How to read the Bible in five easy steps
- Remember the Bible is a story – and it’s all about Jesus
- Look for Law and Gospel
- Check the context
- Take note(s)
Before we get started, I want to mention a few things. First, go slow. Don’t rush. Don’t treat this like a chore or just another item on your to-do list. Find a comfortable place, take a deep breath, and begin your time.
Second, begin and end with prayer. Ask for God to send His Holy Spirit to speak to you and bless your time. Pray for faith, wisdom, listening ears, and guidance.
Third, remove distractions. Turn off your phone. Close the door to your office or room. Find a time during the day when you can devote at least 15 minutes to listening to God.
Before you even begin, remember that the Bible is one big story, and it’s all about Jesus. We often think of the Bible as a helpful “handbook” to Christian living (and there is some of that). Or, we might think of it as a rulebook for life (and it does contain rules). Maybe you’ve always thought about it as a book of proverbial wisdom (lots of that too). But, ultimately the Bible is a storybook. It’s the story of God and His people. It’s about the God who created this earth and all of us people out of love, the God who stuck with His people even after their rebellion, the God who promised His people a Savior who would rescue them, who kept that promise by sending His Son Jesus, and who promises to return to rescue His people once and for all. Every page of the story is leading us to our Savior
Look for Law and Gospel. God speaks two messages to us in His Word: Law and Gospel. The Law says, “Do this,” while the Gospel says, “It’s already done.” The Law is God’s will for His creation, the Gospel is the Good News of Jesus Christ. In the Law our sins are laid bare, God keeps us on track, and we are taught how to live. The Gospel is a message of freedom and grace to those who are in bondage. Don’t confuse the two, and definitely don’t take passages of Law and read them as the Gospel. If God is telling you to do something: serve, pray, study, or give – that’s good for you (because God’s Law is good), but it’s not the Good News. The Law will never set you free or forgive you your sins. That’s what the Gospel is for. We never find our hope or peace in the Law, but in the gospel. The Law is good in that it helps us live in better relationship to others, it drives us to see our sin and our need for a Savior, and it stops us when we’re tempted to really mess up. But, it cannot save us. Look to the Gospel for that – to the love of the cross, the empty tomb, and the glorious return of Jesus.
Too often we read passages of Law and take them as Gospel. We think, “If I could just be a little more faithful, a little more kind, or a little more honest than God would be pleased with me!” No. God is pleased with you because of Jesus. Because of the Good News of His death and resurrection. Of course, it is good to be more faithful, more kind, and more honest, but that is not what we look to for security and comfort. Jesus gives us all we need of that.
So, as you read, ask yourself, ‘Is this Law or Gospel’? Is it telling me to live like Jesus, or is it pointing me towards His righteousness, His sacrifice, or His love? Am I led to confess my sin, or led to praise God for His forgiveness?
Check the context. For example, what has been going on before and after this passage? When is this passage taking place? What is the life situation of the people? Knowing what is taking place around the passage will help you better understand what’s going on. No passage is written in complete isolation. For example, right before Jesus is led into the desert by the Spirit to be tempted for 40 days, several of the Gospel writers tell us that Jesus was baptized. Consider, what might that tell us about each story? What are the implications?
What is the genre? Is it a story, a letter, a prophecy, history, proverbial wisdom, a psalm, or apocalyptic (relating to the end times)? Each genre reads differently. For example, apocalyptic literature (i.e. Daniel or Revelation) uses lots of imagery or metaphors, while Paul’s letters speak more directly. If you took Revelation literally, then we’ll miss the message behind the metaphors. Likewise, if we read Paul’s letter to the Roman’s like Revelation, we would miss out on Paul’s clear teaching.
Take note(s). Don’t be afraid to underline or markup your Bible. Flag pages you want to return to. Write down your questions. Highlight verses that speak out to you. Keep track of new things you’ve noticed or learned. Mark places that leave you scratching your head, the ones that you want to ask someone about or return to later.
Reflect. Ask yourself these questions: What sin am I led to confess? How am I challenged to think, believe, speak, or act differently? What promise did I hear? Where was Jesus and what was He doing? If Jesus wasn’t mentioned directly, how was He alluded to or pointed towards? What might God be asking me to do in light of this passage?
Personally, because my mind so quickly wanders and my brain shoots around like a ping-pong ball in all different directions, I created this Prayer Journal to keep me on track. It includes all of these reflections, plus blank space to write down any other thoughts you might have.
*If you found this helpful, check out this article I wrote called, “My daily devotional routine”
Tools For Bible Study
I recommend a good study bible. A study Bible provides notes that answer many of your questions, glossaries where words are defined, and helpful maps to give you history and context. Here’s one example. Here’s another.
I love the Bible Gateway website and app. They make it super simple to look up Bible verses on your laptop, tablet, or phone. All
Here’s a two volume set of commentaries that will give you even greater history and context behind the Bible that we like.
If you’ve liked what you read and want to dive in even deeper, check out our book!
*The Everyday Disciples is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. Clicking the link costs you nothing, but does earn me a commission