourself here include:

  • Do I understand all of the words?
  • Who is speaking?
  • Who are they speaking to?
  • What are the people/places they’re talking about?
  • What is the main point in their argument?

If names etc. are unfamiliar, write them down to find out what/who they are later. If there are words or phrases that you don’t feel like you really know what they’re saying, write those down. The goal of this section is to be able to explain the passage you’re reading to someone else, so you know you’ve got what’s there. You’re not applying or interpreting anything here - you’re just trying to understand.

Why would it be helpful to know these basic details? In John 4:43-54, an official comes from Capernaum to Cana to ask Jesus to come with him and heal his son. Jesus says “Go, your son will live.” So the man “takes Jesus at his word and departed.” back to Capernaum. It’s useful to know that Capernaum and Cana are 17 miles away from each other, roughly a day’s journey walking. So when the official “took Jesus at his word” and went back home, he was walking back for an entire day, trusting that what Jesus said would happen had actually happened. This is far greater faith than if the distance were only a mile or so, which you might implicitly assume if you didn’t know where these towns were.

Going Deeper

The Bible isn’t a textbook - it’s God revealing himself and his truth to us. So after we have an understanding of what the scripture is about, we want to look at it again, deeper. Some questions that are great to ask are:

  • What can I learn here about God/Jesus’/the Holy spirit’s character - who he is as his own being?
  • What can I learn about how God interacts with people?
  • What are examples that I can follow?
  • What are warnings I should heed?
  • What are promises that God is making? What are the conditions of the promises?

The point of this is to go deeper beyond understanding the basics of a passage to internalizing how that passage relates to your life.

Apply

If you learned something that may require you to change something about your perspective or your actions, now is the time to think about how specifically you will do that. Don’t walk away from the Word unchanged in some way.

Finishing Up

Pray again! Pray through what you’ve learned. Pray through questions you have. Pray about decisions you’ve made. Then go and share what that learning, those questions, and those decisions with someone else. By connecting with others about your Bible study, you’ll gain far more from the process.