How to Read and Understand the Bible – 4 Simple Tips

By Melissa McLaughlin

One of my favorite summertime joys is seeing flowers arrayed in their colorful, radiant glory. My parents have the most amazing bush that blooms each year during mid-summer months. Every evening at dusk several blossoms on the Evening Primrose burst open and fully expand within about 45 seconds.

First we stand back and look at the whole bush to see which buds might be ready to unfurl their hidden beauty. Then we move in closer and study intently. We consider each flower, one by one. Which bud is preparing to release its display of splendor?

Cameras zoom in closer still, to catch this dramatic moment in nature. No special equipment or time-lapse recording devices needed. God provides the miracle. We simply enjoy the work of His amazing hands.

As we consider the Bible, God’s Word, we can read, understand and absorb His message in much the same way.

How to Read and Understand the Bible – 4 Simple Tips

God has revealed Himself to us through creation, through the Bible, through His Son and through His Spirit. Because God has spoken to us specifically and intentionally through His Word, the Bible, it is worthy of our study and contemplation.

Knowing God means knowing His Word.

We can’t have a relationship with anyone unless we communicate with each other. As we pray, we are talking to God. As we read the Bible, God is speaking to us.

In addition, we must approach our reading of the Bible with a humble heart, remembering that the God of all creation has spoken. The Bible contains His Word. Our goal is to know Him. To know His desires, His will and His way, not to misuse His Word to support our desires.

When reading the Bible, here are 4 simple tips to build a better understanding.

The Big Picture

1. First, stand back and view the Bible as a whole. The Bible is one complete book. Though it was written over the span of about 1500 years with approximately 40 writers contributing to its contents, there is one unifying theme. That theme is Jesus. From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible reveals God’s amazing plan to redeem His people through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.

Though we may zero in on a particular book, chapter or verse, we must also keep in mind the big idea of the Bible. Jesus. This helps to anchor every other part.

A Wide Reading of the Bible

My husband and I make it our goal to read the Bible in a year, every year. By reading 3 chapters per day, you can read the Bible in a year. There are many Bible reading plans and Bible apps that walk you through the Bible in a year, as well. This provides a hearing of God’s Word in a wide sweep.

This kind of wide lens reading is helpful because it allows you see how God’s Word fits together as a whole and also helps readers find connecting points.

If you are reading the Bible for the very first time, I recommend beginning in the New Testament with the book of John. This tells the story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, but simultaneously reflects back to the beginning of the Bible. Then read the remainder of the New Testament. This helps you better understand where the Old Testament is headed when you decide to tackle that part.

A Closer Look

2. Read in context. As you zoom in and more carefully read or study a particular chapter or verse, be sure to view that section in context. Some Bibles offer a brief overview at the beginning of each book of the Bible. This can prove very helpful when seeking accurate meaning of a given verse. In addition, make it a habit to read the verses and paragraphs that come before and after each section, so that small phrases or sentences are not taken out of context.

The point of reading the Bible is to know God, His Word, His ways, His Son and His Spirit. The goal is not to add our thoughts and commentaries to God’s truth, but to allow His truth to speak to and transform us. Reading in context is key to comprehending and understanding God’s message.

Think Deeply

3. Consider the Biblical principle from the passage. Though some sections of scripture are written specifically for certain people at a certain moment in time, there are general principles that can be applied to any person at any time. This requires deeper thinking.

For example, though Job’s story of suffering was from a time period when most people survived on personal livestock and crops, we certainly know the agony of losing a job and wondering where the next meal will come from. Learning to trust God’s heart, even when we can’t understand our circumstances, is a timeless lesson from the story of Job.

This same richness can be learned from every book of the Bible, if we pause, pray and ponder.

The Best Teacher

4.Ask the Holy Spirit to teach you as you read. Last but certainly not least, we all benefit enormously from inviting the Holy Spirit to bring scriptures to light that may help instruct us, correct us, encourage us or lead us.

The Bible is God’s written Word. Jesus is God’s Living Word. The indwelling Holy Spirit is the presence of God alive in the hearts of believers. The Spirit of God is within us! When we invite the Spirit to move and work in us, He can expose the deepest parts of our hearts and lives revealing needs that we cannot perceive for ourselves.

