If you’re anything like me reading the Bible can be a hit or miss experience.
Sometimes it feels like it takes me half an hour to read 10 verses and I still don’t get what they were about.
Other times though, it seems that the Scriptures come alive and every word is meaningful to me.
I find myself in both of these seasons even to this day. Although, I’m glad to say that the second experience is much more common than the first these days.
With that said, I’d be lying to say that sometimes the scriptures just don’t come to life for me.
When I struggle to get things out of the Bible it creates a downward spiral where I want to read the Bible less and less.
On the flip side, when I do start experiencing the Bible for all it’s worth I can’t get enough of it!
I sometimes wish there was a formula or a switch I could flick on. Something that would take me from the dry seasons of reading my Bible into the fertile seasons. Unfortunately there just doesn’t seem to be such a switch.
Yet, there are some really simple, practical things that we can do every time we approach the Scriptures that do make a difference to what we get out of them.
Here are five tips you can apply to your Bible reading. Each tip should only take you five minutes or less and will help you get the most out of the Bible.
1. Ask God
Imagine you are reading your favourite author’s latest book. It’s a page turning action packed thriller and you are enjoying it thoroughly. However right at the end of the book the author introduces a twist that you just don’t understand. It’s a very disappointing ending to the book.
This is how the Bible can feel sometimes. We can feel like we “get it” and that we are starting to have a handle on the gospel. Then out of nowhere, we come across a verse or passage that completely knocks us off our feet!
The funny thing is, we don’t really think through what we do next.
Most of us turn to a friend and ask them what they think. Or perhaps we might look for some input from our spiritual mentor. Most often we will try find some teaching online, a blog or a YouTube video to help us understand what’s going on.
Surprisingly, the last thing most of us do is ask the author himself.
Imagine the author was in the room as you were finishing that gripping novel. Can you imagine jumping on Google right in front of him, frustratedly trying to figure out what the ending had been about?
Of course not!
It’s the same when we read the Bible. We do pretty much everything we can imagine and go to every source possible for answers. Except, of course, the author who happens to be the most accessible and most knowledgable source.
So here is tip #1:
Every time you open your Bible, way before you find yourself getting confused, close your eyes, focus on Christ in you and repeat something similar to this:
“Thank you God that you are in me, you are with me and you are able to help me understand your word better than anyone else. Open my eyes to see what you have to say and my ears to hear your voice.”
2. Read the Context
Every week I get around 700 emails. About 250 of these revolve around Bible passages that people don’t understand.
This should hammer home to you the importance of people grasping tip #1: Ask God.
It amazes me that people seem to think they are more likely to get a good answer from me than from God! Not only that – God is a lot more accessible than I am (and is much quicker at replying!)
I think I’ve belaboured that point enough for now though.
What I’ve found is that of all the emails I get, the majority of them are because the person has not read the context of the passage in question.
Let me say that again, most of the time people don’t understand a verse or a passage it is because they read it out of context!
So here’s tip #2:
If you don’t understand a verse… read the chapter it’s in. If you don’t understand a larger piece of the scripture read a few chapters around it. Context ruins bad theology!
3. Read more than one translation
We call the different versions of our Bibles “translations”. I think that it’s important to remember though, that even a translation is subject to a degree of interpretation.
Nobody reads the Bible without a specific view or perspective. We all read it through a set of lenses that we have developed over time. Even the most unbiased translator (or team of translators) must admit that they are not immune to this.
This isn’t necessarily wrong, it’s just a fact of life.
Without becoming a Greek or Hebrew scholar there is no way for us to read the original meaning of the Bible. In fact, even with knowledge of Greek and Hebrew we will still end up tainting that meaning as I stated above with our own interpretation.
The best thing I know to do that combats this is to read as many translations as possible. Doing so highlights the different ways the original text can be translated depending on the lens of the translator. It can be helpful in seeing the multifaceted meanings within the words.
A Bible translation that many love for showing the different meanings of the words in the original language is the Amplified translation. It does this very well, however you can use many great tools online to compare and contrast different translations directly.
Finally my favourite resource for comparing multiple translations is called the 26 Translation Bible. Every verse contains 4-8 of the most different translations taken from a pool of 26 translations. It’s an incredible Bible – my favourite by a long stretch! It’s hard to get ahold of but you should be able to find it through a third-party seller here on Amazon.
So to sum up, tip #3 is: Read as many translations as possible to compare how different translators have chosen to translate the text.
