6 ways incorrectly read your bible

6 Ways You May Be Incorrectly Reading Your Bible.

There is so much I could say about how we read the Bible.

I’ve blogged about it many times before and I will no doubt blog about it again.

This week I want to just post a few brief points though to challenge you on how you are reading your Bible.

They may be completely irrelevant for you but I often find myself guilty of falling for some of these obvious mistakes when it comes to how I read the bible.

So here are 6 common mistakes many of us Christians make when reading the Bible.

1) We think it was written to us

Believe it or not but the Bible wasn’t written for you.

I know we taught that it’s God’s love letter to us, however the truth is it’s not.

It’s the writings of many people over hundreds and hundreds of years. And not one of them ever anticipated billions of people 2000+ years from then reading their writings on an iPhone.

If we don’t ask “who was this written to?” we will always run the risk of misinterpreting the Bible.

Take away: read about the audience of the original text. Ask God what common message is applicable and what parts of the message are maybe not as applicable because you aren’t a goat herder in the wilderness 7000 years ago.

2) We forget that the Bible is not a singular book.

The Bible is an amazing collection of books. Some of the books are commentary on God’s exploits, some are historical annals, some are poetry, some are songs, some are prophecy, some are proverbs and some are letters.

The danger is in reading the Bible as a singular book and therefore reading it all in the same manner.

When we read a poem/play like Job (I’m not saying it didn’t historically happen just that the book itself is recorded as a poem/play) we should not be reading it the same way as we would Paul’s letter to Timothy. In the same sense we should not read a historical piece like 1 Kings in the same way we read a personal lament like Lamentations!

Take away: Ask yourself what it is you are reading, what medium is the author using in communicating God’s message? Now ask yourself are you possibly missing that message because you are reading it as something else?

3) We don’t consider who wrote the bible

Directly tied to the previous point we must always consider the authorship of the Bible.

I know this might come as a shock to some of you but the author of the Bible is not God. In fact not one page of the Bible attributes itself to being God’s handiwork!

God inspired the authors of the Bible and made sure His message is communicated through the Bible and because of that we look to the Bible in our Christian lives.

However, when we make the author God we end up misinterpreting the Bible. We must ask in our minds at all time “who is the author”?

A piece written by Paul will read different than a piece written by Luke.

Even pieces written by the same author in different seasons will take on very different meanings.

Solomon in his prime (Proverbs) reads a lot different than Solomon in the midst of a breakdown (Ecclesiastes).

Take away: Ask yourself who wrote the book I’m reading right now? What was their background, their personality, why did God choose them to communicate the messages and what parts of their humanity leak into the message that God has them sharing?

4) We don’t read it in its context

Man are we guilty of this one!

I call this the Christian Ouija board approach.

We love to just pull verses out of context don’t we?

The truth is God can speak to us through the Bible outside of the original context all the time – I don’t have a problem with that overly. But I do think it’s important to know that He is doing so.

One of my Bible teachers in Bible school taught:

“It’s ok to use scripture out of context so long as you know the original context and that you are doing so”

You see we are far too guilty of cherry picking our bible verses to support our own theology. When we read the scriptures in context it becomes a lot harder to do so!

Whenever a verse jumps out at me I always take a step backwards to get some perspective.

What was the paragraph it is found in about, how about the chapter, ok, now what about the whole book.

When we do this we can see quite quickly if we are taking scriptures out of context. In fact if often breathes fresh life to the verse as we see it in its correct context!

Take away: Make it a practice in your Bible reading to take steps back regularly to remind yourself of the context in which you find your text.

5) We don’t bother asking what’s going on outside of the text

One thing I never really realized I was missing out on was the historical context of the Bible.

I always read the Bible as a book in a vacuum – if there was some important information to the story it would be there. But the truth is there are lots of things that simply aren’t recorded in the Bible which have huge bearings on the actual text!

The audience and writers at the time were all aware of the political climate or of recent wars or about other religions in the region. There was no need for the author to explain these. We however thousands of years later are less so well informed!

