How to Understand the Bible

Basic Theology, Podcast Episodes

In this episode of the Beginner Believer series, you’ll learn how to understand the Bible when reading for the first time! Reading the Bible can feel overwhelming. Where do you start?! In this episode you’ll learn the intent, design, genre, and methodology for studying the Bible and what to do when you’re confused. Referenced in this episode:
– How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth
– Grasping God’s Word
– Bible Study Basics


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Welcome to Verity podcast. I’m your host, Phylicia Masonheimer, and I am here to teach you how to know what you believe, to live it boldly, and to communicate it graciously to the world around you. I believe that women are ready to go deeper in their faith than ever before and they don’t have to go to seminary to do it. I am so glad you’re here and I hope you’ll join me on this journey because every woman is a theologian. 

Hello, friends, and welcome back to Verity podcast. This week, we are in episode 3 of the beginner believer series, and we are talking about how to understand the Bible. When I asked on Instagram, what questions did you have as a new believer? This was one of the top answers. How do I understand the Bible? It feels so overwhelming, and I can totally see why.

This is an ancient text. It was written over 1000’s of years by many different authors in a culture so different than most of ours. And so when we’re reading it as modern readers, especially modern westernized readers, it can be so difficult to translate the truths of God to our understanding today. Now in this short episode, I’m not going to get into every aspect of how to do this. I do have other episodes on Bible study that may be helpful to you if you scroll back. And then of course, I have the Canon series. It was the 2nd series of this podcast several years ago where I went through how the Bible was compiled and why we can trust it. So I’m not going to get into those details here.

I would recommend going back and listening to those episodes for something that’s more in-depth. In this episode, I’m just going to hit some of the high points of how to understand the Bible if you are just starting out. And we’re gonna start by talking about the Bible’s intent, its design, biblical genre, or the types of literature, how to read the Bible effectively and where to begin. And then some tips for if you’re confused while you’re reading the Bible. One of the resources that I’m going to reference in this episode is called How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stewart. This is an awesome resource. It’s a fantastic book. If it’s a little bit overwhelming for you, you might wanna just read it in a few little bites. Another good book, very big though. It’s a textbook is Grasping God’s Word, and I love that one. So if you want some extra resources, those are 2 books that you might consider. 

So let’s start with the Bible’s intent. What is the goal here? Well, the first thing to know is that the Bible didn’t fall out of the sky as one compiled book bound in lambskin with nice thin pages. That’s not how it worked. It was compiled slowly over time as the truths of God were revealed to people in history. And so those people wrote down their interactions with God and how he manifested himself in their time.

And as they did so, it was considered authoritative. And the Canon series of the podcast gets more into this. But one of the biggest things the Bible offers that a lot of scriptural books and other religions don’t is that each time there was revelation from God, it was in a community setting. So there were eyewitnesses, whether this was the gospels or if it was a prophetic word from someone like Isaiah being spoken to the public, or maybe it was the Exodus, which was witnessed by millions of people. All of this was written down and there were witnesses to the events. And eyewitnesses are very important to the biblical narrative. So as God revealed himself through scripture or through his revelation in that society, it was written down and it became scripture. And that together formed a consistent narrative that we can look to and say, Here is God being God again.

So one of the things that’s also vital to the Bible is the consistency of who God is. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. And if we look at the narrative, we see that what he says, even though it’s different authors, different eras, different centuries, what he says about himself and about humanity is consistent. And so following through the whole story of the Bible, we learned that the Bible’s intent is to reveal God to humanity, offer them hope of relationship with him, reversing the fall of man that we know happened at the very beginning. So sin entered the world and broke relationships. God originally wanted to dwell with humans. That’s why he made them. But because of sin, it wasn’t possible because God’s perfect.

