From the March/April 2021 issue of Discern Magazine

How to Read the Bible

The Bible is God’s Word, full of life-changing truths. But it’s of little value if we don’t use it. Here’s how to gain more from reading the Bible.

Listen to this article

The Bible is a best seller, with estimates of over 6 billion printed in hundreds of languages. Parts of the Bible have been translated into over 3,000 languages.

But though it is one of the most translated and distributed books in history, it is also one of the least read. Most find it mysterious and hard to understand, and many struggle to find its relevance to their lives.

There is a lot of proverbial “dust” accumulating on Bibles today. Many surveys show that even among religious people, few consistently read the Bible. When polls ask people about the most basic Bible facts, the results are usually embarrassing.

Yet it can be the most meaningful book in your life.

This is why the cover theme of this issue is Bible study. Our hope is to inspire our readers to “blow the dust off” their Bibles. For some, that may mean starting to read it for the first time, and for others that may mean reinvigorating their study.

Whatever your background is, here are four tips that can help make the Bible even more beneficial in your daily life.

Tip 1: The Bible requires a different kind of reading

The Bible is not like a novel where you can rapidly read it from beginning to end and be done. The Bible is a totally different kind of book with a totally different purpose. To benefit from it entails more than just reading—it requires thoughtful, analytical reading and a willingness to learn from what it says.

First of all, that means we have to approach the Bible with respect and a sense of awe—recognizing that its words reveal the very thoughts of our Creator (2 Timothy 3:16).

Second, don’t rush it. When we read the Bible, we should try to get the most out of it. Just skimming or speed-reading doesn’t do that. For example, if you set aside 30 minutes for Bible reading, you’d be better off closely focusing on a chapter or even a few verses instead of quickly browsing through several chapters.

Ask questions as you read. What does this mean? How can I apply this? What is God’s intent here? What does this teach me?We can dig deeper into what we read by reading slowly. When you read the Bible, slow down and read every verse carefully—perhaps even multiple times. Allow the words to sink into your mind.

And ask questions as you read. What does this mean? How can I apply this? What is God’s intent here? What does this teach me?

Some people find Bible journaling a helpful tool. You could get a journal and write questions or thoughts about the section you are reading.

Tip 2: Start with the big picture

At first glance, the Bible may seem to be overwhelming: 66 individual books covering a span of thousands of years of history and prophecy. It can help to group those books into sections that outline their contents.

The first book is Genesis (meaning “beginnings” or “origins”), which introduces us to the main themes of the Bible. We learn of the Creator God, Satan, angels, human beings, sin and the family that God chose to work with first—the family descended from Abraham. (Because Genesis is so foundational, we offer a two-part, in-depth study guide on it, Beginnings: Understanding the Book of Genesis.)

One line of Abraham’s descendants became known as Israel. The rest of the Bible primarily deals with how God has worked with them.

In the books of the Old Testament, we read of their captivity in Egypt (Exodus), the law they were given (Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy), their rise as a nation with their own land (Joshua and Judges), their national story and various kings (1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles), the warnings and messages of the many prophets God used to communicate with them (the Major and Minor Prophets), the stories of individuals who had an impact on Israel’s history (Ruth and Esther), and the poetic and wisdom writings of some of Israel’s greatest minds (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon).

The New Testament continues this story with the account of the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, who came from Israel (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John); the rise of spiritual Israel, the Church of God (Acts); the theological writings of the Church’s great early leaders (Paul, John, Peter, James and Jude); and prophecies of the end time and coming Kingdom of God (Revelation).

Of course, that was a very broad overview. But it’s helpful to understand the Bible’s “big picture” before you take a deeper dive into its various parts.

The same is true for each individual book. Before you study one, it’s helpful to know where it fits in the Bible as a whole, who wrote it, its historical context, and its major themes.

Finding a good Bible dictionary can help. You can also check out our “Books of the Bible” page.

Tip 3: Approach Bible study strategically

It may seem daunting to pick up this relatively thick book, written thousands of years ago, covering a long duration of time with various literary styles.

Where do you begin? Do you start at page 1? Do you look for stories you heard when you were growing up? Do you just open it up to a random page and start reading?

Many neglect the Bible simply because they are intimidated by it. But if you find it overwhelming, there are ways to approach it that can make it manageable.

Here are just a few approaches to consider:

  • Study an individual book. Select one book to study. Before you begin reading, study the background. Then go through the book verse by verse. Perhaps keep a notebook nearby to summarize the major themes you find, questions you have, personal lessons you discover or words you need to look up. When you’ve studied one book, move on to another.
  • Study a topic. The Bible covers a multitude of topics. You could choose one and study as many scriptures as you can find on that subject. Perhaps keep a list of the scriptures you find and take notes on the major themes. Pay close attention to how you can apply that topic to your life. So how do you find a topic? There are literally thousands of topics in the Bible. We’ve compiled a list of “Bible Study Topics” on our website that may give you some good ideas.
  • Study a person. Biographies are one of the most popular nonfiction genres. By studying historical characters, you not only learn about the challenges they faced and the decisions they made—but you also learn about the world and culture in which they lived. The same is true for the hundreds of men and women found in the Bible.
  • Study the Person. The Bible calls Jesus Christ the “chief cornerstone” (1 Peter 2:7)—meaning everything must be built around Him. Christianity is essentially about following Jesus’ example (1 John 2:6). So Christians should regularly study His life and teachings in the four Gospels.
  • Read the entire Bible. Every student of the Bible should, at some point, read the Bible from cover to cover. There are many different systems available to help you read through it in a manageable way. We have a page that provides a number of “Reading and Writing Plans” that you may find helpful.

These are just a few basic approaches to studying the Bible. As you spend more time reading your Bible, you may find other approaches that will be helpful to you as well.

Tip 4: Enroll in our new Bible study course

We are excited to be able to offer our readers a new resource: the Life, Hope & Truth Bible Study Course. We’ve prepared this course to help you learn how to gain more from your study of the Bible.

This 11-lesson course will take you through some of the Bible’s biggest themes. Instead of just presenting the scriptures with explanation, our course offers an interactive approach to learning. It will guide you through the relevant scriptures, asking you to look them up and discover for yourself what they say. Beyond just reading what the scriptures say, you’ll be asked to write down key words in each scripture and answer questions about what you read.

Different lessons will offer unique ways to engage with the Scriptures. The course also allows you to study at your own pace and assess what you’re learning through self-grading quizzes. The lessons are designed not just to cover specific topics, but also to show how to approach Bible study in general.

Our hope is that those who take the course will finish it with a greater love for the Bible and a better understanding of how to study it.

To get an idea of what the lessons will be like, or if you’re interested in enrolling in this free online course, go to

About the Author

Erik Jones

Erik Jones

Erik Jones is a full-time writer and editor at the Life, Hope & Truth offices in McKinney, Texas.

Read More

Continue Reading


Discern is published every two months and is available in digital and print versions. Choose your preferred format to start your subscription.

Print subscriptions available in U.S., Canada and Europe


Please choose your region:


Discern Article Series

Christ Versus Christianity
Walk as He Walked
Christianity in Progress
Wonders of God's Creation
Ask a Question