12 Tips: How to Read the Bible Better

an image of a woman engrossed in Bible reading, surrounded by a backdrop of various books, symbolizing enhancing someone enhancing their bible reading habits.

The only thing taller than the Burj Khalifa is the stack of books I’m currently intending to read.

I like to read. I like to read fiction, non-fiction, cookbooks, news stories, human interest pieces, jokes, and Twitter threads. I like to read the Bible, and I like to read books about the Bible. But I don’t read all these books the same way, for the same reasons, or with the same attention to detail.

In reading a biography, I want a deep dive into someone’s life, find out what formed them, what made them tick, what drove them, what stopped them. I want to see how their life panned out.

In reading a novel, I want to be entertained, wowed, moved, surprised by plot twists. I want to lose myself in the story.

In reading a poem, I want to be inspired, to have the poetic words splash me in the face like the rains of a summer storm striking my brow. I want to feel the sensations the poet creates.

What about reading the Bible? What do I expect to get from reading the Old and New Testaments? What is the payoff I should be expecting?

Bible reading payoff

At one level, the payoff of Bible reading is learning new things. Especially when we read the parts we are not familiar with, we acquire knowledge of things we were previously negative about. Most Christians are more familiar with the New Testament than the Old Testament. So learning about the strange (to us) laws in Leviticus is eye-opening; the rise and fall of kings in 1–2 Kings is illuminating; even the minor prophets with their calls to repentance can bring us new insight. All these are often new material for many Christians to get their heads around.

And what do I expect to gain from re-reading the books and passages of Scripture that I’m already familiar with? You, for example, might be familiar with the Servant Song in Isaiah 52–53, with the call to remember things rightly in Psalm 77, with the famous Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5–8, or with Jesus’s letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2–3. It’s always good to revisit our favorite passages, like dropping in on old friends—but also because we want to go deeper into these treasured biblical texts, so we can see the thematic connections within a book, or between biblical books, or how a given biblical book fits into the overarching storyline of Scripture.

Bible reading can also be driven by some other specific purpose: I want to know what “justification by faith” is in Paul’s letters, or whether Christians should observe the Sabbath, or whether you can lose your salvation according to Hebrews. On those occasions we are reading for a specific purpose, to answer a particular question, or to satisfy a precise curiosity.

Other times when I read the Bible, I’m not looking for something new, nor trying to answer some niggling question. Often I’m reading simply so that God’s word can flow into my life and quietly, even unconsciously, shape me, transform me, my values, my dreams, my hopes, my relationships, and my behavior. I want to be a creature of the Word, a person soaked in and shaped by God’s Word, cultivated and curated by its wisdom, warnings, promises, and vision for human existence.

I want God’s Word to be “a lamp for my feet, a light on my path” (Ps 119:105). I want to be careful to “meditate on it day and night,” so that I “may be careful to do everything written in it” (Josh 1:8). I want to be “prosperous and successful” (Josh 1:8). I want the “word of Christ”—the prophetic word that points to Christ, the apostolic words about Christ, and the evangelical words from Christ—to dwell in me “richly” (Col 3:16).

I read because I need the word to “correct, rebuke, and encourage” me (2 Tim 4:2). I read because in a world that is cold, brutal, and dark, I need the enduring word of the Scriptures that comfort me that I “might have hope” (Rom 15:4). I want to desire God’s Word the same way I desire air to breathe or food to nourish my body.

Tips, tricks, hacks, and helps

But what is the best way to read God’s Word so I can get the best results out of it, intellectually, ethically, and spiritually? How can my Bible reading satisfy my hunger for knowledge, my thirst for spiritual vitality, and my need to be conformed to the pattern of Jesus? You might not have time for three years of seminary; you have to shepherd your time wisely. So what are some tips, tricks, hacks, and helps to level up your Bible study?

Well, I do have a few suggestions for you!

1. Read whole passages, not verses

Reading one verse a day or one verse at a time, though popular on some email lists and apps, is like eating a cake where somebody sends you the ingredients one day at a time. Eating a cake then becomes the equivalent of eating three cups of flour one day, a cup of butter the next day, and two tablespoons of cinnamon the day after that. You are eating the stuff that goes into a cake, but you’re not getting the full cake-eating experience.