And the entire biblical narrative is the story of God returning to his dwelling place with people. So even because they were imperfect and couldn’t dwell with him, he made a way for that to be possible. And he started by 1st dwelling among people in a tabernacle, like a movable temple. And then in a temple structure built by Solomon, and then later in the person of Jesus Christ, and finally through his holy spirit and dwelling in our inner beings as Christians. And in the future, we will dwell with him in eternity and peace. So God’s goal of dwelling with humans is revealed through the Bible. And there might be other intentions that others, you know, scholars might suggest. I think that when we look at the whole biblical narrative, this is a pretty good look at what God’s intent is, is to show people who wants to dwell with them, and he wants to draw them into a relationship with him.

And the biblical narrative tells us how to do that. So how is the Bible designed? The Bible again was not just dropped out of the sky as one book with one translator, one writer. It’s many different writers over 1000’s of years. That’s why it’s so miraculous that all of these writers over all this time could consistently portray a God who fulfills the need for a savior for his people. It’s incredible. And so the design of scripture, the one the Bible that you have in your hands today, if you are an English speaker, and specifically if you are Protestant, so you are not Catholic, your Bible is similar to the Jewish Bible that Jesus would have had when he walked the earth. Only he would have had only the Old Testament, and it would have been in a slightly different order because the Jewish Bible was in scrolls, first of all, and it was in a different order than the one that we have today. So the same books of the Old Testament just in a different order now.

And then we have the New Testament or the New Covenant. And this compilation of books is made up of the gospels, the book of Acts, and then a series of epistles or letters to specific churches talking about how Christians were to live out their lives. And so the gospels outline 4 different perspectives of Jesus’ life and ministry. Acts is the story of the early church and its founding and how the missionary movement started. The epistles describe all of how God met his church in those early years and the problems they were encountering and the things they needed to be taught about Jesus and life in Christ. And then Revelation is apocalyptic literature. So that is telling us about God’s ultimate plan for reconciliation of all things. So the overall design of the Bible, you got old covenant, old testament, and new covenant, new testament together tell this whole story.

And in the very middle, well, the middle between the two testaments is the story of Christ in the gospels. And so that’s the crux of it is Jesus Christ, the story of the gospel, which we talked about a couple episodes ago. And the way that the Bible then is structured, a lot of people want to sit down and just read it straight through. But the Bible is not in chronological order. So it’s not, like, compiled the way we have it today in the order that it happened in history. So that’s where chronological reading plans can be helpful because they’re telling you how to read through in the order the events happen. Now you can just read straight through the Bible, and I did that for many years. But what I found was that even having gone to Bible college and being raised in a Christian home, it was confusing for me to understand where things were falling chronologically, which is why when I leave my bible reading program, I have us go through chronologically so that we know what order the events happen in history.

So let’s move on to the Bible’s genres of literature. So I kinda touched on this already in the New Testament, but let’s go back to the Old Testament. The Old Testament has a lot of different types of literature. Now, if you took English 101 in high school or college, then you know that you oftentimes analyze literature based on the intent of the author, the themes that he’s writing to, the words and language that he’s using. And by understanding them, we understand his message. Well, the same thing goes for the Bible. It’s ancient literature. We wouldn’t expect to understand it right away if it was the Iliad or the Odyssey, but we somehow expect that we should understand the Bible right away, just at face value.

And we forget it was written in a specific culture. It was written in a specific time. And so because of that, we need to have grace for ourselves, but also allow God to equip us with his grace for understanding the Bible because it is difficult to do that oftentimes on our own. We also need the help of scholars who have studied history and archaeology and can give us some context for what we are reading. So let’s talk about genres. So there are several different types of of scriptural genres. We talked about the epistles and what those are. We talked about the book of Acts, which is historical, and Revelation, which is apocalyptic literature.

But let’s back up. So in the Old Testament, the first five books are called the Torah or the Pentateuch, and this is a mixture of historical narrative and law. So historical narrative is essentially just telling the story of what happened in history. Exactly like it sounds. So when you’re reading parts of Genesis about Jacob or an Exodus about Moses, you are learning a story of something that happened in history, the story of the Exodus. But then you get to Leviticus and now you’re reading law. And this is sometimes hard for us because we don’t understand how to interpret the law or understand it in our modern, modern times. Other things that we often read in the Old Testament is the prophetic books.

