The Worst Question to Ask When Reading the Bible


photo by dennis’s photography

The worse question to ask when reading the Bible is “What does this passage mean to me?”  Instead, we ask two questions:

1.  What did this passage mean to the original hearers?

2.  How does that apply to my life?

Can you see the difference? One approaches the scripture with me at the center, the other with scripture at the center.  It is important that we learn what the passage means, THEN how it applies to our lives. To do this correctly, we need to understand context.  Hang with me, it is not as hard as it seems.

I asked my friend, Elder, and fellow-Pastor Paul Bertsch his thoughts on understanding context.  Here are Paul’s suggestions:

I think our first tool is simply helping them learn to read the text well. Even though we might not have all the historical background there are tons of clues in the text that can give us some sense of what’s going on politically, militarily religiously. It seems like a huge win if they can begin to notice these things and have an eye for them.

Of course, most decent study Bibles probably do as good of job providing context in a brief way as any tool. If they can learn to use their study Bible and actually read the introduction to each book it seems that would really help them have a sense of context. I think this is where the iPhone/iPad Bibles don’t serve us quite as well.

My two favorite resources for these things are: 1. The new Bible dictionary by InterVarsity Press (available here or here).  A large book and a bit pricey, but  you have a lifetime of scholarship on terms book introductions and all kinds of stuff that is super helpful for context.

Secondly, I love “How to read the Bible for all it’s worth” by Fee and Stewart (available here).  This is a great, and readable book that breaks down the different genres  of the Bible and how we need to read each one a little bit differently because of the context and background situation.


What have you found useful in understanding what the Bible really means?  Comment below.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

Leave a Reply to Adam Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

6 thoughts on “The Worst Question to Ask When Reading the Bible

  1. I have been life journaling for almost a year now, and it really has changed me in so many ways…it really does bring me “one step closer” to Christ…and the more I read, the more I crave! I have to admit that there are ALOT of things I still don’t understand, but I go to the next chapter and it usually helps give me somewhat understanding. It’s amazing to me how much God and Jesus really loved us and how many times not only that he showed us, but how he proven it. And not just in the Bible, but in real life itself. It’s amazing! I go to a Bible study with one of my very good friends who has been reading the Bible for many many years, and teaching it on many many missions over seas. She has explained to me that there will be many things that we will never understand until we are face to face with the Lord. Having some physical problems as most people do, it helps me cope with those hard days…and the most amazing thing…..someone asked me that if I come across something that may help him in his troubles, please let him know and to pray for him…and guess what…as soon as he said that, I knew exactly where to go for that! Wrote it down for him to look it up in the Bible and read it over and over and over….A year ago, I would not even known that, for not EVER reading the Bible! Now that’s AWESOME! Thanks Scot! You’re an inspiration and one huge reason I come to Maryland….Lots of Prayers to you!!!!

  2. I use E-Sword , it has many translations ,and commentaries you can also do word search’s. It is free off web and I can use it without internet.

  3. I agree with the premise that we should not look for what scripture means to ‘me’. However, I think I would take out #2 and add…

    2. What does this reading teach me about Jesus?

    I could be wrong, but I think all of OT scripture, from creation to the story of Israel, points to Jesus. A single verse may seem unconnected to Him, so I have to dig a bit deeper (hence study..meditate..pray) into the story to see what I can learn about Jesus. A verse could apply to my life, in that it could teach me a way I should behave or a virtue to uphold. But virtues & good behavior pale in learning about Jesus.


  4. I completely understand that question. For years in my teaching of scripture I have heard, “What’s in it for me?” or “That was only for the people back then.” I disagree. I haven’t found a passage yet that doesn’t have an application today. One of my favorite methods of studying the bible is Kay Arthur’s Precept Upopn Precept method. It uses the Old Testament to explain the New Testament. Jesus, even in some parables and other stories uses examples from the Old Testament to teach His followers to be obedient to God. I also agree with Paul. The NIV Study Bible has some great historical facts about each book to better understand the context, some scholoarly assumptions about the writer, political situations and other comments. I’m kind of stuck onthe NIV Study, but I’m sure there are other great Bibles out there. I have a really neat Bible by Zondervan that focuses only on Worship. Thanks for your service to our Lord.

  5. I have been journaling for years and it really helps me concentrate and think about the wording. I am excited about Pauls’s recommendations and will look for those. As for using a study bible, is there ever a class at MCC that explains that process? I would be very interested to get some help with that.

    • Hi Brenda,
      There are a series of classes that help in stepping closer to Christ. Grab a study Bible and see what you think. I bet you find your way around and discover that it is easier than you think.