It’s the same with the Bible. Eat whole passages, not isolated verses, otherwise you are at risk of taking verses out of context and not getting the full gist (or experience) of reading a text in its complete context.

2. Work through an entire book

Reading the Bible should be more like finishing a jigsaw puzzle than like speed dating. In a jigsaw puzzle, you sit down with the picture on the box and the various pieces spread over the table, and you start to slowly and surely, methodically and meticulously, put the puzzle pieces together.

Speed dating is more like, “Okay, you’ve got five minutes to convince me that you’re either a fun day out or definite spouse material”—which is rushed, quirky, and a little too desperate to impress in a short time span.

Treat your Bible reading more like a jigsaw puzzle than speed dating. Don’t look for a few quick things to impress you from a biblical book; rather, graze upon and grind through a whole biblical book like it’s a puzzle you want to finish, and relish seeing the whole picture at the end.

3. Read several Bible books together

I find it helpful to read multiple biblical books at the same time. At the very least, try to read through an Old Testament book and a New Testament book simultaneously.

It might sound weird, but believe it or not, reading through Leviticus at the same time as you read through Hebrews will actually be helpful. Learning about Old Testament laws pertaining to sacrifices will help you understand the atonement theology in Hebrews, which is saturated in levitical imagery. If you are really keen, try reading:

  • an Old Testament book
  • the Psalms
  • a Gospel
  • and an epistle at the same time

If you do that, you’ll have many moments which amount to, “Huh, this thing in Numbers reminds me of that thing in 1 Peter,” and vice-versa. You’ll learn the skill of using Scripture to interpret Scripture.

4. Read a passage in different translations

We all have our favorite Bible translations. There are so many, and I’m even working on making my own (long story, stay tuned!). My go-to church Bible is the NIV, while for scholarly work I tend to utilize the NRSVue. That’s partly an intellectual decision (I judge them good for certain tasks) as it is an aesthetic one (I like how they sound). It helps if you know that Bible translations are different and the reasons why they are different.

First, some translations like the KJV, the NASB, and to a lesser degree the ESV are literal or essentially literal. They want to stick to the Hebrew and the Greek as closely as possible even if the English translation is a bit clunky to read.

Second, other translations like the NRSVue, NIV, LEB, and CSB, are more about dynamic equivalence. So yes, they translate from the original text, but the translation has to be comprehensible to people who might not be naturally good readers. You can’t write, “Then came Jesus disciples and his Capernaum to” even if that’s close to the original Greek. So you have to flex a bit in how you construct clauses and sentences. That is what most Bible translations do: they thread the needle between fidelity and readability.

Third, there are paraphrases like The Message, the J.B. Phillips New Testament, and the Living Bible. Here, a bit of liberty is being taken with the text, attempting to make it comprehensible by capturing the vibe rather than the verbum of the text. That’s okay—as long as the reader realizes that a paraphrase is not so much a translation as an interpretation.

All translations include an element of interpretation—all of them, and I mean all of them! Translators always have to make interpretive decisions as they translate. In Romans 1:17, it could be the righteousness of God or the righteousness from God: you decide as you read and render the Greek text accordingly, because either option is possible.

So while all translation is an interpretation, paraphrase is a deliberate gloss on the text as an interpretive act. Paraphrase is our first attempt to understand something. So when my wife comes up to me in a huff and a puff, yelling all sorts of accusations and complaints, and I’m trying to show that I’m hearing her complaint, I sum up and paraphrase her concern, “So what you’re saying, honey, is that I should not have used your wedding dress to wax the car and you feel like I’ve desecrated something sacred to our marriage, and that’s made you upset.”1

So a paraphrase is good way to try to explain not only words but the main point and general sense of a passage in a creative and catchy way. No problem there. While I would never limit my Bible reading to paraphrases, I think it’s actually a good idea to consult them as a kind of first-interpreter-on-the-scene sort of thing.