Before reading the Bible and preaching, I have often heard Alistair Begg of Truth for Life pray a short prayer that goes something like this:

  • Make the Bible come alive to me, Lord.
  • Show me Yourself.
  • Show me myself.
  • Show me my Savior.
  • Make the book come alive to me, Lord.

The Holy Spirit knows the mind of God and can teach us unfathomable depths of divine truth, mercy and grace that are contained in God’s Word, the Bible.

As you read and endeavor to understand the Bible, be strengthened by these 4 simple tips.

  1. Remember the main message of the Bible is Jesus. God redeems His fallen people through Christ.
  2. Read passages of the Bible in context.
  3. Think deeply about Biblical principles that apply to your life today.
  4. Ask the Holy Spirit to make God’s Word come alive.

By reading the Bible in this way, you can:

  • Get to know the heart and will of the Father.
  • Get to know the love of the Savior who leads with nail-scarred hands.
  • Get to know the voice of the Spirit, that still, small voice within that calls to us day after day.

Like the miraculous Evening Primrose plant, that captivates as a whole bush and yet unfolds layers of detailed, intricate beauty, so the Bible displays a complete picture of God’s grace in Christ and yet yields great treasure the more we closely we gaze and examine.

  • Speak, oh God, through your Word.
  • Speak, oh God.
  • For your servants are listening.

Hebrews 4:12 – For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

Here are some photos of the incredible Evening Primrose bush in my parents’ backyard. Enjoy!

How to Read and Understand the Bible 4 Simple Tips
Photo ©Melissa McLaughlin
How to Read and Understand the Bible 4 Simple Tips
Photo ©Melissa McLaughlin
How to Read and Understand the Bible 4 Simple Tips
Photo ©Melissa McLaughlin
How to Read and Understand the Bible 4 Simple Tips
Photo ©Melissa McLaughlin

Additional Resources:

What is the Main Message of the Bible? By Melissa McLaughlin

Got Bread? By Melissa McLaughlin

I Have Decided to Follow Jesus By Melissa McLaughlin

Collecting – It’s Life or Death! By Melissa McLaughlin

24 thoughts on “How to Read and Understand the Bible – 4 Simple Tips”

  1. Just like the beauty of the flowers opening, your words open up a wonderful way to study the Bible. I love that you read through it every year. I have read it completely a few times and I need to do it again and use your ideas. Thanks Melissa

    • The Bible is truly a thing of beauty. Like the beauty of the flowers. Vast, deep, wonderful and the more we dig into God’s Word, the more beauty we can find. Such a treasured gift from God! Blessings in your reading, dear Yvonne!

    • I agree wholeheartedly, Melissa! The more I read, the more I learn and the more beautiful I find God’s Word to be. Daily Bible reading is as critical as daily food. May we consume it as the richest treat that it is! Blessings in your reading, dear friend!

  2. I was just discussing Bible study with a colleague yesterday. He said, “If you have ten minutes to read the Bible, read for five and meditate the rest.” Study requires quiet meditation. Our lifestyles often make that hard. But we can build habits. And this post is a great guide to helping us get the most out of our study time.

    • That is such a wonderful and wise suggestion: 5 minutes of reading, 5 minutes of meditation. Thank you for sharing, Nancy! God’s Word can truly nourish our souls like nothing else. We literally need it. But you are right, our fast-paced culture leaves little room for reading and even less for meditation. Yes, we can build new habits. Oh Lord, give us the desire and the will to read your Word!

  3. Wonderful post Melissa! God’s Holy word manifests His living grace. At any given time or place, His word speaks to us, guides us, leads us on the paths we are meant to take. We see how God keeps His promises; His word reveals the truth. Wishing you a wonderful weekend!!! Your beautiful heart unfolds much joy for those of us who read your posts. Sharing your deep biblical knowledge is such a gift.

    • Dear Linda, thank you for your kind and encouraging words! Yes, the Bible is a treasure-house with more gems to find the more we mine its depths. May God bless you as you seek to know Him more through His living and powerful Word, the Bible!