Prophecy uses a lot of parallelism and repetition to make a point about God and to bring truth and challenge to the people who are being spoken to. And so we have major and minor prophets in the Old Testament. We also have Psalms, which are songs to God. We have 150 of those often written by David, but also by other people. These are songs of praise that would have been set to music. And then we have wisdom literature like Proverbs and Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon that are kind of a mixture of that repetition that we saw in prophecy, but sometimes more simplified and giving ideas for values for how to live an ethical and godly life. They’re like little quips almost about life with God and some basic ethical teachings on how to walk that out. So when you’re reading through the Bible, you’re going to encounter all these different types of literature, and each one requires a different type of interpretation.

Now as a new believer, if you’re like, I’m so intimidated by that. How the heck am I supposed to do that? Well, it takes time and here’s the great thing. You have your whole life to be a Bible student, and the holy spirit helps us understand. Your church should equip you to understand. It’s okay to be on a continual journey and understanding the Bible. You don’t have to know it all right away. God wants to walk with you in this, and he reveals things to us as we need them, as we are growing. And that’s not something to be embarrassed about.

So you can begin your journey today in sitting down understanding, okay, I’m sitting down to Proverbs. Well, Proverbs is really simple. It’s in many ways very face value. You can take something away very quickly, but we can tend to turn some of what we read there into promises and that is not how Proverbs is intended. It’s not intended to be a list of promises or guarantees. It’s a list of essentially little, like, observations about life in general. So for instance, the proverb that says, raise up a child or train up a child in the way he should go. And when he is old, he will not depart from it.

Well, it’s not promising that if you do all the things right as a parent, your child will for sure walk with God. But it is saying that if you train a child in the way of God, in his natural bent, the way God designed him training and righteousness, using those natural skills, then he will most likely walk in that in the future, but it’s not a guarantee. So when we read Proverbs, we want to be careful to interpret things correctly. When we’re reading in the law, we want to think about what was going on contextually at the time. What did the law mean at the time? What was going on to the people that such laws would be given by God instead of just saying these are unrealistic or weird or I don’t get it? Ask yourself, what could be going on? Why would God give this law? And we’ll talk about some resources you can use to learn more about that. So take note of the genre when you study. Now let’s talk about how to read the Bible. Say you’re just starting out and you’re like, I don’t know where to start.

I really like to suggest starting in the gospels because it’s good to have a foundation in the story of Jesus’ life and ministry. Have a starting place to ask some hard questions and go, okay. I wanna go back to this Old Testament passage that Jesus is quoting here and understand it better. Or when Jesus talks to the Jewish leaders about Moses. Okay. Well, we can learn about Moses next, or we can go back and read that passage as you are reading in the gospels. I love the gospel of John, but all the gospels are awesome in their own way. They’re all different perspectives on the same story, so they won’t have all the same stories because they’re 4 different viewpoints.

That doesn’t mean they’re contradictory. It just means that they have different angles of that same conversation. So any of the gospels are great to read, but I love starting with John. If you’re a parent like me, your hope is that your children will grow up to develop an unshakable faith, To be followers of Jesus Christ and live out his call in their lives in a way that brings glory to God. But you also know that our kids live in a world that can be challenging to follow Christ faithfully. As one mom shared, I can’t teach my kids all the things they learn at the summit. I homeschool them and we read a lot of great books together, but nothing compares to what they’ve internalized after attending Summit. Summit takes the best of the best of the best speakers, and they plan each session in such a way that the kids can get the most out of it.

That means having downtime, having fun activities, good food, thoughtful dialogue, access to speakers, staff, connection, all of it. I tell fellow moms they must send their kids to the summit. If you have a child between the ages of 16 and 22, send them to a 2 week conference in Colorado or Georgia this summer. Learn more at Save $200 when you use the code verity24. Register today at Now maybe you’ve done that and you wanna know where else to read. A chronological plan could be really good.

