Help in Reading the Bible


(A Self-Study)

Why should we want to read and study the Bible?

(1) God has spoken to us (Heb. 1:1-2)

(2) We need the message ourself (2 Tim. 3:15-17; Psalm 119:11; Col. 3:16).

(3) We need to know the Word to teach it to others (2 Tim. 4:2).

Attitudes that we need as we approach Bible reading:

(1) A desire to read (1 Pet. 2:2-3).

The following account has always served to stimulate me to read, study, and understand the Word of God:

“William McPherson lost his hands and eyes in an accident. He was suddenly plunged into a world of darkness, and the Bible became all important to him. With his artificial hands he could not read Braille. He tried touching the Braille with his tongue and found that he could learn to distinguish between the dots with his tongue! It took him many hours to learn to read just one letter. His tongue would become very sore and bleed, but still he kept at his task. Well, 65 years passed and during this time, he read the entire Bible four times with his tongue.” (Source unknown)

(2) A reverence before God’s Word–every word is inspired of God (Acts 17:11).

(3) A humility before the Word (Isaiah 66:2).

(4) A receptivity and submission before the Word. Exod. 24:7–“All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient!”

(5) A love of the Word of God (Psalm 119:97) –If we love the Author, we love the writing.

(6) An expectancy.

–Need an interest and curiosity into the Word.

–The spirit of excitement and inquiry like a little child.

–Can discover things we have never seen before.

How to read Scripture:

(1) Read carefully and alertly and with concentration.

–Weigh every word, phrase, sentence, verse, and all punctuation marks.

–Meticulous scrutiny and examination of all the parts is needed.

“Lanny Bassham, Olympic gold-medalist in small-bore rifle competition, tells what concentration does for his marksmanship:

“‘Our sport is controlled nonmovement. We are shooting from 50 meters–over half a football field–at a bull’s-eye three-quarters the size of a dime. If the angle of error at the point of the barrel is more than.005 of a millemeter (that is five one-thousandths), you drop into the next circle and lose a point. So we have to learn how to make everything stop. I stop my breathing. I stop by digestion by not eating for 12 hours before the competition. I train by running to keep my pulse around 60, so I have a full second between beats–I have gotten it lower, but found that the stroke-volume increased so much that each beat really jolted me. You do all of this and you have the technical control. But you have to have some years of experience in reading conditions: the wind, the mirage. Then you have the other 80% of the problems–the mind'” (quoted by Jenson, p. 80).

(2) Read repeatedly (some have read 10 or 20 times).

(3) Read aloud (we remember more of what we hear).

(4) Read to understand, not just to be a “daily Bible reader.”

(5) Read to apply (Psa. 119:11).

(6) Read with imagination (visualize what is described). (This works well with narratives.)

(7) Read with patience (it will not come immediately).

“Patience on the part of young Clyde Tombaugh is what led him finally to discover the planet Pluto. After astronomers calculated a probable orbit for this ‘suspected’ heavenly body, which they had never seen, Tombaugh took up the search in March 1929. Time magazine records the investigation: “‘He examined scores of telescopic photographs, each showing tens of thousands of star images, in pairs under the blink comparator, or dual microscope. It often took three days to scan a single pair. It was exhausting, eye-cracking work–in his own words, “brutal tediousness.” And it went on for months. Star by star, he examined 20 million images. Then on February 18, 1930, as he was blinking at a pair of photographs in the constellation Gemini, “I suddenly came upon the image of Pluto!” It was the most dramatic astronomic discovery in nearly 100 years, and it was made possible by the patience of an American'” (Time, 1 April 1966, p. 10; Jenson, pp. 51-52).

(8) Read with prayer (Psalm 119:18)

Some things to keep in mind as we begin:

(1) Basic preparation

(a) Be alone (generally)

(b) Need quiet with no distractions

(c) Use table or desk

(d) Be alert, wide awake, able to concentrate. (Choose the best time of the day for you.)

(e) Use pencil, pen, paper, notebook, etc.

(f) Be consistent–every day.

(g) Establish a priority to read and study.

–we will never find the time, must make time.

“If you can find the time to do anything other than stay alive, you can find time for reading –It’s all a matter of determining priorities, deciding what you should do with the twenty-four hours God gives all of us each day” (James Sire).

(2) Choose the best translation available (accurate, loyal to the Greek, readable, etc.). I’ve found the New American Standard Bible (Update edition) to be a reliable one.

