How to Read the Bible

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As a pastor working with teenagers (or any age for that matter) one of the biggest challenges is trying to answer the question “How do we get teens to start reading their Bibles?” Scripture is one of the biggest ways God speaks into our lives. It is our go-to source for dealing with life’s problems and learning how to be like Jesus. Therefore, it is vital for us to be spending time daily in the Word. I have found that I run into a number of students who decide they are going to start making this a priority in their lives and they dive in headfirst. However, these awesome intentions soon turn into a return to old ways. As I have talked with discouraged students, the biggest reason for this reoccurring problem is…I don’t know how to read my Bible. And this is a real problem. How do we read a book that was written thousands of years ago, in way different cultures, in several different languages and make sense of it for our lives today? It’s tough. Reading the Bible is sometimes much easier said than done. So how do we do it? This is a life-long learning process but there are definitely some things you can do right now to help, so I wanted to give a few easy ways to help you start to read the Bible in a way that can help you understand what is going on and how to apply it to your life.

The very first thing you should do is get some helpful tools. Here are a few I recommend

  1. Teen Life Application Bible – http://tinyurl.com/l8haqtj
    • This Bible helps see how different passages apply to our lives and the way we should live
  2. Study Bible – http://tinyurl.com/n2bnm98
    • Study Bibles have notes for each verse that give explanations that help for easier understanding
  3. Bible Hub – http://biblehub.com/commentaries/genesis/1-1.htm
    • This is definitely my favorite online tool. Every verse has multiple commentaries that you can read for free.

Once you have some tools, it’s time to start reading. For starters, here are five questions you should ask yourself every time you read the Bible.

 

  1. What is the Genre of the Text? – In any class you take in school where you have to read a book (assuming you actually read it) this plays a huge role. What are you reading? Is it a narrative, a poem, a historical account? Did you know that all of these and more exist in the Bible? Well, they do and you read all of them a different way. Just as you wouldn’t read and interpret a poem by Emily Dickinson the same way you read about World War II in your history book, you won’t read the Psalms the same way you read the Gospels. So first ask yourself, what type of writing am I reading?
  1. What Type of Language is Used? – Is there lots of figurative language? Does the author use lots of similes and metaphors (remember those big school words)? Is it apocalyptic language (end of the world judgment stuff)? Is it hyperbole? This will tell you a lot about how you are supposed to read it as well. This will also help in determining things like literal or not.
  1. What is the Context/Historical Significance? – How does this passage fit in the overall story of the Bible? What happens in the chapter before? What happens in the chapter after? What was going on in history at that time? The third Lord of the Rings movie makes a whole lot more sense when you’ve seen the first two. The Great Gatsby makes way more sense when you know about the 1920s. Again, this is where that Study Bible comes in handy.
  1. What are the Themes? – At it’s simplest definition a theme is the subject of the passage you are reading. What is it about? What is it trying to convey? You have to do this in school all the times with books you read, identify the theme. Do it when you read the Bible and it will help you reflect. Identifying the theme will also help you with the last question…
  1. What is the Purpose of the Story? – Think to yourself “why did this get written?” Remember, humans wrote the Bible. They were inspired by God to do so, but they wrote it. So ask, why was the author inspired to write this? When you can figure out the purpose, you are heading in the right direction of understanding what you are reading and applying it to your life. You also avoid many distractions.

Here’s an example. Let’s look at the story of Jonah. If you’ve never read it before it’s super interesting and it’s a quick read. Only 4 chapters! Read it real quick right here – http://biblehub.com/niv/jonah/1.htm

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So when you read this story and you don’t understand or know how it applies to your life, go through your questions.

What is the Genre? – Narrative: We are reading a story here so look for things like characters, setting, conflict, climax, resolution.

What type of language is used? – This has lots of narrative language but all of Jonah’s prayer is chapter 2 is a poem. It uses lots of poetic language and imagery.

What is the context/historical significance? – in 2 Kings we read that Assyria invaded the land, deported the Israelites, and laid siege. The Assyrians were responsible for the exile. Where was Ninevah? You guessed it…Assyria. The Assyrians had invaded the Israelites, taken them over, and removed them from their homes. They were violent and harsh. So when Jonah gets called to go preach to Assyria, no wonder he goes in the opposite direction. That is his worst enemy. These are the people he hates. No wonder that when he gets called there he doesn’t go, and when the people of Ninevah repent, Jonah gets mad that God doesn’t destroy them.

What are the themes? – Well, now that we know that history it’s a lot easier to figure out. Themes include forgiveness, obedience, and following God’s will. Can you think of any I missed?

What’s the purpose? – Where do we even begin? There’s so much here. These people killed and oppressed the people of God and he still gave them grace when they repented. God used someone who hated these people to be the one to show them his love. The story ends with Jonah being mad, meaning these sinful pagans were more open to God’s redeeming love than Jonah was. Oh yeah, did we mention how much easier it would have been for Jonah if he would have just listened to God the first time?

Now that you have all this info I bet God is giving you all kinds of ways of how this ancient story from a vastly different time period applies directly to your life today. And guess what? This was only 4 chapters out of 1189. So use these questions to begin reading and allowing the Bible to directly impact the way you live your life. Speaking of that, next post we will talk about how to take these questions and figure out how to apply the ancient writings of scripture to your modern life.

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