How You Can Read and Understand the Bible


THE BIBLE REMAINS the bestselling book of all time. You may well have one hidden away somewhere in your house yourself. But while the Bible continues to sell incredibly well, it is often not read.

In many cases, this is not for lack of trying. Begin at the beginning— which sounds perfectly logical—and you may soon become bogged down in the laws of Exodus and Leviticus, the second and third books of the Bible, wondering what on earth they have to do with your life today. And so the Bible returns to its shelf, leaving you discouraged and feeling like you could never understand this strange book, as much as you would like to.

Why then read the Bible?

To some the Bible is the basis for the largest religion in the world, Christianity, while for others it has been so influential historically that we need to be aware of it as literature if we are to understand our history. Still others seek to understand God and his relationship to the world. They wonder if God could possibly know or care about what is happening on earth and in our lives. To still others it is the book they meditate on to be instructed by and addressed by God, who has revealed himself particularly in Jesus Christ.

There are many good reasons for reading the Bible, and whatever your reason, the crucial question is how to go about reading it so that you can understand it. For many people, the experience of reading the Bible is like trying to force a big, bolted door open, and the million-dollar question is whether there’s any key that can unlock the door and enable ordinary people like us to read and understand it.

The really good news of this book is that there is indeed such a key!

We have found this key to work through years of teaching the Bible in home, church, and university settings. We have experienced again and again that this key really works. What, then, is this key?

We humans resonate deeply with stories. If you want to get to know someone, sooner or later you find yourself saying, “Tell me about yourself!”—or, in other words, “Tell me your story.” “Where were you born, what school did you go to, what is your family like, what do you do, etc., etc.?” To a greater extent than we may realize, we make sense of our own lives and enter into the lives of others through stories.

The key to understanding the Bible is to see that it tells a story of the whole world, beginning with the creation of the world and ending with the wrapping up of history. Its plot unfolds between these two bookends with Jesus at the heart of it all. Getting to know the story of the Bible enables us to read it while seeing how the many pieces fit into an overarching whole. 

We probably all know that Jesus is central to the Bible. We can easily miss, however, that to understand Jesus, who we learn about mainly in the New Testament, we need to go all the way back to Adam and Eve and then trace the story forward to see how Jesus fits into it and fulfills it. The story of the Bible is the large-scale map that enables us to see how it all fits together.

the 30 minute bible

the author with glassesAdapted from The 30-Minute Bible by Craig G. Bartholomew and Paige P. Vanosky. Copyright (c) 2021 by Paige P. Vanosky and Craig G. Bartholomew. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL.

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