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How to Read the Bible

Four Methods:Before You BeginGeneral AdviceReading for StudyReading for Religion

There are a variety of reasons you may wish to read the Bible. It may be that you are Christian but have never read the Bible or have not read the entire Bible. It may be that you are not Christian but wish to read the text so as to understand it and be better able to discuss it with your peers. You may wish to read the Bible for academic purposes, such as to gain an understanding of ancient Near Eastern history. Here are some suggestions to help you get started reading the Bible.

Method 1
Before You Begin

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    Decide which translation is right for you. Once you have decided why you are reading the Bible, you will have to decide which translation is best for you. Many exist and there are a great deal of differences between the versions.
    • If you are reading for religious reasons, you may wish to read the translation common to your denomination and then later try another translation to see how the two compare. Knowing what other denominations believe will give you a better understanding of your own version and will lead to more critical thinking about your beliefs.
    • If you are reading to gain an understanding of Christianity as an outsider, it may be a good idea to read several different translations. This will give you a better idea of the difference between denominations, as well as an appreciation of how the text has changed over time.
    • If you are reading to study the history of the region, you should read the translations which are the most direct or the original text, if you possess a reading knowledge of the appropriate languages.
    • New International Version: This translation was done in the 1970’s, though it has been updated since, by an international group of scholars. It has become the most popular translation by far and is widely used.
    • King James Version: This translation was created in the 1600’s specifically for the Church of England. It is commonly used in the US, especially by Evangelical churches. The language of this translation, though dated, has had a large impact on the English language as a whole.[1] There is also the New King James Version, which is a modernization of the original text and also quite popular.
    • New Living Translation: This translation, undertaken in the 1990s, focuses not on direct translation but on conveying the original intentions and ideas of the text. The language is modernized so as to be more widely understood and it makes use of inclusive language.
    • English Standard Version: This translation, done in the 1990’s by academics, is a literal translation and was intended to be as accurate a translation as possible. It is most commonly used for study bibles, though it is the official text for some churches.
    • New World Translation: An example of a translation associated with a particular religious group, the New World Translation is the text used by Jehovah’s Witnesses. It is notable for using the name Jehovah in the text, instead of the word “lord”, when referring to God.
    • The Joseph Smith Translation: This version of the Bible includes notes and changes made by Joseph Smith, the founder of the LDS Church. It's meant to be read in conjunction with the Book of Mormon. You may want to read this if you either are Mormon or if you wish to understand Mormonism better.
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    Decide which sections you will read. Do you wish to read the entire text or are you only interested in specific books? Do you want to read the Old Testament (the original Hebrew texts upon which the beliefs of the religion are based) or just the New Testament (the portion of the text dealing with the life of Jesus Christ)? Decide how much of the text you wish to read and what order you will read it in so that you will be better prepared.
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    Read a little every day. Consistency matters.
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    Get a guide. The language of the Bible can be very complex and since it is very old, much of the cultural context is missing. It is important to understand what the original authors intended, as well as the history of the time in which they lived and how it affected them. Buy a guide, which will help you read between the lines and better understand the text which you are reading.
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    Get supplies. It may be wise to take notes as you read. The text is long, depending on which books you have chosen to read, and you can easily forget the details. Have paper and a notebook available to write down significant passages, notes, timelines, family trees, significant people, and any questions you have so that you may research the answers later.
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    Get the Bible, if you don't have one already. You will need to get a copy or several copies, depending on the books and translations you have chosen to read. These can easily be acquired or purchased at local churches, bookstores, christian bookstores, or online. You can also use a free translation online, if you do not need a physical copy. If you purchased a bible guide, it may be that the guide already contains some or all of the text that you are interested in. Investigate this to ensure that you do not get more than you need.