4. Read about the audience
This is something I never once even thought to do growing up in the church. However, it’s one of the most important steps in properly interpreting the Bible.
I’m going to break a pretty huge bit of news to you. You might not like this at all…
The Bible was not written to you.
In fact, it wasn’t written for you either!
The Bible is a collection of books and letters written to many different people over the span of about 1600 years.
Not one of the intended recipients were you!
If you don’t get this into your head you will ALWAYS read the Bible incorrectly.
Sorry if that just turned your world upside-down, but it is the truth.
You see, when we read the Bible our first thought is often, “what does this mean for me?”
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We want our reading the Bible to mean something for us and to impact our beliefs and the way we live our lives. The problem is that we put the cart before the horse.
If we focus on what it means to us before we choose to discover what it meant for the original audience. Then we are very likely to misinterpret the passage and, in turn, apply it to our lives incorrectly.
Just because a prophet told a group of people to do something doesn’t mean we should do it.
Just because Jesus told people to cut out their eyes if they had lust doesn’t mean we should do that.
Just because Jesus warned people of coming judgement and doom in 40 years doesn’t mean we should still expect that same judgement and doom 2000 years later!
I don’t want to go over and over this point, perhaps it needs a whole blog in and of itself. Here’s the point…
Tip #4: Read the scripture as they were meant to be read. First, as the original audience, then you can ask what it means to you today.
5. Read through the lens of the cross
I’ve said that most scripture which is misunderstood is read out of context.
And that much of scripture is not understood because we don’t consider who the initial audience was.
This fifth tip is key to grasping both of those tips.
We must understand the difference between the New and the Old Covenant.
Very often we read the Bible failing to see who the audience was and what covenant they were in. We then falsely apply the same principles or commands to our lives.
The church frequently puts itself back under the shackles of the law and the bondage of the Old Covenant. The biggest reason for this is because they do not discern the context of what they read.
Many think they have this one down. But it’s far from a case of just discrediting the Old Testament and blindly applying everything in the New Testament.
In fact, all the Old Testament when read correctly and contextually will have New Covenant principles we can apply to our lives by the grace of God.
In turn some of the New Testament contains things that should not be applied until we read them through the lens of the cross. What might be more shocking to you is that most of these NT scriptures are found in the Gospels!
We fail to acknowledge that Jesus wasn’t preaching to Christians when He was on the Earth. There were no Christians! In fact He Himself was a Jew!
He preached to Jews. Jews under the law. When we read the Gospels it is extremely important we understand this fact.
Frequently He showed the Jews grace and gave them examples of what life would be like in the New Covenant. These are things that we most certainly should be applying to our lives!
But often enough, Jesus would come across those who were convinced that the Old Covenant would get them to Heaven. The Old Covenant was what they relied on to be in right standing with God (which is understandable as it was all they knew!)
The religious leaders of the day are an obvious example of people who fell into this group.
But others fell into that group too. Consider the rich young ruler. He came to Jesus boasting that He was doing all the laws right and asking if that would get Him into Heaven.
What did Jesus do?
He didn’t preach to Him about grace.
He didn’t show Him the error of His ways.
He instead gave the man a harder rule to follow.
He effectively said “If you think you can get into Heaven by your own efforts let me set a standard so high even you can’t make it”.
This doesn’t mean we ourselves should sell all our possessions so we can get into Heaven. (Although I’ve met many a Christian who thinks it does (in fact – I used to be that Christian!))
Rather, we must understand the context and see that Jesus frequently gave those under the law harder and harder rules to follow to show them the futility of their own efforts!
Jesus frequently preached the law to help people give up and accept grace.
I don’t want to get into this too much if you want to look at this more I’d encourage you to check out my video “Christians Are Not Under The Law”
Ultimately this is just simple Bible interpretation 101.
I’m not asking you to throw anything Jesus says out.
Everything He says has a direct and applicable truth for our lives.
But we must ask ourselves:
Who is He speaking to?
What covenant are they under?
What is the purpose of His message?
What does this teach me?
Is it something I should do myself or should I take it as a warning not to fall into that same trap?
So here is Tip #5 summed up:
Always ask yourself – which covenant does the audience of this passage fall into and how does it apply to me in light of this?
What about you?
So that’s my 5 tips that you can apply today to make your Bible reading more effective.
I’ve a question though.
What is something which you have applied in your life that has helped you see the scriptures more clearly and brought them more to life?
Leave a comment below.