The Basics of Bible Reading

I’m a woman of deep faith, not religious or doctrinal. I’m highly skeptical and a mindfully thinking person. Although notably unpopular in religious and faith-based sectors, I tend to question many things written in the Bible. The Bible is God-breathed. However, I see and refer to it as a tool to enhance my faith and not as God-incarnate or a divine book to worship or treat in utmost reverence.

The Bible is a redacted collection of specific stories, poems, and lyrics deemed critical by both the remnant exilic and conquered ancestors to pass on from generation to generation.

It is a collection of 66 books written by over 44 authors in three continents over a span of maybe two thousand years. All 66 books are to be read as a singular literary unit. The Bible is cohesively connected and unified by three literary essentials: 1. continuing narrative, 2. conflict and, the 3. central theme and conflict resolution.

As part of a continuing challenge to as objectively as possible get to the heart of all of its 66 books, I have to accept that while it is an essential source of historical records, the Bible is not comprehensive. Nor is the Bible written as a scientific tool to systematically describe the people and culture of ancient times.

And this is why I argue that in order to truly understand the Bible’s text, we must also study history, look at maps, and learn linguistics along with the many forms of literature by which the Bible go by. I have no intention of debating about individual or group beliefs on certain controversial topics. What I advocate for everyone to commit to is to go by the empirical way of studying the Bible (as a unified literary unit) —by engaging the text on its own terms rather than exploring personal or communal interpretations.

An In-Depth Look At How To Effectively Study The Bible—an avid learner’s take

Studying the Bible objectively entails digging into the history, geography, language, authorship, and the literary nature of it. Like I said before, to get to the fundamentals (understanding and applying the lessons and principles), we have to go by the basics first. For instance, you can’t go on preaching ”Love your neighbor” when the concept of love and neighbor are individualized and converted into doctrinal subsets. Before we can even arrive at the fundamental of love and neighbor, we have to get to the basics of reading the two in its right context.

In other words, it is both essential and urgent to teach the readers the basics of reading while also navigating through the complexity and simplicity of conveying Biblical life applications. The two go hand in hand. But first things first, cultivate the love and the discipline for reading.

I have included Prof Cynthia Chapman’s lectures on The World of Biblical Israel, as part of my continuing studies and in support of my Bible reading. You may purchase the lectures from the Great Courses or from Amazon Prime.

Here’s an excerpt to one of Professor Chapman’s lectures.

“The story of the Bible is not written as objective history. Rather, it is the recorded memory of a conquered and exiled people determined to remember their past and pass that memory down from generation to generation. By remembering their origins and their homeland, they asserted who they were meant to be and were striving to be again. When we turn to the Bible in order to understand life in ancient Israel, we need to consider each story from at least two vantage points: the period in which the story is set and the period during which the story was preserved.”

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An In-Depth Look At How To Effectively Study The Bible—an avid learner’s take

One of the barriers to getting to the heart of the Bible and appreciating the truth stated in it is the way we approach to not only learning it but by how we are holding others to accept it.

In our attempt to study the Bible, we tend to use a theologian’s lens or a pastor’s preaching perspective, and then we apologize and excuse the practice by stating a caveat that we’re not a theologian or a pastor by trade, but just a person who’s attempting to understand the Bible’s text. The opposite of that would be us being only an occasional or leisure Bible reader. When we are this type of reader, we tend to draw out a passage or a verse and apply it as a universal reality.

I had a Bible Study conversation with my daughters the other day. The topic question was, ”Is there a right or a wrong way to interpret the passages in the Bible or look at the Bible as a whole?” My long-story-short answer is, YES. The follow-up question and the answers to it are as follows: ”Can we raise questions and be skeptical about the stories told in the book and if so, will that affect our individual salvation?” YES, YES, and NO. Trust me when I say that I am beyond happy that I am having this conversation with my kids especially the older ones. Conversations such as this help spark learning and trust. We need open discussions where we journey in the truth together rather than have debates where both parties are intent on proving the other wrong.