If a time frame stresses you out, don’t use a time frame. Just say, I’m gonna read through the Bible in the order that it happened in history, and I’m not gonna stress about the time frame. And there you go. That’s a great way to begin. Now when we are beginning to, you know, start this journey of walking through the Bible, inevitably, we’re gonna have some questions about how to understand what we’re reading. Right? When you’re sitting down, that’s the whole question of this episode. How do I understand it If I’m understanding the genre, I know what it was designed for and its intent, and I know that it’s ancient literature, so it’s gonna take some work. I wanted to read to you a few cautions as you’re interpreting, and this is from Gordon Fee’s book, I can’t improve on what he wrote.

So I just want to share a little bit of what he warned against. The first thing he warns against is allegorizing. So instead of just reading the passage and saying, oh, this is what it says, sometimes we try to find a mysterious or allegorical meaning to a passage. This can happen a lot in more charismatic context, and I think we need to be really careful with this because, yes, sometimes the Lord does speak miraculously through a passage, and it has a really profound wild meaning for our life. That absolutely can happen. But most of the time, a text means what it says. So don’t read something into it that isn’t there. The second warning he gives is to decontextualize a narrative.

So this is important If you are ignoring the overall context of what you’re reading, whether that’s what came before in the chapter before in the chapter after, or the overall historical context, you can actually make the verses that you’re reading say whatever you want. So I always joke about this passage in Leviticus. It says all the fat is the Lord’s. Well, take it out of context. We could say, well, great. I will eat as many fats as I want because it’s the Lord’s. So we do that with other passages with a lot more dangerous effects. Moralizing, this is a big one.

What if we read a story at face value and then we just take away a quick lesson? And we’re like, this is the lesson. It means don’t hurt other people. Veggie Tales was, you know, the master at this when we were all growing up in the nineties, veggie tales, moralized stories a lot. And like, it’s okay to love veggie tales, but if you ever need an example of it, if you go back and watch through the original veggie tales, you’ll often see this pattern come through because it will often tell a story from scripture. But then at the end, there’s this quaint little lesson that is often not what the Bible is doing. The Bible is telling a much deeper message and story about God coming to dwell with man, the need for a savior, salvation, and what happens when we don’t walk with God. So we don’t wanna minimize a story and make it smaller by moralizing it. Another thing we can do is individualize a passage.

So this means that we try to take a passage and apply it to us in a way that it doesn’t work or apply to anybody else. The example Gordon Fee gives is the story of Balaam’s talking donkey, reminding someone that they talk too much. Well, maybe that’s kind of funny, but that’s not the meaning of the passage. That’s not the message that is being said there. So we don’t want to read something in there that’s not actually what applies to the, to the context that’s there. Another thing we do is false appropriation, and I’ve seen this happen a lot recently. It’s when we take things that were acquainted with in contemporary culture, and we kind of read them onto a text, even though that’s not the author’s intent. Remember English 101? What’s the author’s intent? What is he trying to say? That’s what you want to understand.

Not what you think he was saying or what you wish he was saying. And the example Gordon Fee gives is the friendship between David and Jonathan in Samuel 20 where it says that David loved Jonathan as he loved himself. So sometimes people will take this passage and they will say, well, clearly there was a homosexual relationship between David and Jonathan. The text does not say this anywhere at all. There’s no indication of this. It’s just 2 friends who love each other and a healthy love. So when we take modern ideas or ideas about sexuality that are currently, you know, taking over our culture, that we are more aware of those concepts, those ideas. And then we go back to the Bible, we read them onto it.

That’s a red flag. Another thing is redefinition. So when we redefine words or we change the words to mean something that they don’t mean, then we can end up being really confused or misinterpreting a passage. Now will we misinterpret things at times? Yes. We all make mistakes. I make mistakes with interpretation sometimes, and I have to go back and say, okay. Maybe I was wrong about that. Maybe I did read wrong.

Sometimes on a few things, there’s room for disagreement on interpretation. And so if you are starting out, don’t be afraid of failure. It’s okay to misinterpret. You can always say, oops. I was wrong. Now I know better. Now I’ve learned more. Or learning slowly as you’re growing, how to understand which interpretations belong with which theological approach or denomination because there are different perspectives and viewpoints, and that is okay.

