Do you really know how to read the Bible? (These 3 books will help!)

There’s a trend I’ve noticed lately: using the word “biblical” to describe a topic.

Biblical parenting.

Biblical marriage.

Biblical finances.

Biblical diet.

I don’t deny that the Bible may have wisdom to share about these topics. But there’s a danger in using the term “biblical” in this way:

1. It implies that one way is better than any other way, that if you just follow this biblical program, you will achieve the success you’re looking for.
2. It assumes that there is only one “correct” biblical interpretation, no nuance or wrestling with the text allowed.
3. It implies that the purpose of the Bible (or the Bible passage/verse you’re referencing) was written to explicitly deal with whatever situation you are facing now.

I grew up in the church, a missionary kid and the daughter of a pastor as well. I can recite memory verses in more than one language. I can find obscure verses better than anyone else in a Bible drill. I know all the Bible stories and could hold my own in any game of Bible trivia.

I did not think I had much more to learn in the Bible department, until I discovered these three books, which changed the way I read and think about the Bible.*

How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth is a wonderful overview of the different genres of literature included in the Bible. It explores how each book of the Bible was meant for an ancient audience, and what it might have to say to us today in the light of its original context and purpose. It’s very readable and this Bible know-it-all gleaned a lot of wisdom from its insights!

The Bible Tells Me So was a fascinating read for me. Pete Enns shares the story about how questioning the Bible cost him his job as a professor at Westminster Theological Seminary. In this book, he addresses questions and doubts I’ve had about the Bible (particularly the Old Testament) that I’ve never had the guts to ask. After reading this book, I’m not afraid to shy away from my hard questions, and I’m more comfortable reconciling the God of the Old Testament with the Jesus of the New Testament.

This list wouldn’t be complete without the work of Rachel Held Evans. I wasn’t going to read Inspired. I love RHE, but after reading the first two books on this list, for sure I already knew everything about the Bible. (Hi. Have I mentioned that I’m a bit of a know-it-all?) But I picked it up anyway, and I’m so glad I did! This book is part creative non-fiction: well known Bible stories retold in memoir, short story, poetry, and a screenplay, and part wrestling with difficult/mysterious themes and passages we find in the Bible. After reading this book, I felt a fresh appreciation for the Bible stories I grew up with, and how they are still relevant to us today. When Rachel Held Evans died unexpectedly earlier this week, we lost a gifted writer, deep thinker, and fearless leader. Her work shaped my faith and the faith of countless others, especially Christians on the margins.

Since reading these books, I have a healthy skepticism when people refer to something as “biblical.” Because the truth is that God gave us the Bible to share with us the story of his redemption of mankind. It was never meant to be a parenting manual, a marriage program, a financial plan, or a special diet.

What about you? What have you read that has shaped your understanding of the Bible?

*Affiliate links: as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. This just means that if you purchase through these links, I’ll earn a few extra pennies at no extra cost to you!

**If you enjoyed this post, consider sharing it! And be sure to sign up below to get The Scoop, a twice a month newsletter filled with helpful links to the best posts and podcasts to encourage you in your journey of faith and motherhood!  As a thank you, you’ll get access to ALL my resources in the Free for You library: printable calendars, meal planning templates, family manifesto workbook, a free e-book, and more!

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Sarah K. Butterfield is an author, speaker, and ministry leader who has a heart for empowering women to grow in their faith and be intentional with their time. She and her husband and two boys live in San Diego, where she writes about pursuing a deeper relationship with God in the midst of motherhood.

6 thoughts on “Do you really know how to read the Bible? (These 3 books will help!)

  1. Sarah, I also love I appreciate your caveat here: “biblical” this or “biblical” that is a way we give credence to a way of doing something, and yet, as Dallas Willard so often said, “God has law, but functions by principle – the spirit of the law, not the letter.” He is not capricious, but, as I was reading in Ecc 8 this morning, there is a time and a procedure for everything. He knows the variances and deals with nuances. I’m grateful for the intimate and outside-the-box ways of our God!


  2. Living by the Book and 30 Days to Understanding the Bible are both good books for those who don’t know it all 😉 or who are stuck in a rut and want a fresh perspective.


  3. Thank you for being willing to wrestle, doubt, question… so great! I haven’t heard of the first book, I love the second book and all that goes on with Pete Enns and his Bible For Normal People stuff, and I have the third on my list of books to read. For most of my life, I elevated the Bible almost as if it was actually God Himself. I have come to read it and love it for lots of different reasons, without the “certainty” and “inerrancy” that I grew up with. Would love to have a chat with you about how this plays out for you in your parenting and even in your writing. 🙂 Maybe we can have another ZOOM call like we did not too long ago 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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