I have noticed a very discouraging and confusing trend when reading the Bible verse for verse, chapter for chapter—more like a book.

I completely understand that we must consider context, time, culture, etc, but strictly speaking to the reading of a verse, as it appears—it almost never means what it says, in contrast to reading a story book and immediately comprehending the intended meaning.

For example, I have seen this many times; Someone reads a verse and reiterates his understanding of it: "I believe it means X Y Z. Then someone with a theology degree says, "Actually, it does not mean that it all, it really means X+Y-Z^10 because of A+B.

It seems the chances are high that a reader will be mislead based on the initial comprehension of a verse.

What are some methods to read the Bible more like a book, but actually get the intended meaning (at least more closely)? Or is this not possible?

(If you understand the core of this question personally, please feel free to edit to make this better.)

  • 1
    This is essentially asking for hermeneutics. This is a broad question.
    – Dan
    Commented Jan 19, 2013 at 22:43
  • 3
    This is a great question, and I sympathise with your reasons for asking it. It's also on-topic as it is essentially asking about hermeneutics: techniques and frameworks for understanding the meaning of Biblical texts. But as Dan mentions the question is also broad: too broad for the site in my view as it lends itself to any number of good answers. If you'd like to discuss how we could edit the question to reduce it's scope, please drop by the site chat room Commented Jan 20, 2013 at 16:25
  • 1
    Hmmmm. I agree that this question is too broad to be constructive as-is in the SE format. At the same time I have an answer rattling around in my head. Maybe if I can figure out what much more specific question could be asked to which my thoughts would be an answer...
    – Caleb
    Commented Jan 22, 2013 at 9:20
  • 2
    I have nominated this for re-opening in light of recent discussions - I also wanted to suggest the use of a readers edition as an answer. Commented Nov 25, 2015 at 0:13

2 Answers 2


Context is critical when reading and understanding the Bible. Reading, for example, instructions to the Corinthians without understanding why Paul was writing them the letter(s), would make proper comprehension much less likely. Consider that Peter himself acknowledged that some passages were difficult to comprehend (2 Peter 3:16). Here are some keys I've found useful when trying to properly understanding what the Bible says:

  • Consider the original audience and purpose for writing the letter or book: Who wrote the book/letter? To whom was it addressed? Why (i.e. what are the issue(s) or goal(s) of the writing)? Sometimes, it is clearly stated up front -- for example in Galatians. Sometimes, it is less clear.
  • Determine if there are any quotations or allusions to other Bible passages: In this way you not only consider the writing itself, but understand how the writer understood, interpreted, and applied prior scripture to the current situation.
  • Understand when the work was written in the historical timeline and when the central event(s) happened.
  • Word choice: how is that same word in the original language translated in other passages (both by the same author and in other writings)? This can be difficult and, in fact, misleading if you don't understand why a particular word was translated a specific way. (The NET Bible translation has "translator notes" that explain why a particular translation was chosen; this can be very helpful in following the translators' decisions. I wish more translations did the same.)

When reading the Bible, remember that (in the original languages) it was not written in verses, but in paragraphs and larger sections. Chapter breaks were defined in the 13th century; verse breaks were added in the 16th century.

I personally prefer a translation that is printed using a single-column, paragraph formatted page. Once I started reading these, I now find reading a two-column, verse-per-line much more difficult.


The Hebrew Bible is a text written thousands of years ago in a cultural context very different from ours. We have only a limited amount of text in this language, and, as a result, we don't always have a clear picture of how the language works and what the words or grammatical constructions mean.

If you view this text as a work of literature, then you have to accept that it is a message from 'long ago' (in time) and 'far away' in culture. Some parts of it read as if they were written yesterday and speak to our experience without any distance at all. (e.g., Joseph and his brothers). Others are very, very, hard to puzzle out.

Religious traditions have responded to this situation by creating exegetical and eisegetical structures that sometimes smooth over the hard parts as part of building the community's narrative. If you live in such a tradition -- Christian, Jewish, or otherwise -- you will find a vast literature of interpretations, explanations, midrash, alternative story telling, and just plain riffing on the text. A commitment to the text as the word of G!d, however that phrase is interpreted, does not make the text easy to understand.

tl;dr: Go to library. Find commentaries in tune with your background. Read them.

I focus on the Hebrew texts because I'm not qualified to say anything about the Greek ones.


Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.