It’s really helpful when reading the Bible to ask ourselves what is going on in the world of the audience and the author.

Nothing occurs in a vacuum. While God’s truths are timeless, understanding the situations people were in as they heard and delivered those truths will help us understand how to apply those truths in our equally important and unique situations.

Take away: When turning to a new book of the bible do a little bit of research on the book to find out more about that group of people and the world they found themselves in. Keep the things you learn about the culture, religions, politics and everything else in your mind as you read through the book.

6) We don’t read it through the person of Jesus

This one is the biggest of all. I’ve wrote a little about this already here – Nobody has ever seen God… Really?

You see we for some reason seem to forget that Jesus came to correct a lot of misunderstandings about God. Many of which the people got and continued to teach from the scriptures!

When we read the Bible without first and foremost holding Jesus to be the perfect image of God then we are going to find ourselves in trouble.

Because there are times where on the surface of things God looks very much nothing like Jesus. In those moments our interpretation of the scripture must bow to the ultimate interpretation of God… Jesus.

If our interpretation of the Bible leads us to a conclusion about God that is at odds with the Father Jesus came to represent then we must change our interpretation.

This might be a big leap for some of you but it doesn’t make it any less true! Jesus Christ is the perfect image of God.

Nothing shows the nature of God and His will more clearly than Jesus… Even the Bible!

Take away: When faced with difficult passages about God, His actions and His will, ask yourself first and foremost – what did Jesus show to be true of God? From that place, approach the scriptures and allow yourself to interpret them through the person and life of Jesus.

What about you?

What mistakes have you made over the years as you approach the scriptures? And what have you changed in that area that has allowed you to get all that God intended for you to get out of the Bible?

Please leave a comment below and let me know :)

A few more resources on the Bible on PhilDrysdale.com:

Podcast – Has The Bible Become Our Idol
Blog – Is The Bible Really The Word of God
Blog – Jesus Was Not A Bible Believing Christian

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11 Comments

  1. thanks phil. Some of those actually hit me hard. Never imagined i could have been getting it wrong one way or the other though i’ve always acknowledge room for more. It’s always been challenging reading your words. Cant deny its been a heart searcher. I promise to read in light of the above now. More understanding phil and courage to speak this truth out.

  2. This is very close to what you’ve already said–but I don’t think you specifically articulated it: We need to read the text through as you would read any other piece of literature. Simply put: sit down and read through the book of Mark in one or two sittings. Read through the book of Philippians in one sitting. Read it through the way you would read any other writing!

    My practice is take a book (say Ephesians) then read it through every night for a week. The first couple of times just read it without making notes. The next thing is start asking questions: “What does this say?” “What does this mean?” “What am I not certain about?”

    Next, while it is important to do your historical-critical research; avoid commentaries. I’d stick to a good Bible Dictionary–Anchor is pretty expensive and ISBE is a bit dated. But if you have access to a decent library, see what you can find.

    If the only option are commentaries, only read the introductions to the books. Do not read the verse by verse comments. Instead begin to look at the foot notes in your text (I don’t mean study Bible comments, either–in fact, put the study Bible aside and just get a text with no commentary. A study Bible is just a Bible that has a commentary attached to it…). Footnotes may include variant readings or literal translations for place names, etc.

    Note: I am not anti-commentary. But I prefer to come up with my own conclusions first and then see what the commentators are saying. And not all commentaries are equal. I’d make certain the ones I read were written within the last 20-30 years and were written by scholars–not preachers (not a slap against preachers–but many are not exegetes, they tend to publish their sermons which most often are not designed to dig out the details of a text).

    The Expositor’s Bible Commentary and New International Commentary are decent–N. T. Wright’s The Bible for Everyone is good–but it is on a more popular level. If you are gutsy enough pick up his scholarly tomes (e.g., Paul and the Faithfulness of God, etc.) for background study.

    I’d also recommend two classics: How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler and How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth by Stuart and Fee.