Personally, I always encourage others to look and check into the veracity of Biblical understanding, including my own. Being a woman or a man of the church does not exclude a person from being wrong, sometimes fundamentally wrong on the interpretation of passages or of how the Bible is taken.

In terms of reading, especially if you’re just starting or had been handling the study of it in a questionable manner, how do you approach the Bible? I probably will receive a flack saying this, but I’ll say it anyway. The litmus test in rightfully understanding the context of the stories told in the Bible is not love. Positing that as long as you see it from a viewpoint of love it should be okay is not just being overly simplistic, but it’s also encouraging the reader to ignore the important elements of the book. Doing so, it prevents the reader from getting the total picture. You can’t be encouraging critical and mindful thinking and also be endorsing a narrow perspective. Truth be known, the Bible also has the most horrific violent stories and narratives of all literature combined.

It’s true, some misunderstood verses are benign or have resulted in inspired life-changing changes maybe. The thing is, there are also misguided interpretations that have catastrophic repercussions.

And so I say, first thing’s first. Understand that the Bible is a collection of narratives of different genres meant to be understood as a unified literary piece of work. There’s no arguing that the Bible is literature. The easy part is that it reads like a long novel.

Although personal experience and emotional connection to a passage vary, it is imperative to note that the truth of the Scripture is never dependent on the individual’s subjective take on the verse. Hence, the premise that there is no right or wrong interpretation of the Bible’s text is flawed at best and a danger at worst. Think of the slave owners of modern history and the Westboro Baptist Church when you start justifying the merits of individual interpretations. The truth of the Bible is found within its context and it has nothing to do with any of our opinions.

Map Source: Rose Book of Bible Charts, Maps, & Timelines

What do we need to know or do to understand the Bible?

1. First, make time to read the Bible. And when you read, don’t rush. Don’t be in a hurry to get to the ethical or moral lesson of the passage.

2. The Bible begins and reflects the time and culture it came about. Expect to do an adjunct reading. Consider looking into linguistic and language translations—acquire basic philological appreciation.

3. When studying each book, understand the text of the literature in terms of the history, timeline, and the places that the stories took place. The truth of the Bible is narrated through this backdrop.

4. Fight the compulsion to engage the storylines in your own terms. Learn about the characters and the protocol of the time. Keep in close check the urge to engage or apply the passages in the context of the present times.

5. The task of the reader is to get into the narrative of the book in its own context, mindful that the Bible which is composed of 66 books, with over 40 authors, written in three continents in a span of nearly two thousand years, redacted and translated many times over is a unified literary unit. Consider also the rationale behind the gathering and compilation of which writings to preserve and include in the Bible.

Here Are Just A Few Important Literary Devises To Know While Studying The Stories Of The Bible:

1. Foreshadowing—an advance hint of what’s going to happen later in the story. The plan of redemption, for instance, was foreshadowed first in Genesis 22 during the Test Of Abraham.

2. Figures of Speech

3. Parallelism is the use of components in a sentence that is grammatically the same; or similar in their construction, sound, meaning, or meter.

Consider Matthew 5:13-14, ”You are the salt of the earth…You are the light of the world.” The second point amplifies the first point. When you get the literary structure right, you’ll understand that salt and light share a parallel perspective. The context in which salt is used in this passage has nothing to do with flavor or being a preservative. Be a preservative of the earth (or the flavor of the earth) does not make sense in the storyline. This is the area where knowledge of culture, topography, and geography also play an important role in understanding the text. Salt in Jesus’ time and in the location he was preaching was used as a catalyst for starting a fire or producing sparks specifically for outside ovens. This was a type of salt gathered in the Dead Sea. The parallel resonated to Jesus’ audience and was effectively received because it speaks to the practical reality of the people in the area.

4. Recapitulation includes the repetition or restatement and a summary of main points. In the Book of Matthew, Matthew recapitulates the history of Israel in his writing of the genealogy of Jesus. Check page 1 of the summary I prepared for the study of Chapters 1-5.