Think of Christianity as this tree that’s all based on the gospel and Jesus Christ, and the branches are different interpretive methods or interpretive traditions within theology. And so as long as the trunk of the tree is the same, which includes what we talked about in the gospel and the Christian life, then we have Christianity. And there might be some variance on how people interpret things like baptism or how they interpret the order of events in holy week and things like that. So let’s end with what to do if you are confused. What if you have started reading and you are thinking, I’m just not sure what to do here. I have a question. I don’t know where to go. So number 1, utilize our study bible notes.

If you have a study bible, this is a great resource. Now I use a couple different study bibles for my work. There’s a couple that I really like. I like the church history study Bible if you like history, has notes from a lot of early church fathers. The Ryrie study Bible is a more dispensational study Bible. I have enjoyed this one for that perspective. And then you can get the ESV study Bible for more of a reformed perspective. Crossway makes a beautiful systematic theology study Bible, if you want something a little bit more theological.

And I believe there’s even a John Wesley study bible. I am in the Wesleyan theological tradition. So, I really think that would be a fun one to try out. There’s lots of different study Bibles that you can utilize, and if you’re like, I don’t even know where to begin, a CSB women’s study Bible might be a good choice. I really like the Christian standard bible, and so there might be some options there. Utilize a commentary. So study bible is like a mini commentary. A commentary is written by a scholar on a specific book of the Bible, and it basically goes through verse by verse and helps you understand the context and the Greek and the Hebrew and things like that.

If you want a free commentary, Enduring Word online is awesome. It’s by David Guzik, and it is super helpful if you’re looking for something simple to start. And then if you want to go on to a longer, more robust commentary, I have a list of commentaries on my website, under freebies. You can click on the commentary guide, and it will give you a list of commentaries and names of authors divided by denomination. Another thing you can do is utilize your church community. So I hope you’re in a great church that’s equipping you and supporting you in your new walk with God. But regardless of whether you’re still looking or you’re in one right now, your church community, the one in the future or the present one, should be a place where you can ask questions. Then when you don’t understand what is going on in the Bible, if you can’t ask questions in your church, I would ask around and see, is there a Bible study associated with the church? Is there something I can go to that will help me to learn? Is there anybody here who will help me to study? And if there is nothing like that in your church, then you may need to start looking for a church where you can have that kind of support or a Bible study where you can have that kind of support.

And then lastly, utilize podcasts and videos. So the reason I didn’t put this first is because podcasts and videos are great just like this one, but they should not be your main source of interpretive help. It’d be better to utilize something like a study Bible or commentary, and then your church pastors, elders, things like that. Before you start going on YouTube and the podcast, because it can get really overwhelming and confusing when you go on these sources, because there’s so much information, Couple of podcasts and places that might be helpful. Obviously, this one, I hope is helpful to you. Bible Thinker with Mike Winger, that’s YouTube, but it’s also a podcast. Ask N.T. Wright is one that I really enjoy. Chad Bird, he is on Instagram. I think he might also be on YouTube. He offers some really insightful, thoughtful information about different parts of the Bible, but especially the old testament in my experience. The Bible Recap. This is a very popular podcast that goes chronologically through the Bible. And then the Bible project, which is on YouTube and does summaries of each book of the Bible that will give you a good overview.

Alright. That’s it. Hopefully, this gave you a quick overview to take some of the fear and overwhelm out of Bible study and Bible interpretation. If you still feel overwhelmed, keep it simple. Get out the book of John, ask the Lord to speak to you, and just start reading. If you have a hard time paying attention, I recommend taking notes as you read. And if you need help and what to take notes on, you can head to and check out bible study basics. We have it in print and an ebook, and it’s a quaint, quick, little theological booklet that will help you learn how to study the Bible on your own. I have full confidence that you can do it, and I’ll be back next week with the next episode in our series Beginner Believer.

Thank you so much for listening to this week’s episode of Verity podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, would you take the time to leave us a review? It helps so many other women around the world find out about Verity and about every woman a theologian as a ministry in a shop. We appreciate you and I hope you’ll be back next week as we continue to go deeper into God’s word and the heart of Jesus Christ.


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