SUMMARY: There seems to be a common assumption that if we just pick up the Bible and read it then it will make sense. And while we want to acknowledge that God can choose to reveal insights to individuals we also want to highlight that God also provides us with resources, such as historical documents and books, to enhance our understanding of the Bible. With honesty and humility How (Not) to Read the Bible provides indispensable reading tips while tackling some of the seemingly anti-women, pro-violence, and pro-slavery texts.
“If we don’t look at the context, we can easily come to all sorts of conclusions that don’t align with what the Bible is actually saying,” author Dan Kimball says. “The Bible is an ancient book written across centuries, and we must use the minds God gave us to examine these claims against the Bible to see if they are true and accurate in the way they are presented.”
Kimball promptly list four essential tips when reading the Bible:
- The Bible is a library, not a book
- The Bible is written for us, but not to us
- Never read a Bible verse
- All of the Bible points to Jesus
His first point (the Bible is a library not a book) touches on the genres of the book and how that can change the reading of the text. Some are history books. Others are law. Many are poetry. The second point (the Bible is written for us, not to us) addresses the historical and cultural context we must seek out to understand what the author of a book was trying to communicate and what the audiences knowledge and worldview were.
“We need to step back and look at the more fundamental question: What was the author originally saying? We cannot simply read our own understandings into the meaning of a word or statement someone else wrote or said,” Kimball writes. “And when we look at some often bizarre-sounding parts of the Bible, we have to try to discover who the original audience was and view the text through their lens, not ours. If we don’t, the possibilities for confusion are endless.”
The third point (never read a Bible verse) touches on an issue all Christians have – taking a verse out of context. Much like the second point we must do our do diligence when quoting scripture to make sure we are using the verse(s) correctly within the context of the passage.
The fourth and final point (the Bible points to Jesus) relates to the metanarrative of the Bible and how every verse, passage, and story are pointing to Jesus and his redemption of his creation.
Kimball’s practical four tips are worth the price of the book alone, but he also includes several helpful graphs (pages 31, 44) that would be useful to printout and place in one’s Bible.
Most of the book is devoted to proving that much of the misunderstanding of scripture is due to not following one or all of his four points. Kimball sprinkles anti-Christian memes from the internet throughout the pages to show has easy it is to mock the Bible if we do not pursue a faithful reading.
“Remember, the Bible is easily mocked, but that’s only because we need to learn how (not) to read the Bible,” says Kimball. “When we pull out verses and fail to put in the time and effort to understand what a verse is trying to say to us, we can come up with some great anti-science (or anti-women, etc.) Bible memes, but they aren’t what the Bible is actually saying in those verses.”
We appreciate his earnest writing as he employs his four tips in debunking the anti-women, pro-violence, and pro-slavery texts. Kimball is humble enough to admit that he struggles with certain passages and sometimes there are no good answers.
How (Not) to Read Your Bible would work well for a small group study as each chapter ends with a summary of the main points discussed about in the chapter. Kimball is currently (August of 2021) working on a video curriculum that is expected to be released in January of 2022 while teaching aids are scheduled to be released in summer of 2021.
KEY QUOTE: “If we don’t look at the context, we can easily come to all sorts of conclusions that don’t align with what the Bible is actually saying. The Bible is an ancient book written across centuries, and we must use the minds God gave us to examine these claims against the Bible to see if they are true and accurate in the way they are presented.”
BONUS: Don’t have time to read the book? Listen to Kimball talk about the motivation to write How (Not) to Read the Bible on The Collected Podcast.
DID YOU KNOW?: Sunday to Saturday has a Good Reads page where we post all of the books we have read – even the ones that didn’t make the cut.