(3) Choose an edition that has clear printing, large margins, marginal notes, large enough print, etc.

(4) Have available other Bible study helps

As one begins to study a section:

(1) What type of writing is it?

Prose–common, ordinary way of expressing things.

Poetry–written in verse, with rhythm (parallelism)

(2) What kind of language?

Literal–most of the truths of the Bible

Figurative–picture words used

(3) What is the background?

(a) Author?

(b) Recipients?

(c) Place of writing?

(d) Destination?

(e) Date?

(4) What is the context of this segment?

(a) Wide or broad context (the book)

(b) Closer context (the previous and following chapter)

(c) Previous verses and following verses

(d) What is the continuity?

(5) First read through the entire segment of Scripture.

(A segment is a group of paragraphs.) It is best to read aloud if possible.

(6) Determine to spend a length of time if at all possible–such as an hour or two, or at least a half hour.

The story about 81-year-old Carl Sharsmith, veteran park ranger in California’s Yosemite National Park, one of the world’s best-loved national parks: “Carl was back at this tent quarters after a long afternoon with tourists. His nose was flaked white and red with sunburn; his eyes were watery, partly from age but also from disappointment at hearing again an old question after a half century of summers in California’s Yosemite National Park. “A lady tourist had hit him with a question where it hurt: ‘I’ve only got an hour to spend at Yosemite,’ she declared. ‘What should I do? Where should I go?’

“The old naturalist-interpreter-ranter finally found the voice to reply: ‘A, lady. Only an hour.’ He repeated it slowly. ‘I suppose if I had only an hour to spend at Yosemite, I’d just walk overthere by the river and sit down and cry.'” (National Geographic; Jenson, pp. 12-13).

Take note of the following points as you read:

(1) Paragraphs (and name them if possible).

(2) Conjunctions or connectives: and, but, because of, since, when, for, therefore, as, after.

(3) Key words or phrases.

(4) Lists of persons or items.

(5) Punctuation:

Period–means stop.

Exclamation point–a period with intensity.

Comma–one of most common; separates points in a sentence, indicates lists, etc.

Semicolon–end of one thought, similar thought follows

Colon–what follows is explanatory

Quotation marks–sets off quotes of another person or writing.

Dash–surrounds a parenthetical statement. Single one introduces examples, etc.

Parentheses–include material easily detachable

Brackets–words inserted by another author (not used in the Bible)

Question mark

Ellipses–something left out (not used in the Bible)

(6) Are there any figures of speech?

Metaphor–implied comparison, one object likened to another

Simile–comparison using “like,” “as,” or “so”

“Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion” (1 Pet. 5:8).

Hyperbole–overstatement or exaggeration for emphasis

Metonymy–naming a thing by one of its properties

Synecdoche–a part put for a whole or a whole for a part

Apostrophe–addressing a thing or person not present or an imaginary person

Personification–attributing a personal characteristic to things that do not have them

Irony–saying the opposite of what is meant to emphasize a point

(7) Note relationships

(a) Make lists of things, names, actions, descriptions

(b) Comparisons–either likeness or contrast

(c) Cause and effect relationships

(d) Turning points in an argument (Eph. 2:4)

(e) Progression to a climax

(8) How are quotations from the Old Testament used?

(a) Are they direct quotations from the Hebrew?

(b) Are they from the Greek Septuagint (LXX)?

(c) Are they simply paraphrases?

(9) How do other translations compare? Are different words used? Are there different meanings conveyed?

(10) Check the marginal notes for other renderings, explanations, and further references dealing with the same subject.

(11) Use the concordance to look up related passages or other places where a given word is used.

(12) Use the English dictionary to define a word you do not know.

(13) Use the Bible dictionary for further help and information.

(14) Consult a map to find any place names in the text.

(15) Ask questions as you go through the text:

Rudyard Kipling: “I had six honest serving men who taught me all I know. Their names were what and where and when and why and how and who.”

(16) Try to make an outline of the segment of Scripture you are studying.

(17) List any difficulties you discover so you can study them more thoroughly later.

Respond to the message you have discovered and apply the lessons you have learned to your personal life.

(1) Confess sin to God (and others).

(2) Place your faith in God and Christ.

(3) Obey any commands you have learned.

(4) Worship the God you have seen described.

(5) Ask how this passage relates to:

–God or Christ






Part of this was taken from How to Profit from Bible Reading by Irving L. Jenson.

Richard Hollerman


Comments are closed.