5. Paradoxical Technique refers to the use of concepts or ideas that are contradictory to one another, yet, when placed together hold significant value on several levels. The uniqueness of paradoxes lies in the fact that a deeper level of meaning and significance is not revealed at first glance, but when it does crystallize, it provides astonishing insight (source: In the Book of Matthew, The Beatitudes is a great example of this technique.

6. Symmetrical Form. The themes or main points are characterized by balance and harmony. In Genesis 1, Moses wrote about creation in a symmetrical fashion, e.g., “God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.” Genesis‬ ‭1:8‬.

7. Inclusio is a rhetorical device where the narrative ends where it begins. Bracketing is also a form of inclusio wherein sections are grouped together to convey a single thought. It’s a literary strategy to alert the reader of the important theme in the story or for the reader to examine the theme within a theme. The other significance of inclusio is to discourage us from individually handling or treating in isolation any small part of the inclusive grouping.

Example. Matthew 5-7 are an inclusio. The entire three chapters talk about the teaching of Christ on the mount. The message within the narrative is about The Way of the Kingdom—not to be interpreted as The Way to the Kingdom.

8. Understanding a literary technique whereby the author creatively distinguishes the narrative relevance of the main and the peripheral characters from the overall theme. This technique is consistent in the entire Bible. Although they are important players, you will observe that the peripheral characters are picked up and discussed in the storyline and then dropped off on the side by the author. The main characters, however, are not only important but they are highlighted as relevant and central to the narrative and main point of the Bible—the overall theme that pertains to the Plan of Salvation. For instance, in writing the stories on Abraham and Lot, Isaac and Ishmael, and Essau and Jacob, Moses will pick up significant accounts in the lives of Lot, Ishmael, and Essau and then he will drop them off to the side while he proceeds with the stories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob deftly unveiling their character’s relevance to the main narrative.

This literary technique of understanding the main and peripheral characters is consistent in the entire Bible. Sometimes, the reference isn’t about a person but other things or concept. Take the Sermon on the Mount for instance in the Gospel According to Matthew. Instead of teaching about the Ten Principles of the Law, Jesus in Chapter 5 focused on the commandments that had to do with human being’s relationship with other human beings. Why focus on this though? Because the transformational result of Salvation is lived through the person’s love and service of others.

When we start engaging the text on its own terms and understanding that the 66 books in the Bible written in a span of maybe two thousand years in three continents by over 40 authors are a unified literary unit, we begin learning TOGETHER and searching the truth TOGETHER. Woefully, when we insist on learning the Bible based on our own interpretation, we begin seeing each of us on the opposite side of the debate. With that, the conversation transforms into a difficult and divisive confrontation whereby you see each faction defending a doctrinal or hardline belief at a devastating cost to relationships and communal compassion.

Empirically studying the Bible encourages a joint pedagogical journey of opportunity for and between us (who most likely claim some kind of biblical expertise) and the skeptics, including the disenfranchised individuals.

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What Will It Take To Bring What Is Apart Together?

Recently, my husband and I had a wonderful lunch and a lively couples’ book discussion at our home. It’s always a pleasure to host and see people ease up and be themselves at the company and space you provide for them. We don’t have a lot of square footage in the house, but somehow, every one of our guests contributes to making it work for all.

Our intention was to make the meeting as enjoyable as it was instructional and informative. Humor plays both prophylactic and cathartic roles in a husband and wife relationship. And yes, everyone has to have comforting food, too, most especially when the conversation is likely to get intense at some critical points in the discussion. 😊

When preparing for the study, Vic and I agreed that we’ll stick to the basic premise and foundational structure of the Biblical storyline of bringing together what has pulled apart. Marriage is a formally recognized union of two individuals in an intimate relationship. Surely, there is a lot of advice and a plethora of information to digest pertaining to married life.

What we committed to doing in our study is to highlight the heart of the Bible’s main message of unity through transforming love, being that Eggerichs’ book is marketed as a Bible-based self-help book.

Vic and I took a different approach in tackling chapters 4 to 8 of Dr. Emerson Eggerichs’ popular married couple’s book, “Love and Respect.” We dug deeper into the theme and challenged a few of its audience-based premises. You see, while we do understand the intention of the author to help a husband and wife become more loving and respecting of each other, the disconnect that we see is that Eggerichs limited the expanse of love and respect by designating each virtue as a gender-assigned need or as described by the author, a gender-specific dominant language.