  4. Incredible! I’ve never seen evening primrose open before, so that was a treat.

    You did a superb job detailing how to go about studying/reading/comprehending the Word of God. These steps are so useful and aim every Bible scholar in the right direction. We lean on the Holy Spirit to open God’s Word to us, to convict us, and to change us, for he is the Author of Scripture. He also knows exactly what our hearts need, for he is also as personally acquainted with our hearts, our inner issues, our hardened places, and our needs as he is acquainted with the Bible that he Authored.

    I love this: “The Spirit of God is within us! When we invite the Spirit to move and work in us, He can expose the deepest parts of our hearts and lives revealing needs that we cannot perceive for ourselves.” I’m so thankful for the Spirit’s work in my life, for he softens my heart and transforms me from the inside out! This is a very useful post, Melissa. It could be deemed a resource that needs prominence for readers for easy reference.

    • The Evening Primrose is truly incredible! I’m glad I was able to capture a few live blooms to share. Thank you for the kind and supportive words, Melinda! I love how you remind us the Holy Spirit is the Author of scripture and is personally acquainted with our innermost beings, so who better to teach us? Thank you for the suggestion to note this post for easy reference for readers. I pray it helps many approach God’s Word in a way that is both meaningful and personally powerful. Bless you, dear sister as you continue to study the God’s Word!

  5. Wow, Melissa! I’d love to see that primrose gloriously open. And such a great way to tie it to studying the Bible. Right from the first point, I love how you mention to see the Bible as a whole…one story about Jesus told from Genesis to Revelation. It goes hand-in-hand with context. I like to express it as the “full counsel of God.”

    I’ve learned to ask the Holy Spirit to reveal truth and insight as I read and study God’s Word. So I can clearly hear the Lord speaking and live out the Bible’s principles.

    • The evening primrose is a wonder to behold! (The videos are at the bottom of the post if you would like to see.)
      Yes, “the full counsel of God” is so important to remember when we read the Bible. Every part of the Bible informs the rest of it. And we cannot hyper-focus on one little verse at the exclusion of the whole. The Holy Spirit is our best teacher ever! May the Lord bless you as you seek to know Him in His Word.

  6. Melissa, this is a well written and a needed article on how to study the Bible. I love how simple you made it. Some people make this process so complicated. And the bonus is watching these roses bloom! I love flowers and gardening, so this was a real treat! Thank you! 🙂

    • Thank you for reading and offering a word of encouragement, Marcie! All glory to God! I agree, sometimes we make reading the Bible inaccessible. It doesn’t have to be. I pray this article will help point others to Christ as they read the Bible and will bring meaning and joy to the reading of God’s Word.God bless you in your reading! And yes, the beauty of God’s creation is as glorious as the beauty of His Word! Enjoy your garden today. 🙂

  7. Wow, those are incredible videos, Melissa! Thank you so much for sharing. God’s creation is amazing and full of such wonderful symbols of His truth for us. I love the way that you brought about the similar way of opening His Word and the opening up of the flowers. Truly, when we read the Scripture with His Spirit, there are moments when some word or phrase will suddenly “Pop” with understanding right before us. His Word, His Living Word, full of truth is so precious for us. Blessings to you dear friend!

  8. These steps are critically fundamental, but I’m afraid not often practiced. I appreciate that you do this and your writing reflects that. It seems that there would be much less confusion and unity if Chrstians did read God’s Word in it’s entirety over and over again while paying attention to the big picture, context, historical facts, etc. Our opinions need to be subject to the truth of God’s Word and character. Thank you for sharing these timeless disciplines.

    • Thank you for your words of encouragement, Stephen. I love how you say this: “Our opinions need to be subject to the truth of God’s Word and character.” This is really key as we read the Bible and seek to know the Lord, seek to love Christ and seek to follow His ways. It’s not about us, but how easily we twist and turn things to make it all about us, even the Bible! Oh God, give us humble hearts and teachable spirits as we read Your Word today. May we see our Savior and run to Him!

  9. Thank you for reading and watching these amazing videos of God’s incredible creation! You are right, Bettie, God has woven His eternal truth even into the world He created. May we see His truth, glory and grace in His Word, His Son and in His world. How he calls for us to draw near to know Him and enjoy His presence in so many ways. May His Word come alive to us again today as we read. Bless you, dear sister!


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