Method 2
General Advice

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    Be open. Read the text with an open mind. It may present you with information you did not previously know and it may challenge your preconceived notions of the religion and history. You will gain much more from the experience of reading if you have an open mind and are willing to take in this new information. Remember that different people have different opinions and that is okay.
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    Have a schedule. As the text can be long and complicated, it may be easier for you to set aside a specific schedule to help you get through it. It will also help you process the information if you are not rushing through the text. Plan on spending several weeks with the text, as taking in the information over a longer period of time will help you process and retain it better.
    • You should determine a schedule that works best for you. If your days tend to be busy, it may be wise to set aside an hour or two before going to bed each night in order to read the Bible. You may have better luck studying during your lunch hour, if your evenings are too busy. If it is particularly difficult to find time during the day, setting aside a larger chunk of time once a week (such as a Sunday) may be more manageable. Also, try to have a set time of day to read and ensure that that time is the best time for you. If you are too tired at night, it will be difficult to focus on the material and you may wish to try reading in the morning instead.
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    Think critically. Analyze the text as you read it. Questioning what you know of the text and what you believe of the philosophy will make you smarter in your beliefs and also help you to feel more confident in your understanding of the text. Thinking critically about the text will also help you learn more than what is simply written on the page.
    • Think about how the teachings and events in the bible make you feel. Do they match with what you know about the world? Do they align with your personal beliefs of right and wrong? You may find that you have different beliefs than you previously thought, be it that you agree or disagree with the text more.
    • Think about how the culture at that time compares with yours. Thousands of years have passed since the time of the New and Old Testaments. The world is a very different place and people have very different values than they did back then. Thinking critically about the text allows us to understand that, while the Old Testament may command the stoning of certain sinners, this is no longer considered to be the correct practice nor does it agree with the overall beliefs of Christianity. Think about the history of the region and how it formed the practices of that society and compare it to how our environment affects us and our cultural practices now.
    • Look for metaphor, allegory, and literary devices. Not all of the Bible is meant to be taken literally. Just because Christians are referred to as sheep, we shouldn’t in turn assume they make great sweaters. Just because Jesus refers to himself as “the vine” doesn’t mean he thought grapes grew from his fingers. Think about the text as you read and look for passages where the author means more than what is simply written on the page.
    • Compare the tone and content of the different books of the Bible. The Old Testament is very different from the New Testament. What can we learn from this? Look for shifts in values and beliefs and think about what those shifts mean. Think about how the shifts may have affected the history of the religion and how you feel personally about the changes.
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    Look things up. If you don’t understand something, look it up! The text is very complicated and old. It may use vocabulary that you do not know or it may make reference to things you don’t know or understand. Don’t be afraid to look these things up online, in books purchased or borrowed from a local library, or consult with a local pastor for an explanation.
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    Take a class or consult with experts. If you want to gain a better understanding of the text, you can take a class or consult with experts. Classes will be offered at local churches or universities. You can consult with local pastors or professors of religion at your local college, to gain their understanding of the text as well as vital context.

Method 3
Reading for Study

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    Study the history. Read about the history of the region and time period before reading the text. This will give you important context for the events, people, and ideas in the books. Look for books on ancient Near Eastern history, the history of ancient Israel, biblical history, the history of Christianity, the history of Judaism, as well as books on the history of the church itself in order to gain an understanding of how the text has been translated and changed.
    • Don't forget that people can be wrong. It isn't too difficult to publish a book and people can say whatever they want to. Look for research which is well documented to be sure that you have the most accurate information. Peer-reviewed texts best.
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    Prepare questions. Think about what you are wanting to understand about the text and what you are curious about. Are there particular holes in your knowledge or topics you find particularly confusing? Note these so that you remember what to look for as you read. You can mark any answers you find in your notebook. Remaining questions after you finish can be posed to a local pastor or professor of religion.
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    Read chronologically. Read the books in the order in which they were written, as this will give you the best understanding of how the ideas changed over time. You may also wish to read them in the order in which they are meant to be presented but the changes are easiest to see when reading in chronological order.
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    Take extensive notes. Take notes on everything you read. There is a great deal of material and it can be difficult to keep track of. In order to ensure that you are understanding the text and keep you from mixing up ideas and people or settings, take notes. These will also be helpful if you plan on discussing your study with others or writing an academic paper.
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    Read supporting research. Read supporting research from scholars, preferably from peer-reviewed sources such as academic journals, as this will give you context and a more thorough understanding of the history and the context. Much of the bible is contested academically. Entire books are sometimes excluded and many arguments exist as to appropriate translations of specific passages and entire sections. You can gain a great deal of understanding of the religion and the bible itself from learning about what is considered canonical and what is not.

Method 4
Reading for Religion

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    Pray. Pray before you read. Ask God to open your heart and your mind to the text and lead you down the correct path. Ask God to reveal answers to any questions and doubts in your mind as well as revealing the truth regarding any misunderstandings you may have. This will put you in the correct mindset for absorbing the spiritual benefits of reading the Bible.
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    Consult with your pastor. Consult with your personal pastor or preacher, or a local one if you do not belong to a particular congregation. Ask about any questions you have with the text and ask for suggestions regarding methods for reading as well as particularly important books or passages. You may even be able to schedule time to read certain sections together, to gain the greatest benefits from the text.
    • If you have doubts or areas where your faith is weakened, your pastor may be able to lead you to passages which address these issues. Discuss your concerns.
    • If you have difficulty discussing your faith with non-believers, your pastor may be able to suggest passages which deal with contested topics.
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    Prepare questions. Write down all the questions you have, as well as any you discussed with your pastor. This will allow you to make notes on your own impressions of the things you discussed with your pastor, as well as making note of answers you find on your own. It will also help keep you from forgetting what you wanted to learn,, so you do not have to dig back through the text again.
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    Read random passages. While you will gain the most from reading all the way through the entirety of the text, it may be beneficial to read random passages. Pray and open the text at random, to let God lead you in the right direction. This may lead you to answers you did not know you needed or open your mind to new ideas.
    • You may wish to later discuss with your pastor how you feel about the passages you were lead to. They may have insight as to the meaning of the passage as well as the significance for your life.


  • To get the most out of the Bible, take care not to pick and choose certain verses to neglect others. Try to read the entire Bible from beginning to end. This way, you will gain a much better understanding of the biblical context and what the Bible really teaches as a whole.

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