Reading and understanding the Bible can be challenging. With 66 books written over thousands of years by dozens of authors in three languages, it’s no wonder many find it difficult to grasp the meaning and apply it to their lives. However, with the right approach, anyone can unlock the riches found in Scripture.
As an Evangelical or Charismatic Christian, you likely already appreciate the importance of reading the Bible. But you may have struggled to get as much out of it as you hoped. The good news is that with a few simple techniques, you can begin reading the Bible in a way that leads to deeper comprehension and life change.
Here are the key things to keep in mind:
- Read the Bible prayerfully, humbly, and expectantly
- Focus on complete books, not just verses
- Read for the author’s original intent
- Look for how it points to Jesus
- Apply it personally
- Read multiple times and ways
- Study with other believers
- Rely on the Spirit’s illumination
Pray Before You Read
The first step to reading the Bible for understanding is prayer. Pray that God would open your eyes, give you insight, and teach you by His Spirit. As Psalm 119:18 says, “Open my eyes that I may see wondrous things from Your law” (NKJV). Or as Jesus said, “If anyone wants to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine” (John 7:17 NKJV). God promises understanding to those who sincerely seek Him.
Approach the Bible with humility, knowing that without God’s help you cannot interpret it correctly. Pray for Him to speak to you through His word and guard you from error. As James 1:5 (NKJV) encourages, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God…and it will be given to him.” Bring your questions to God and ask for understanding.
Also pray with expectation. Know that God wants to reveal Himself and His truth to you through Scripture. Trust that the Spirit will guide you even when passages seem confusing. God promises that His word “shall accomplish what I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11). Pray in faith for this promised success!
Read Complete Books
Rather than starting with individual verses, focus first on understanding complete Biblical books. Books like Genesis, Romans, and Hebrews were written as unified literary works, similar to chapters in a novel. Grasping the overall purpose, flow, and themes of a book provides context for interpreting individual passages.
For example, pulling verses from Ecclesiastes without understanding its premise of “vanity under the sun” can lead to misinterpretation. But reading the entire philosophical treatise gives you the framework to know what the author meant.
Approach each book as you would a letter written to you. Keep in mind the author, audience, time period, key themes, literary style, and passage contexts. Strive to comprehend the main ideas and overall message. Let detailed analysis come after grasping the big picture.
Look for the Author’s Original Intent
One of the most important keys to reading Scripture rightly is discerning the author’s intended meaning to the original audience. While the Bible was written for us, it was not written to us directly. We have to determine what the human authors meant before asking how it applies today.
Use study aids like commentaries to understand key background details. Learn about the author, the initial readers, the setting, and the purpose in writing. For example, knowing that Hosea prophesied judgment to the northern kingdom of Israel helps explain his shocking marriage metaphor.
Seeking the author’s original intent will protect you from subjective interpretations. The Bible means what the authors meant – no more, no less. Handle the text carefully in context. The work of exegesis (drawing out meaning) must come before application.
Look for How it Points to Jesus
A key lens for reading both the Old and New Testaments is how they point to Jesus Christ. He is the central figure that gives Scripture its unity and coherence. As Luke 24:27 says, “beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.”
Look for how all of redemptive history leads to and centers on Christ. Read the Old Testament through the lens of His coming. See how New Testament writers understand the Old Testament as pointing to Jesus. Appreciate the NT fulfillment of OT prophecy and themes.
Jesus should be your main focus when reading every part of the Bible. As Hebrews 1:2 says, “in these last days [God] has spoken to us by His Son.” Get to know Jesus better through reading about Him in all of Scripture, not just the Gospels.
Apply it Personally
While historical background is crucial, that is not the end goal. The Bible was also written to transform lives. A key question to ask is “How does this personally apply to my life today?” Think through practical application questions as you read:
- What does this reveal about God that I should believe?
- What sin should I avoid, or what virtues should I cultivate?
- What command should I obey or example should I follow?
- What truth or promise should I trust or hope in?
- How does this point me to Jesus as Lord and Savior?
James 1:22 reminds us to “be doers of the word, and not hearers only.” Let the Bible diagnosis the state of your heart. Receive its spiritual nourishment. Scripture was written not just to inform, but to conform us into Christ’s image. Let it examine and change you.
Read Multiple Times and Ways
No one “reads” of the Bible merely once. To fully grasp its meaning, you need to read books repeatedly and in different ways:
First, read longer sections to get the big picture and overall flow. Don’t get bogged down trying to interpret every verse on the first read. Focus on main themes and structure.
Next, perform closer readings of shorter passages. Dig into details and persist through difficult sections. Take notes and consult commentaries to sort through questions.
Third, reflect on personal application. Meditate on how specific verses and principles impact your life. Let the words sink in; don’t just race through. Savor the Scripture and let it dwell in you richly (Col. 3:16).
Learn to read both broadly and deeply. Vary your reading approach depending on your aims. Read reflectively, actively, aloud, in groups, and with an open heart.
Study with Other Believers
While personal Bible reading is crucial, God also intends us to study His word alongside other Christians. As Acts 17:11 describes, the Berean Jews “received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.” Searching the Scriptures together gives important perspective and accountability.
Discuss passages with mature believers who can share insights you may have missed. Their gifts may complement your weaknesses. Listen humbly to teachers who have studied Scripture deeply, but also think critically for yourself.
Join a Bible study to benefit from the gifts and experience of others. As Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” God uses the Body of Christ to help you grasp His word better than you could on your own.
Rely on the Spirit’s Illumination
Ultimately, the Bible can only be understood through the illumination of the Holy Spirit who inspired it. Human wisdom and study techniques alone cannot grasp spiritual truth (1 Cor 2:14). We need God to open blind eyes and shine light into darkened minds.
Jesus promised His disciples, “The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you” (John 14:26). As you read, rely on the Spirit to be your Teacher and Remembrancer.
Like the disciples on the Emmaus road, ask Jesus to open the Scriptures to you (Luke 24:45). Plead for Him to give you understanding as you read. Know that the Holy Spirit is able to take God’s living word and make it come alive to you – a sinner saved by grace.
In conclusion, be encouraged that the Bible is not beyond your grasp. With prayer, careful study, dependence on the Spirit, and patience, you can receive life-changing understanding from God’s word. May you treasure the Scriptures and rejoice to see Christ revealed in them!