How to read well: How to read a(ny) text


After establishing some basic guiding principles about Bible translations, we can now think of the Bible in terms of literature. Literature deals with texts. As touched upon in the last post, that’s one of our biggest problems. We don’t know how to read texts. At this point, I thought it might be helpful to simply give insight into some Bible reading techniques that have helped me over the years. If you have any you’d like to add, feel free to drop a comment. This is my top 10:

  1. Get a copy of the text without chapters, verses, footnotes, line breaks, cross references etc.
  2. Read the text at least five times in its entirety, if possible out loud, using your usual translation.
  3. Underline words (nouns and verbs), phrases, and ideas that are repeated.
  4. Pay attention to conjunctions in the text that introduce a similarity or a contrast.
  5. Note different tenses and voices (active voice and passive voice) that occur in the text.
  6. Try to establish the meaning of keywords by looking closely at the narrower and broader context in which they appear.
  7. Consider the use of rhetoric and stylistic devices such as metaphors, similes, inclusios, parallelisms etc.
  8. Insert breaks where one thought ends and another begins.
  9. Summarize the different parts of the text in one sentence going from the smaller parts (a sentence) to the bigger parts (a section) to the biggest part (the entire text).
  10. Read the text again in one or two other translations and note how they contribute to a more nuanced understanding of the text, and if there are grave differences.

After walking through these steps, one can consider the use of the many Bible study helps available. Of course, I don’t always follow all ten steps, but these are fairly basic if one wishes to study a book or passage of the Bible in depth.

However, although these steps can be used for any text, the Bible contains texts of various genres. It contains poems, narratives, prophecy, letters and many more genres. Every one of these genres is unique in the way it wants to be read and understood. In the following posts, we will establish some key principles for reading the different literary genres of the Bible. Hopefully, that will move some of the obstacles out of the way that we encounter when reading the Bible.


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