This is a question I am often asked. And it’s a good one! For many (particularly new Christ-followers) the Bible is intimidating. It shouldn’t be. God wrote it to be understood by children and adults. Sometimes we make a task or undertaking harder than it should be. Reading the Bible is easier than you think. Moreover, if you are a believer, a Christian—a Christ follower, then the indwelling Holy Spirit will grant you abilities to understand His Word that go beyond even your ‘routine’ reading comprehension levels. He will make God’a word known and understandable (John 16:12-15).
So, how does one go about reading, studying, and understanding the Bible? First, let’s understand that not all passages are equally complex (or equally simple). Their difficulty varies with subject matter and genre. Second, as we reading any book, use common sense. Ask yourself three questions:
1) What do the words say? When you tell someone “open the door” they understand they are to open the door. “You shall not murder” means what it says… you shall not murder. Employ a natural, common sense reading of the text. Now, it’s also helpful to use common sense in terms of things like turns of phrase, poetic language, etc. When Jesus says “I am the door…” He’s not saying or implying He has hinges. Recognize word-pictures. He’s using a metaphor to describe Himself. When Jesus says “Jerusalem… you who kill the prophets… how long I have wanted to gather you under my wings… like a hen her chicks…” Jesus is not claiming to have feathers. He’s expressing a desire to care for His people, even those who are far away from Him.
2) What do the words mean? Contrary to pop culture, words do have meaning. “You shall not murder” means you shall not murder. Now the fact that Hebrew uses different words for murder and kill is helpful. But when you read with common sense and read the words naturally you understand their meaning. “Jesus wept…” means Jesus wept. “Pray for those who persecute you” means just what is says. “Do nothing from selfish ambition” means just what is says. Using common sense we understand the Bible means what it says and says what it means. There is but one meaning, or interpretation to the text. Our job is to find it. So ask yourself, what do these words mean?
3) How should I live (what should I do)? We are given information that we might act upon it. When God gives us a command we are to act, to obey. When God prohibits something, we are to avoid it. We said a moment ago that there is one meaning to the text. There is. But there are multiple applications. “You shall not steal” means just that. This may involve stealing answer off a neighbor’s paper or laptop during a quiz, test, or exam. This may mean that we are not to take credit for someone else’s ideas. It may mean we are not to download pirated software——or turn in a false expense report.
Read the Bible like you would any book AND read the Bible unlike you would read any book. Am I contradicting myself. No, not really. You see we read the Bible to understand it as we would read any book. However, the Bible isn’t just any book. It is the word of God. And God has something to say about every inch of thread that makes up the fabric of our existence in His Bible. He writes for our good and our protection (one reason I refer to the Ten Commandments as the 10 protections… or “Ten Rules for Life.” So while we understand that other books are from men and we may take or leave some of their opinions, the Bible is the Word of God and we do well to follow His Word.