Tips for reading the Bible

Including some from a book called “51% Christian”, by Mark Stenberg:

  1. Don’t read the Bible alone. Sign up for a smart, critical-thinking Bible study at your local church. At Glory we have one on Sunday morning at 9:30 am. At least I like to think it’s smart. Talk to others who are reading the same passages. Post a question or comment on this blog.
  2. Get a good commentary. A good study Bible will also do the job. The Oxford Annotated Study Bible or the Harper Collins Study Bible are both excellent. They contain some of the best that modern scholarship can offer in the form of introductions to each of the books of the Bible, numerous foot-notes and cross references, maps, and more.
  3. Read the Bible backwards. Reading backwards is like looking at the picture of the jigsaw puzzle you’re trying to assemble. For example when reading the gospels, start with the crucified and risen Jesus. The gospels were written as a result of this event. When reading the Old Testament start with the prophets who announced God’s original will of liberating people from slavery. Read the Bible backwards by keeping in your mind the picture of ultimate peace and justice, life, beauty and healing for the world described in the book of Revelation, chapter 21-22. It’s the goal of history and a key to understanding what came before in the Bible.
  4. Remember that the living word is not a book, or letters on a page. The Bible, though called the Word of God, is witness to the living word which is Jesus Christ. We know his love through the Holy Spirit, based on the witness of Scripture.
  5. Celebrate the passages or verses that speak to you, or that you find particularly meaningful. Try to memorize them. Try to think of related passages and look them up.
  6. Stick to one translation. The NRSV is probably the best from a scholarly linguistic standp0int. The NIV uses some non-inclusive language, but is otherwise okay. The Good News Bible is not always accurate, but very readable. Comparing translations can be helpful when dealing with a difficult passage. But continuity in style is better for retaining the content.
  7. Use your imagination.
  8. Note what you are feeling as you read. Confusion, doubt, uncertainty, anger – these feelings can be just as important as serenity, faith, assurance, and peace. Explore what in the text gives you these feelings.
  9. Turn what you are feeling into prayer.
  10. When confused, don’t give up reading, but read more. Read longer passages in context.

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Heart Burn

My name is Markus Wilhelm. I`m a pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada. I live in Edmonton, Alberta, and serve Glory Lutheran Church in Sherwood Park. I was asked a few months ago what, in a sentence, my greatest hope is for our congregation. I spontaneously answered, I hope we will become well acquainted with the Bible. I grew up eight kilometers from Wittenberg, where Martin Luther worked most of his life. My family emigrated to Canada in 1979, ten years before the Iron Curtain fell. Theology runs in the family, going back several generations on both my father's and my mother's side. After attending college in Canada, I studied theology in Tuebingen, and was ordained in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada in 1992. I have served in congregations in British Columbia and Alberta.

3 thoughts on “Tips for reading the Bible”

  1. Thanks Kyle for your comment and question. I prefer to use the same translation for day to day reading because of the continuity. Obviously the best would be to read the Bible in the original languages, which I only do for sermon preparation. Every translation reflects the translator’s linguistic ability, nuances, preferences and even biases. Once you know what they are, it is easier to follow, I find. It is also easier to recall things you have read or heard before. Of course comparisons between translations can be very helpful when trying to figure out how a passage might also be understood. But you always have to remember that every translation is already an interpretation of the original, more or less faithful to the original.


    1. Thanks for your reply, Pastor. I agree with what you’re saying, but even reading the Scriptures in their original languages is interpretation as we are removed by time, setting, and even our understanding of the original languages (as there is still ambiguity with certain words, phrases or figures of speech). That’s why I do find it helpful to read multiple translations – some are giving us a more literal rendering of the text while others are providing a more thought-for-thought account… and some, like The Message, are simply helping us read the bible differently.

      I do like the idea of one translation for memorization, though, I think that is very helpful indeed.

      On another note, I really appreciated your sermon and the service this past Sunday. It was refreshing to hear good news in context (and the critique of empire), and the liturgy was beautiful and inspiring.

      Thanks so much.


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