The Bible: Learning How To Read It
It’s sad to say but quite a few people within the body of Christ are not that Biblically literate, which just shouldn’t be so. It’s apparent that far too many rely on their pastor’s sermon, a seminar, retreat, etc to understand it. Those means are all beneficial but should never take the place of our personal study and meditation on the Word of God. We should know it for ourselves, after all, Paul commended the Bereans for searching the scriptures daily to see if what he was telling them, was according to scripture.  A former pastor of mine used to frequently tell the congregation “shame on you” if we weren’t checking up on him on what he was preaching. When one doesn’t know the Bible for themself, it makes them easier prey for cults, heresies, and other such false beliefs/teachings. I have seen this all too often.
Some of you may know that I’ve spent some considerable time conversing with Jehovah’s Witnesses, and doing numerous Bible studies with them. To my recollection, no JW that I have ever talked to had read the Bible cover to cover before becoming one, and most still hadn’t since. This bit of information should tell us something. I have often asked these ones, if you haven’t read the Bible through for yourself at least once (before joining), how are/were you sure that what they were telling you was the truth? How would you make the proper assessment? The common answer was the appeal to emotion of “I just knew”. It would be superfluous of me to say that such groups take advantage of one’s ignorance. Hopefully some of the ideas of how to look at/read the Bible (what has worked for me) I give you today will be of use.
- Newbies – If you’re new to the Bible, it is highly recommended to start in the four Gospels, and stay in them for some time to get a good grasp of what’s going on. Some will recommend the book of John first -which is fine- but I would like to see people start in Matthew (after all, it’s the first book of the New Testament) and read onward to John. It may be tempting to jump around to follow all of the references (especially if you own a reference Bible) but in the beginning of learning the Bible, this might be confusing to some. Keep in mind also that those references may not be applied correctly, given that they are from commentators -we’ll discuss them later- that do not speak infallibly. So for now, a chronological, verse by verse order of reading is advisable.
- Prophecy – The Bible is full of prophecy and it’s important to understand the degrees to which they apply. Some are already fulfilled while others have yet to unfold. Some prophecies are/were for the nation of Israel, some for all of the followers of Christ (spiritual Israel), while others are for all of mankind etc. We can also read that some were contingent solely upon the action of man. In short, we must be careful to not apply any prophecy that was never meant for us. Doing so will give one false hope in something that will never materialize.
- Culture – In the West we often forget that the Bible is truly a Middle Eastern book. It’s beneficial to keep this in mind when we read it. For example, there are Jewish idioms used throughout the Bible that might not make sense to us, but by learning the different ones used, it will help us gain clarity.
- Time Frame – This in my opinion is a big one, especially when comparing the Old Testament to the New Testament. Skeptics love to cite the Levitical Laws of the OT and try to apply them as NT requirements without giving proper timeframe and context whatsoever. There are others that mistakenly do the same. A passage often cited for this is Matthew 5:18. We need to understand that there are three types of law -being ceremonial, moral, and judicial- that God has given man. Out of the three, his moral law has not changed (while the other two have) and is thus applied to the scripture cited.
- Language – You don’t have to be a Hebrew or Greek scholar to benefit from learning a little of each language. An excellent tool (for free) that has helped me is e-Sword. As I’m reading scripture I’m constantly using the Hebrew and Greek dictionaries (such as Strongs, BDB, Thayers etc) to see the meanings of words and how they are rendered in different passages. Some words have a multiplicity of meaning depending on the context of its usage. You will find such a study helpful for when you see someone (perhaps we are guilty too) misapplying the language incorrectly whether on purpose or by accident.
- Context – It’s imperative that we never read a Bible verse.  As previously stated, reading chronologically (especially within a particular book of the Bible) is key in order to understand the context of what’s being said. There are groups out there (yes we’re picking on the cults again) that constantly twist context by isolating a verse or collecting other isolated verses and reading them as a conclusion that was never meant to be. The familiar 20/20 vision is always a good rule of thumb in my opinion. 
- Commentary – Reading the various commentaries on a particular book/chapter/verse can really open your eyes to ideas we might not have thought of. Though I don’t rely on commentaries -and neither should you- to tell me what the Bible says, nevertheless they are invaluable to me when I’m stumped on a verse that I’m not sure of. Some of these commentaries have notes and references on the Greek/Hebrew words, they have already done the lexiconic work for you.
- Literal vs Metaphorical – I try to read the Bible as literal as possible but when something can’t possibly be rendered in such a way -even this has its controversy- the alternative is that it’s metaphorical. And when we’re dealing with prophecy in particular, well, that’s where the debates often get heated. To be quite honest, there are some things that I’m not quite sure about how to interpret so I try not to be so dogmatic as to certain meanings and how they could play out. I try to stay open and not shut out what may be valid even though it doesn’t “fit” my hermeneutics.
- Notes – I love taking notes, especially of scriptures that I’m wrestling with to fully understand. Some are afraid to write in their Bibles, well, that is not me. A good highlighter (or two) and a pen can be a good friend. When I’m doing a topical study, I prefer to make my own sort of commentary to be referenced later. Also as an apologist I have made various notes and commentary that relate to which cult I may be speaking with. For example, I have my “JW Bible” that is heavily noted and referenced (showing their Society’s contradictions, off the mark exegesis, and mistranslations etc) when they come to my door.
- Prayer – The importance of prayer when reading the Bible can never be underestimated. There have been countless times that by simply praying about a scripture, did I get a deeper understanding. There are various verses where God says that he will help us in this endeavor if we only ask. 
- Univocal vs Equivocal – I’m often amused when I hear Christians in a debate and one proclaims “that’s just what the Bible says” without considering another view that is presented. The reality is that a person might not be disagreeing with what the Bible says but rather one’s interpretation of what they say the Bible says. Another consideration is that both parties could be right as a passage could have an equivocality of meaning. However, there can be no doubt that others have only one. It would do us well to consider all the options before we say that there are none at all. Bind dogmatism will not help anyone.
1. (King James Version) Acts 17:11 These (Bereans) were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.
2. (King James Version) Matthew 5:18 For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
3. Never Read A Bible Verse
4. Meaning that you read twenty verses before and twenty after a particular verse to decipher its meaning/context. I take it a little step further sometimes, where I’ll just read the chapter before and the one after to get an even better scope of context, when applicable.
5. One of my favorites for this: (King James Version) Jeremiah 33:3 Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and shew thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not. (KJV)
(This article was originally posted at Razor Swift)