The Holy Bible: Tips and Tricks to Understand What You Read

During this time, which I have officially decided to call "The Great Pause," we are figuring out new ways to spend our time.  Some of you may have decided to read the Bible more.  I thought I'd share with you some tips and tricks that I use to help me understand the Bible better when I read it.




As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we receive a common criticism that we don't read the Bible or use it in our gospel study.

Truthfully, I can see why people don't think we read the Bible.  We have the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price to study as well.  We also place a heavy emphasis on the Book of Mormon and are told by our leaders to read it, "Every day. Every day. Every day."

I can't find where any church leader has said this.  

So relax, Mormon Meme Makers.  

So should we even be reading the Bible?  Don't we have enough to study already?  

Half of our Sunday School curriculum is dedicated to the Bible.  We study it for two years within a four-year period.  

Our Church has produced several Bible videos portraying the events in the New Testament.  

The Bible is often quoted by speakers in General Conference.  

It's the first thing that is listed when you click on "Scriptures" on churchofjesuschrist.org 



So I'm going to go with, "Yeah, we should be reading the Bible."  

But why don't we?  Or at least as often as we probably should be?  I think there are lots of reasons, but one is that compared to the other Standard Works, I think it's harder to understand.  I'd like to offer some tips and tricks that I use to help me understand the Bible better when I read it.  

Tip #1 - Read a different translation. 

Our Church uses the King James Version.  Why?  According to Franklin S. Gonzalez, the institute director for University of Utah in 1987, it's because that was the version available to Joseph Smith when he translated the Bible.  Reading the KJV makes his translations easier to understand.  

To read my article on how Joseph Smith translated the Bible, click here. 

But that doesn't mean we can't look at other translations.

Did you know that the New International Version (NIV) was translated by distinguished scholars from the
  • United States,
  • Great Britain,
  • Canada,
  • Australia, and
  • New Zealand
representing
  • Anglican,
  • Assemblies of God,
  • Baptist,
  • Brethren,
  • Christian Reformed,
  • Church of Christ,
  • Evangelical Free,
  • Lutheran,
  • Mennonite,
  • Methodist,
  • Nazarene,
  • Presbyterian,
  • Wesleyan
  • and other churches? 

The NIV went through three levels of revision from the first translation.  First by the Intermediate Editorial Committee, then to the General Editorial Committee, and finally by the Committee on Bible Translation.  While thousands of hours of research and discussion went into this translation, even the Committee on Bible Translation acknowledges that this is the work of men and might have mistakes.*

But honestly, that can be true of any translation.  There's a reason why the phrase "lost in translation" exists.

The NIV takes out all the "thee, thou, and thy" language because they say it's archaic.  It's goal is to use clear and natural English.

To read my article about my thoughts on using thee and thou, click here.   Spoiler alert: I think we should.

I own an NIV Bible, called Women's Devotional Bible.  I really like it, mainly because it includes thoughts written by Christian women scattered throughout the Bible.  But I also like comparing the difference between the KJV and NIV for further insight.

Trick #1 - Biblehub.com 

Fortunately, there is a quick and easy way to compare a verse in different translations.  Go to Biblehub.com 

This website was introduced to me by a BYU religion professor during his presentation at BYU Education Week.  It's a game changer.

Not only does Bible Hub make it possible for you to read the Bible in 22 different translations, but you can also compare one verse to all the translations at once.  It also has cross references and other sources to help you as you read.

Tip #2 Study the definition of a word. 

I love to study words.  I particularly like to study the meaning of words.  I probably do this more when reading my scriptures than any other time.  Sometimes just knowing the definition of a word can change my understanding of a verse.

To read how my study of the words "obey" and "keep" changed my understanding of a verse, click here. 

Often we apply modern meanings to older words.  When we do, we might misconstrue what the writer meant.

Trick #2 Noah Webster's 1828 Dictionary 

Noah Webster, I love you.

I'm not sure he's feeling the love. 
I also was introduced to this dictionary at BYU Education Week.  I have been using it regularly ever since.  

I really like this dictionary because it's the same words that Joseph Smith would have been familiar with when he translated the Book of Mormon into English.  I also like it because it gives definitions of words directly from the Bible.  It's helpful when reading the KJV.

You can look up words on the website, or download it the app for android or iPhone.

Tip # 3 Read it as a library.  

Question:  Is the word "bible" in the Bible?

Nope! 

Why not?  Because the Bible didn't exist when the Bible was being written.

According to Kristin Swenson, author of BIBLE BABEL: Making Sense of the Most Talked About Book of All Time, the word "bible" means "little library."

Even though we call it the "holy book" it's actually not a book.  It's a collection of books.  A common criticism that our Church receives is that our scriptures violate the charge that John gives in Revelation 22:18-19 [emphasis added].

18 For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book:

19 And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.

It's important to know that when John wrote this while exiled on the island of Patmos, the Bible as we know it didn't even exist.

In fact, John actually reveals in Revelation 11 that additional scriptures will eventually come forth.  For more information on this, click here. 

You find something similar in Deuteronomy 4:2 and 12:32.  It's not referring to the Bible, but the manuscripts that had been written up to this point.  At the time, the Old Testament didn't exist.

So one way to better understand the Bible is to see it as a library of books. It's helpful to understand how each book fits into the bigger picture.

Trick #3 The Bible Project 

Have you ever heard of The Bible Project?  No.  Well, you are in for a treat.

The Bible Project has produced a series of videos that summarizes each book in the Bible.
Their YouTube Channel has a playlist called "How To Read the Bible."  I highly recommend watching it.  But don't go over there now, or you'll never come back to this article.  Seriously, you'll be binging for days.

In addition to thinking of the Bible as a collection of books, it's also helpful to read it as a story.  Not just as a collection of stories, but as one story.  The Bible Project does a great job showing the themes woven into the library.  When the books are read together, they weave a story that points to Jesus Christ.



Tip #4 The word of God is God's word. 

When you read Tip #4, you probably think, "Oh thanks, Captain Obvious."  But there's a reason why I wrote it that way.  We often refer to the Bible as the word of God.  And that is exactly what it is.  It is a record of God speaking to His children: Adam and Eve and their children, the Hebrews, the children of Israel, the Jews, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and eventually the Gentiles, particularly those who joined the Church of Jesus Christ.

But guess what?  You are also one of God's children.  Your name might not be mentioned in the Bible, but it's for you, He's speaking to you!  Remember the people in the Bible didn't have a Bible to read.    

Whether you are reading the KJV, the NIV, or watching a Bible Video, you are hearing God's words.  And these words are for you. 

Trick #4 Hear Him. 

I feel kind of weird calling this a trick, but I actually do have a website to share as to how to hear the word of God when we read the Bible.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has launched a campaign called #HearHim.  It offers lots of suggestions and ideas as to how we can hear God's word--not just when we read the scriptures, but in other ways too.  This video is less than 2 minutes long.  It shows how we can hear the God's word in our lives today.




As we use our time during The Great Pause to read the Bible, it's important to remember that we are literally reading God's word.  But even more importantly we can hear God... speaking directly to us.


*************************

*Information on the NIV translation provided by a preface written by The Committee on Bible Translation June 1978 included in the Women's Devotional Bible, published 1990 by The Zondervan Corporation. 

If you liked this article, you might also enjoy:


Why Did Joseph Smith Translate the Bible?


Using Thee, Thou, and Thy When We Pray


Keep the Commandments: It's Not As Hard As Might You Think 

Not an official publication of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

What Others Are Reading

The Christ Child: A Nativity Story - 8 Observations of What Is Different

"Skin of Blackness": Idioms, Curses, and Racism