Most of us read the Bible like this: a few times a week, we pick up the Bible and find a verse or three and read it. Then we put the Bible down, and we are done. At other times, we only read the Bible on Sunday morning when it appears on the projector screen behind the pastor.
But if our Bible reading looks like reading short snippets of passages or only reading during a Sunday sermon, then we are missing out on a key way that we can grow in our faith and come to know God. So here are three steps to help you read and understand the Bible.
1. Decide to Read a Whole Book of the Bible
Pick a book of the Bible that you want to read from start to finish. For example, 1 John has 5 chapters. Decide to spend a few minutes reading the book every day (10 minutes, say). Then read one chapter a day for 5 days.
The benefit of deciding to read one book is manyfold. First, it directs you to read one body of writing instead of reading small portions from here and there. And so it will help you to understand why John wrote I John, and how his argument in that book begins in Chapter 1 and ends in Chapter 5.
Second, it gives you a concrete challenge. You have one book to read and understand. Third, it teaches you to trace an author’s argument, something I will expand on in the following step.
2. Trace an Author’s Argument
If you read I John, then try tracing the big ideas and themes that John communicates. This allows us to genuinely understand what the Bible communicates. It’s great to know a memory verse, but it’s better to know how that memory verse contributes to an author’s argument. It will open up new vistas of understanding that will transform your life and draw you into a deeper communion with God.
3. After Tracing the Argument, Consider How the Argument Might Apply to You And Let It Transform You
Once you understand the Bible, then you need to think about how what the author meant applies to your life in the here and now. In general, this means you learn more about who God is and how he works, so that you can grow in godliness.
This is the most difficult part because it implies that you have mastered points #1 and #2: You know a book of the Bible and what that entire book communicates. As a consequence, you can read a verse and know what it meant as part of an entire book’s context. From there, it’s not so hard to see what the text means for us today.
Yes: everyone can do this. No. It’s not easy.
Yes: some verses in the Bible are so easy that the above is not required. No. it is not sufficient just to read these verses.
Yes: God is love, and so you can trust in him. No: God is not only love; he is also infinite and so there is infinite depth to him.
In large part, pastors and church leaders are meant to know the Bible very well so that they can help shepherd people, equipping them to minister. So not everyone will be a Bible expert. But anyone can be a good reader of the Bible.
And even if you are not keyed into reading, you can certainly listen to the Bible read and do what I’ve recommended above. The point is simply to get the Bible into your head and into your heart.
So pick up the Bible, read one book, trace its argument, and apply its message to your life.
George Zhou says
These are great tips!!
Reading whole books are so helpful (and like Carson says – many many times). I remember once I read the whole book of Ephesians everyday for 1 month to prepare for a introductory lecture I was giving on the book (before we started the Bible study) and I was thoroughly blessed.
Over the past months I’ve also begun to realize the importance of knowing the OT narrative, so you can begin to make connections between the old and new. I’ve found reading the Pentateuch and Historical books soo helpful in my understanding of the NT. I’m excited to get into the Prophets with this new OT knowledge.
In your sentence:
Yes: everyone can do this. No. It’s easy.
Do you mean to say it’s not easy?
Because I would definitely say it’s not easy. In my morning devotions, I still find it difficult to know how to rightly apply narrative texts to myself.
Somebody should really teach people how to do that….
Thanks for the article, always blessed by them
…if only there were some podcasts to listen to…. 😉
Hey now! I corrected the sentence. “It’s not easy”
Podcasts are coming.
About to run out the door. Will give a better response later!!!
George Zhou says
On a more specific note:
If John’s gospel is written so that “you believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and by believing have eternal life in him”,
How would you apply the passages to your life if you already believe?
I read John 5 today about Jesus healing the lame man on the Sabbath, and the Jews wanted to persecute Jesus because he did miracles on the Sabbath, and claimed that God was his father…
Isn’t John’s argument “Jesus gave many signs, like healing the blind man, and claimed to work on the Sabbath just like his Father, so believe in Him and have eternal life”?
How would that argument transform me if I already believe and have eternal life? Is it just a “good reminder”?
I’ve always been puzzled and confused by this. Would appreciate your guidance. Thanks!
I think it involves knowing what eternal life is. According to John 17:3, knowing God is eternal life.
So seeing God in Christ through John’s Gospel helps you commune with God (i.e., have eternal life) in a supernatural way by the Spirit.
My 2 cents.