How We Read the Bible Matters

  • I don’t really enjoy reading the Bible.
  • I don’t get what a book written thousands of years ago has to do with my life today.
  • I’m not really a reader.
  • Did you know that people get drunk and have sex in the Bible?!
  • I don’t understand what I’m reading.
  • Did you know in the Bible there are these two people who were naked in the forest, eating fruit?
  • I read the Bible everyday…Jesus Calling is my favorite.

These are all comments people have shared with me in regards to reading the Bible. One of them was from an 80-year-old grandmother, the other from a fourth grade student (bet you can’t guess which one).

So what is it about this book that is so complicated? Is it really that difficult to understand? Is it really relevant for today? What is going on with all the sex, drunkenness, murder, and naked people?

I didn’t grow up in the church, so my experience with the Bible was limited until I was about 20 years old. I just thought it was a list of rules to live by or some ancient book that told the story of the “two naked people in the forest, eating fruit.”

For many of us, perhaps we have learned that the Bible should only be opened on special occasions. Or that you should only turn to it when you want to feel good. Better yet, maybe you could just rip a verse out of context and make it mean what you what it to mean (hello, Jeremiah 29:11, anyone?).

It wasn’t until the Lord opened my heart to seek out truth that I discovered the life found on the pages of Scripture. And that’s when the paradigm shift happened: I learned that it’s not just if you read your Bible, but how you read it that will change everything. I learned a lie and three truths about the Bible that helped me understand who God is and what his plan is for us.

Let’s start with the lie.

Lie: The Bible is all about me

While the Bible is certainly for you, it is not all about you. It’s about God.

When we read the Bible, it’s to know and love God more. It isn’t to pull a verse out of context to apply like a Band-Aid; it isn’t to find a verse to thump those “in sin”; and it isn’t just to fill your head with more knowledge. It should produce a deeper understanding of God, a greater love for him, and lead us into worship.

Part of the reason I’m not a fan of many devotionals is they take you all over the place, pulling a verse here and there out of context, and slapping someone else’s meaning or application on it rather than reading an entire book of the Bible in its context.

Reading the Bible in a way just to “get something for me” is like only eating dessert at every meal. We all want it and it tastes delicious, but you can live off dessert. In the same way, if we only read for application, our diet of God’s Word won’t be sufficient. We need to observe what is happening and discover the meaning of the text to properly apply it.  This means we let Scripture interpret Scripture, or as my seminary professor would say, “We let the clear interpret the cloudy.” We look to other passages to help determine the meaning of the text we’re studying and allow the Holy Spirit to illuminate the Truth of God’s word. Understanding the literal, historical, and grammatical context will help reveal the correct interpretation of a passage, discovering what it first meant “back then” before we can understand how to apply it to our lives today. We also interpret correctly when studying within community or the context of the local church, under the leadership of elders and encouragement of other believers.

What a paradigm shift from what is sold to us in Christian bookstores: “Read this devotional for five steps to a better life!” That kind of me-focused-faith distorts what God’s Word is really for: to tell the redemption story of God’s people through the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Truth: The Bible is meant to be studied

One of the best ways to help grow in the Word is to pick one book or section of Scripture and study it. Sit in the passage for a while, reread it, come back to it, look up words, and become familiar with it. Like a letter written to a loved one, you read it from beginning to end. So it is with books of the Bible.

Reading a book in its entirety changes how you understand it and, therefore, deepens your understanding of God and his redemptive plan. When we read, we read to observe (What do we see?), interpret (What does it mean?), and only then apply (How should it change me?).

When I began to study the Bible inductively (observation-interpretation-application), when I began to look for what it teaches me about God and how I fit into his greater story, the Bible came to life. Actually, it became my life. I enjoy reading the Bible, I see its relevance for my life and the world today, it increases my understanding of God, and it helps me know why all those people were getting drunk, having sex, and committing murder—to help me see that I am just like those people, a sinner in desperate need of a Rescuer.

Truth: The Bible has many applications, but only one meaning

While there are many translations of the Bible and many applications, Scripture has one meaning. Our job is to discover that meaning. We should never ask, “What does this verse mean to me?” but rather, “What does this verse mean?” Our job as readers and students of the Bible is to uncover the original meaning of the text, which reveals how it is relevant and applies to us today. Biblical truth can apply to us in many ways, but it only has one meaning.

Truth: The Bible is all about Jesus

The Bible is a collection of books and stories that point to a greater hero: Jesus. The Bible has 66 books, written over a time span of 1,500 years, by 40 different authors, in three different languages, on three different continents, about one message: God’s rescue mission for his people through the person and work of Jesus Christ. The Bible is a story meant to be read that points to One who makes the unrighteous, righteous; the unclean, clean; the outcast, redeemed; the sinner, a saint.

This paradigm shift helped me to understand the Bible and, therefore, to better love and understand God and live in obedience to him. What has anchored me in times of pain and suffering has not been a verse I ripped out of context to chant when I’m anxious or afraid, but studying God’s Word in a deeper way. It’s knowing his character through understanding the big picture of Scripture from beginning to end that helps me (and all of us) endure suffering.

How we read the Bible matters—reading it will change your life and shift your paradigm completely.

Melissa Danisi serves at The Well Community Church in Fresno, CA and has been married for nine years. She spends her days encouraging and equipping women by teaching God’s Word and shepherding women. Her greatest passion is to see women walk in the freedom of the gospel and grow in their love of Jesus through the study of Scripture. She has written several bible studies and also enjoys one-to-one mentoring or small group discipleship. She is a graduate of Western Seminary, pursuing a M.A. in Ministry and Leadership with an emphasis in pastoral care to women. You can find her writing gospel-centered articles at, her church's blog , and her personal blog

Adapted with permission from Unlocking the Bible