Accordingly, when I’m studying a passage in-depth, I like to look at the Hebrew and Greek (because I can); but for people who don’t know biblical languages, using a literal translation like the NASB is a surrogate that takes you close to the original text.

But a translation like the NIV or CSB is probably better for a public Bible reading. These will balance fidelity to the original languages with intelligibility in reading them. And then I consult a paraphrase, like the Living Bible, because it might have a striking way of putting something that is true to the original meaning—even if a little out of left field. For example, on Romans 1:17, the Living Bible renders the “righteousness of God” as God “makes us right in God’s sight,” which isn’t a bad way to put it.

It is a big help if you know the different types of Bible translations. Know how they are different, and know how to use them the right and responsible way.

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5. Study the Bible in a community

You can’t skirt through the pilgrimage of faith with the motto, “All I need is my ESV and Me!” It takes a church to raise a Christian.

You should study the Bible in a community of faith. That can include your immediate family, some Christian friends, a para-church group like a university ministry, or most certainly your church. The church is—or at least should be—a place where you “yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to instruct one another” (Rom 15:14), and the church corporately should “let the word of Christ dwell in [it] richly”; it should be a place where members “teach and admonish one another in all wisdom” (Col 3:16).

You can’t rely on the pastor or priest to tell you everything about the Bible. The priesthood of all believers means everyone—young, middle-aged, and old—has something to contribute when it comes to understanding God’s Word in all its fullness. The church needs fewer passive Bible consumers and more people trained to “rightly explain the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15).

6. Practice public Bible reading

To be a “Reader” was once a noble and deliberate church office, one I think we need to recover. If you would rehearse a speech delivered before the Supreme Court, the United Nations, or your high school graduation, then practice your public Bible reading. You do not have to be a trained voice actor; but if asked to read the Bible in public, try some inflection, vary your pitch, attempt to voice characters (carefully, not cheesily), emphasize key words, and draw people into your reading. It will enrich the preaching of the sermon and the experience of the congregation.

7. Take notes during the sermon and put effort into Bible studies

The average preacher probably puts anything between five to twenty-five hours into the preparation of a thirty-minute Sunday sermon. Yes, we all know that some preachers are better than others. Some have a booming voice and brilliant turns of phrase. They exude wisdom, and they show us the weight of glory every week.

But not all preachers are blessed with a voice like James Earl Jones, with the wit of Stephen Colbert, with the freshness and empathy of Beth Moore, or with the cultural antennae of Timothy Keller. But if your pastor has put effort into the sermon, then you owe that pastor the courtesy of putting effort into your listening.

As a preacher, it is a little depressing when people fall asleep, but it’s even more depressing when I see people staring down into the luminous glow of their phones because they are scanning Instagram. I know they are doing that, otherwise they are staring at their crotch and smiling for no apparent reason. So try to actually listen to the sermon, rather than mentally think of that BBQ set you want to buy on eBay. Take notes, take heed, listen, learn, and love the Word.

The same goes for Bible study. It’s not an intermission in your mid-weekly social catch-up. It’s your spiritual vitamin pill for the week. So put some effort into paying attention and participating, as much as for your sake as for that of everybody else in the group.

In a world where we have shrinking attention spans, measured in moments rather than minutes, we need to recover the discipline of deliberate and intentional Bible digestion.

8. Get a good study Bible

I’m a professional Bible scholar, but even I don’t know everything about the Bible. That’s why I will consult the odd study Bible once in a while. There are plenty of them out there, and their quality varies greatly—let the reader understand.

Avoid study Bibles with the words “Scofield” in the title or a front cover with a picture of a guy smiling way, way too hard! The study Bibles I recommend are the NIV Study Bible, CSB Study Bible, NRSV Harper Study Bible, Faithlife Study Bible, Timeless Truths Study Bible, and the ESV Global Study Bible.

These study Bibles are useful for short introductions to biblical books, timelines, charts of things like the Herodian family, maps of Judea and Paul’s missionary journeys, locations of the seven churches of Revelation, and more. They answer questions such as , “Where is Capernaum (or Shiloh)?, “Who was Xerxes?,” “What is a Pharisee?,” and so forth.