    Ho well, that’s my dollar’s worth…8^)

  3. My biggest mistake reading the Bible; was reading it in bulk and then putting it down for years. I’ve found that reading it daily in much smaller doses instead of binging is far more healthy… who’d a thunk it

  4. My first mistake as a Christian was your number one: thinking every statement was God’s word to me. . . every command was my command. Whew, I’m glad to be over that one.

    Next was taking the Law and the Prophets as guides to live by instead of pictures of Jesus. I love what Luke says about what Jesus did on the road to Emmaus: “And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.” If more preachers did that today, we’d all be much better off.

    The third mistake was thinking that anything in the gospels was “the gospel.” You probably have a whole blog on that one, huh?

  5. Hi phil I enjoy your things said about reading the bible .I dont know if people know that the bible was put together as a book about 290 years A C( I can be wrong with the exact years) and no printers that time not sure when printers came in. What did people do that time without a bible that believe in Christ . Just a interesting question Nice day for you Frans

  6. I just realized not too long ago that one of my biggest mistakes that contributed to my years of roller-coaster emotions through a misunderstanding of the goodness of God and who I am in Christ was how I would read and understand much of the Old Testament. Here’s just a few examples I randomly picked:

    Isaiah 26:21 NIV
    [21] See, the Lord is coming out of his dwelling to punish the people of the earth for their sins….

    (No longer applies. He did indeed come out of his dwelling, not to punish but to forgive the sins of the people of the earth)

    Ezekiel 30:19 NIV
    [19] “So I will inflict punishment on Egypt, and they will know that I am the Lord.”

    (No longer applies. Biblical Egypt can be interpreted as a spiritual analogy or picture of the world. Jesus said God so loved the world that he gave his only Son… Jesus took away the sin of the world by taking the punishment for all of our sins upon himself so that we may know that He is the Lord)

    Psalm 44:23-24 NKJV
    [23] Awake! Why do You sleep, O Lord? Arise! Do not cast us off forever. [24] Why do You hide Your face, And forget our affliction and our oppression?

    (No longer applies. God no longer ever hides from his people He is clearly and fully visible and available through Jesus. He has revealed the Father to us. There is no longer a closed heaven, only closed, confused, suffering and bound people that don’t know or understand the truth)

    Psalm 51:11 NKJV
    [11] Do not cast me away from Your presence, And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.

    (No longer applies. He paid an extremely high price to come and live within us. He’s not renting a room and leaving if conditions get bad. He came to stay. Only we can evict Him)

    Being in inoculated with Gods goodness through a revelation/encounter with Christ will remove the cataracts that hinder the vision of our bright colorful and always good and loving Dad!

    • Yup.. thats the number 1 thing that opened my eyes to everything in the bible is knowing that we are “beloved”, “children”, “righteous”, and “holy”. So important.. especially in the old testament. Also, when you read the OT, look for Jesus in everything. I’m telling you, it has made Leviticus my favorite OT book!

  7. If anything this post should teach us humility. If there are 6 ways of misreading the Bible there are probably 7, 8 or 9 ways. We may have avoided 1-6 (unlike the awful church down the road) but we are still adopting 7-9 (which the church down the road have avoided).

  8. My mistake before was i didn’t read the Bible through the lens of Grace and the finished work of Jesus, i am not aware that i am mixing law and grace..But now whenever i read the scripture it’s crystal clear because i always unveil Jesus and what he has done!!

  9. One thing I have learned is that just because the Scripture says something will happen, doesn’t mean God makes it happen. We are just being told what will be. When I learned this, it took my perception of a wrathful God and made it into the kind, loving God He is. He is warning, not saying, “I’m gonna get you for this”. And the fact that I used to think that He was so hard on Israel, not realizing the time difference. He would warn for hundreds of years before removing His protective hand and letting Israel have what she was asking for in her rebellion. Now, I don’t see Him as a vengeful God, but as One Who loves and tries to get His people to turn back to HIm instead of reaping disaster.

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