How to Read and Interpret the Bible
The Bible is called the greatest book, and rightly so. You probably have a Bible somewhere in your home. Year after year, the Bible is the world’s best-selling book. Yet most people know very little about this amazing book and what it contains. To many people, the Bible is merely a book to be read, but the Bible is so much more. It is a blueprint for life. It is the story of redemption. It is the manner through which people receive communication from God. We’re all told that we’re supposed to read our Bible, but why should we? What makes the Bible so important? Can it really do anything for us? Here are several reasons why we should read our Bibles, and it’s far more than, “because I told you so!”
Something To Talk About:
The goal of every Christian is to immerse the mind and heart in the Bible every day until you are conformed in your thinking and feeling to Christ. Most of us, most of the time, when we read the Bible “devotionally” in daily reading, will often have a sense of immediacy as we read—we feel we are simply reading the Bible (not “interpreting” it) and in doing so we are “simply” hearing God. Is it possible to do both? Here are some things to consider:
- Read it: There is a interesting dynamic happening in Christianity today. People are spending a lot of time reading books about the Bible, but less time reading the Bible itself. It’s as if we are more interested in getting our perspective from others rather than from the source. There is nothing wrong with reading commentaries or books on the Bible, but it should never be a substitute for reading the Bible for a truth that will penetrate the heart and permeate our lives. So read the Bible because you want to, because it excites you, and because you want to know God. Read the Bible because it’s living and active and as such can speak a powerful truth into your life right now. Read the Bible so that your life reveals more of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:3). Those and other reasons are why we should read and engage with our Bible every day.
- Get a modern translation: Here’s the flat out truth: If we don’t understand it, we won’t read it. The Bible was originally written in Hebrew and Greek. One of the earliest translations to English was the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible, but today we have a variety of versions to choose from. Some translations focus on being more precise and are best for Bible study, while others focus on readability and are great for devotions. That is why we recommend a modern translation that takes the manuscripts of the Bible and translates them into the language of our day. Among the worthy modern versions, pick the version where you feel most helped by the Lord to hear his voice with authority and clarity. But always feel free to use other versions to try to wrestle through any parts that you don’t understand by comparing them with the texts that you use most often.
- Start with Jesus: The Bible contains 66 separate books compiled into one book. The 39 books of the Old Testament are the story of God and His people before the coming of the Messiah—Jesus. The 27 books of the New Testament pick up the story beginning with the birth of Jesus. If you’re new to the Bible, the best place to start is the Gospel of Mathew, Mark, Luke and John. All of them were all eye witnesses to the life of Jesus. They give a biography of the life of Jesus. Start with the book of John. As one of Jesus’ closest disciples, John’s account is both riveting and informative. John’s purpose in writing is to help us believe, making it the ideal place to start. “But these are written so that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him you will have life by the power of his name.” (John 20:31). When you have read John, the other gospels, and several other books in the New Testament, then you can expand in other areas of the Bible.
- Three interpretive principles: The Bible is often subject to some degree of interpretation. To interpret scripture, we must always try and find out what the author’s intent was; or what the writer wanted it to mean. Second, always try and interpret the verse in light of its context. It is easy to take a verse out of context. Remember that a verse is part of a chapter, and a chapter is part of a book, and a book a part of a library of books and should not isolate a verse from its wider context. And finally, always let scripture interpret scripture. If you want to know what a particular verse or chapter might be trying to say, the best way to be sure you’re getting it is to make sure that the way you think you’re getting it lines up with everything else the Bible says about that subject.
- What is your studying/reading style? Is it effective in reading the Bible?
- What does it mean to read the Bible with expectation? What in your mind is a critical reading of the Bible?
- What does context mean in reading/interpreting the Bible?
- Do you believe we should start with the big story, Jesus? Why or why not? When we encounter Jesus He can profoundly impact our lives. How is He changing your life now to be more like His?
- How do you find the meaning?
- What does interpretation mean to you? How do you go about interpreting a passage of scripture?
- What do we do when we have differences of opinions on how we interpret a passage of scripture?
- Do you think the translation you choose matters? Why or why not?
- Where does simple faith and trust come in when interpreting the Bible?
Take one thing home with you:
If you are a Christian, the Bible is an indispensable book. Our walk alongside God takes a thousand twists, turns and obstacles. Fortunately, the Bible is the map for that journey. Much more than a single volume, it’s a library of 66 books. The Old Testament opens with creation and unfurls the history of God’s relationship with Israel and the Jews. The New Testament reveals that redemption through Jesus Christ was God’s plan all along. Together, these books are the Word of God. Each was written by men through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
As the Apostle Paul wrote about the Bible, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.” (2 Timothy 3:16)
Read your Bible. Study the Scriptures, examine them closely and apply yourself to understanding them. It will change your life. As far as versions of the Bible to read, there are lots of choices. At Northstar we use the NLT (New Living Translation) for our on-campus content and most online content due to its easy-to-understand nature. However, we also suggest the following versions for personal Bible study: NIV (New International Version), ESV (English Standard Version). In addition, study Bibles are great resources to help you dig deeper into the Bible, and there are different versions that cater specifically to children, teens, or adults.