In fact, what the book perceives as a woman’s natural desire for love is actually a longing for acceptance or belonging, an inclination towards relationship and connection. Women have a higher degree of sentimentality compared to men. Instead of looking at it as a Propensity For Sentimentality, Eggerichs handles it as a love-based virtue.

And what has been referred to as a man’s need for respect in the book is actually a deep desire for recognition or an acknowledgment of strength or accomplishment. Men have been conditioned and expected to compete since very early in his life more so than women. It is a fact. Instead of tackling it as an ego or performance-based issue, Vic and I agree that in the book, a man’s inclination for recognition and achievement is mischaracterized as a respect-based virtue.

The Social Psychology of Respect: Implications for Delegitimization and Reconciliation

Since Eggerichs heavily referenced Dr. John Gottman’s research, we decided to share specifics in the group. We included several well-researched empirical facts and experts’ well-studied practical instructions to overcome marital conflicts. While we did encourage the husbands and wives to look into the deconstructed Christ-like definition of love and respect, Vic and I also facilitated an open discussion on a few real-life vulnerabilities and conflicts that a couple faces in their relationship.

Making Marriage Work

What we were aiming for in today’s discussion was to accomplish what we believe is the overall goal of the five chapters, which is to emphasize unity. We highlighted in our presentation that unity in marriage is a result of transforming love; a love that also produces respect. To help achieve this and stitch the chapters together, we incorporated Inso Kim Berg’s miracle question. We adjusted the question to highlight a narrative of bringing two individuals together as one unit. We hope the discussion was enjoyable as it was instructive and informative.

We opened the book meet by throwing a question that deals with what’s obvious and common —that it’s easy to demand a change from our spouse.

Miracle Question #1.

“Suppose tonight, while you slept, a miracle occurred. When you awake tomorrow, what would be some of the things you would notice about your spouse that would tell you life had suddenly gotten better?”

Then towards the middle of the group discussion and after getting the knowledge and assuming that the group have acquired enough understanding of love, respect, and overcoming marital conflicts, Vic and I asked the second main question of the day. This time the question involves a self-reflective challenge of asking what you can do to improve your marriage. Here goes,

Miracle Question #2

“Suppose tonight, while you slept, a miracle occurred. When you awake tomorrow, what would be some of the things you would notice about yourself (as a husband or a wife) that would tell you married life had suddenly gotten better?”

At the end of the discussion and after looking into the detailed study of forgiveness and expounding on a suggested dominant yet unifying language of a Christ-inspired love and respect between a husband and wife, we posted the third and last question. This time, the focus of the query is on the agreed couple’s goal of change. We concluded the discussion with a clear intent of joining two individuals to become one unit.

Miracle Question #3

“Suppose tonight, while you both slept together, a miracle occurred. When you awake tomorrow, what would be some of the things you, as a couple, would notice about your household that would tell you married life had suddenly gotten better?”

PowerPoint copy of what we used in today’s book meet.

And if you’re interested, check out the unabridged copy of what my husband and I put together in preparation for today’s book meet. Please note that none of our book meetings are intended to replace professional advice and interventions.

What will it take to bring together what is apart? Will it be a miracle? Or, will it be a transformed heart and mind — an attitude of faith? An attitude of faith that when both parties come to terms and acknowledge that God being the head leader and embrace Christ’s example of love and humility as a core inspiration, both the husband and wife will then see and live a co-equal share of power, openheartedness, and reliability. And that their marriage becomes a continuing discovery of a union of two becoming one.

Last year, Scott Treadway, lead pastor of Rancho Community Church presenter a Sunday lesson centered on purity and patriarchy. He briefly touched on God’s take on gender equality and the treatment of women. Follow the link for the full video of the sermon.

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. To view a copy of this license, visit or send a letter to Creative Commons, 171 Second Street, Suite 300, San Francisco, California, 94105, USA.