9. Find helpful podcasts and video clips

We are so blessed to live in a world that is saturated in Bible teaching content, whether that is the Bible Project with its snazzy videos; or any of the many excellent online video courses; the various resources put out by your favorite churches, seminaries, and ministries; or podcasts and YouTube channels from top preachers and scholars (see my Nazareth to Nicaea and Early Christian History). There is so much available these days.

The problem is not finding content, it’s finding A-grade content amidst all the flotsam and jetsam of an overcrowded digital world. So find a good podcast, a decent channel, or a sweet radio program you like and inject that into your diet of sanctifying consumption. But an important note: vary it a bit, both content and creators. Don’t just listen to the same thing over and over (105 videos on Galatians 2) or the same people (bald and bearded guys with glasses who complain every week about the designated hitter rule and which politician they think is the whore of Babylon). Go for a podcast and vodcast sampler and see what you find interesting and stimulating.

10. Embrace the suite of digital tools

If you are reading this, then you are probably already familiar with Logos. You already get emails and messages about their products. I don’t need to tell you about Logos—but I’m going to tell you about Logos.

As a scholar with the Super-Uber-Diamond-Premium-Seal-Team-Six-Jedi-Knight Logos study suite, I couldn’t do what I do without Logos. Whether it is comparing translations, delving into the Hebrew and Greek lexicons, consulting church fathers and commentaries with a couple of clicks, or enjoying daily devotions, for me Logos is a must-have.

Heck, I can remember when I used to have to use the Englishman’s Greek Concordance to look up how many times the word kosmos was used in John’s Gospel. Oh man, that feels like the dark ages compared to the digital galaxy that I now have at my fingertips, thanks to Logos.

You don’t need the premium Logos collection; start out with a smaller suite like Logos Bronze or Silver, learn how to use it, and then augment it with the books and resources that you need. You’ll never look back.

11. Explore some commentaries

Reading a commentary is like having a Philip running beside your chariot to help you understand the part of the Bible you’re currently reading.

There are now more Bible commentary series available than Chick-fil-A stores in Kentucky. Bible commentary series can be very different, and every series has gems and duds. A good place to check out is the Best Commentaries website which lists all the commentary series, their individual contributors, ranks the most popular volumes, and explains the goals and aims of each series.

Generally, there are commentary series for lay people (The Bible Speaks Today, Tyndale House NT and OT commentaries), commentary series for preachers (NIV Application Commentary and Story of God Bible Commentary—to which I myself have contributed a volume, on Romans!), an abundance of intermediate commentaries designed for people who are studying hard but are not themselves experts (New Covenant Commentary Series, New International Commentary on the Old/New Testament, Pillar New Testament Commentary, Paideia), some focus on the original languages as a kind of linguistic analysis (Baylor Handbook on the Greek New Testament, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New/Old Testament), and some are mainly written for other scholars (International Critical Commentary, Anchor Yale Bible Commentary, and Hermeneia).

My advice, start with something thin, light, and easy to read, the Tyndale House New Testament Commentary, and work your way up from there.

12. Remember, the Bible is best alongside prayer and sacrament

The Bible can help your prayer life, and prayers can direct your Bible reading.

Also, in my own Reformed tradition, Word and sacrament go together as both are a means of grace. What we need in our life ultimately is more grace, so when we combine Word and Sacrament, grace multiplies—grace upon grace. We read the gospel of grace and experience the symbols and efficacies of grace in the sacraments.


So that’s my advice to you on how to read the Bible better. To finish, let me leave you with the prayer of Thomas Cranmer:

Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word we may embrace, and ever hold fast, the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ.2

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  1. Note: not a true story.
  2. “Collect for the Second Sunday in Advent,” BCP2019.
Written by
Michael F. Bird

Michael F. Bird (PhD University of Queensland) is Deputy Principal at Ridley College, Melbourne, Australia. He is an Anglican priest and the author of over 30 books about the New Testament and Theology. He can be found on X at @mbird12 and blogs at michaelfbird.substack.com.

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Written by Michael F. Bird
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