7 Reasons You Need to Read Your Bible

Academic biblical studies requires spending quite a lot of time in an array of primary and secondary sources.1

And among these sources, the Bible itself is the most primary. So, it’s important to maintain a regular habit of reading it for at least 7 reasons.

  1. To remind yourself that biblical studies is about the Bible.
  2. To remind yourself that the Bible is Scripture.
  3. To see things you won’t by reading only isolated passages.
  4. To focus more fully and hear things you won’t by reading silently.
  5. To sharpen your languages.
  6. To find things you won’t in translation.
  7. To learn vocabulary.

Of these, the first 4 apply whatever language you’re reading in. The last 3 are special benefits if you’re reading the Bible in its primary languages.

1. To remind yourself that biblical studies is about the Bible.

A lot of academic biblical studies has to do with thinking critically about the biblical text.

It has to do with bringing preconceptions into question and making judgments like historians. It has to do with looking closely at the text again and again.

This work is good and important. Nothing can substitute for this kind of detailed, careful attention to a particular book, a given passage, or even a single verse.

But with this kind of close attention also comes the danger of paying so much attention to the individual trees that the forest fades from view.

There’s a risk of increasing knowledge of a small slice of the biblical literature at the cost of increasing unfamiliarity with other parts.

To counteract this tendency toward unfamiliarity, it’s helpful to cultivate a regular habit of Bible reading.

2. To remind yourself that the Bible is Scripture.

Not all biblical scholars claim membership in a particular faith community—especially one they see as relevant to their scholarship.

But biblical scholarship is a coherent discipline only because of the faith communities within which biblical texts emerged.

In practice, “Bible” might mean quite a lot of different things. It might be

  • A “Hebrew Bible” without a New Testament,
  • A “New American Standard Bible” with a New Testament but not an apocrypha, or
  • A “New Jerusalem Bible” with both a New Testament and an apocrypha.2

But whatever its specific content, speaking of a “Bible” as such inevitably requires reckoning with a text that has been deeply embedded in the faith and practice of the communities that have cherished it.

Ignoring this history is then precisely a historical oversight. And before critical biblical scholarship lies the task of avoiding historical oversights.

In addition, if you come to the biblical text from one of its communities, reading the text for its own sake can help remind you to cherish it—whatever else you also then do with it, either analytically or critically.

3. To see things you won’t by reading only isolated passages.

Specialists in any given book or corpus have a real tendency toward functional ignorance of other books and corpora.

Specialization can be logical. But it shouldn’t come at the cost of not knowing other primary literature that might also prove relevant.

For instance, while Luke and Paul shouldn’t be confused, they are at least both very early witnesses to the memory, faith, and practice of the Jesus movement. So texts like these might, in principle, just have as much to say about each other as would Josephus or Philo.

Readings of Paul might then feasibly be enriched by readings of Luke, just as much as by readings of Josephus or Philo, and vice versa.

But literature you don’t know the contents of can’t help you. So, it’s helpful to read widely across the biblical text, as also in other primary literature beyond it.

4. To focus more fully and hear things you won’t by reading silently.

When thinking of Bible reading, the default mode is often to think of silent reading. But reading the text aloud can be beneficial too.

In a group, reading aloud helps everyone follow along at the same place. If you’re reading aloud to yourself, that’s not such an upside. You always know where you are.

But if you read the text aloud—even by yourself—you engage another sense in the reading experience. By doing so, you push yourself that much more into the experience of reading.

Do you ever get distracted when “reading” a page silently? You then suddenly realize you have no idea what you’ve supposedly just seen while your mind was wandering.

By contrast, if you’re reading aloud, you’ll probably realize much quicker that your mind has started to wander when you run out of words coming out of your mouth.

Engaging another sense also gives you another chance to make connections in the text that you might read right over on paper but pick up when hearing yourself repeat the same phrase.

5. To sharpen your languages.

When you read the biblical text in its primary languages, you can hone your ability to work with these languages.

You’ll get a better feel for the languages by experiencing them first hand rather than only reading about them in a grammar.

Grammars do, of course, make very profitable reading on their own. 🙂 But they can’t substitute for deep familiarity with the literature they try to describe.

If you’re reading in Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek, you can even take the opportunity to read the text aloud too.

That way, you can practice your pronunciation and develop your “ear” for the language.

Don’t worry if it sounds bad or halting. And don’t worry too much about your choice of a pronunciation system.

As a child, that roughness was part of your learning process for your first language. It will be here too.

But gradually, you’ll find yourself making progress. You might even see things in the text that you’ve previously missed because you heard yourself saying the text aloud.

6. To find things you won’t in translation.

To communicate some things in whatever language, translators inevitably have to obscure others.

This fact is wonderfully encapsulated in the Italian proverb “traduttore traditore​”—”a translator is a traitor.”3

From an English translation, you might well learn about a time when a ruler of Egypt dreamed about cows.

But English simply isn’t able to communicate the humorous irony involved in having פרעה (paroh) dream about פרות (paroth; Gen 41:1–2).

Many translations do a great job with rendering the core of what a passage communicates.

But for the fine details both within and across passages, there’s no substitute for reading the original text.

Here also, your lack of familiarity with a biblical text’s primary language can sometimes be an asset.

In translation, you might well read the text too quickly and so gloss over important elements within it.

But by reading the text in a primary language, you might pause long enough to consider it more deeply.

7. To learn vocabulary.

When you learn biblical languages, you learn a certain amount of vocabulary that occurs frequently. But even with this under your belt, there is still a huge amount of vocabulary you don’t know.

Continuing to drill larger sets of vocabulary cards might have a place. On the other hand, you may well remember the language better by seeing and learning new words in context.

You’ll also learn new usages, meanings, and functions for the vocabulary you thought you knew.

You may have learned a small handful of glosses for a word. But you’ll start seeing how that term might have a much wider range of possible meanings than the glosses you memorized.

Don’t Settle for the Cliché

Unfortunately, biblical scholars who don’t have a regular discipline of Bible reading are common enough to be somewhat cliché.

Whether you find yourself in this boat or whether you’d just like to join others who are actively in the text, I’d like to invite you to join my students and me this term as we read the biblical text.

Every term, my students and I do a daily Bible reading exercise together. Each day’s readings are quite short—normally only a few verses.

(I don’t have a summer seminar. But I’ve been pleased to see that at least a few students from prior terms usually keep up with the readings even when we don’t have class together.)

The reading plan will work whether you’re using a translation or working from the biblical text in its original languages.

If you’re working in the original languages, I’ve scaled the readings to be short enough to complete without taking too much time out of your day.

It would be wonderful to have you join us. To get started, just drop your name and email in the form below.

You’ll get an email delivering this term’s readings directly to you. And you’ll be ready to pick up in the biblical text right where my students and I are.

Looking forward to reading with you!


  1. Header image provided by Kelly Sikkema

  2. For further discussion, see my “Rewriting Prophets in the Corinthian Correspondence: A Window on Paul’s Hermeneutic,” BBR 22.2 (2012): 226–27. 

  3. For making me aware of this proverb, I’m grateful to Moisés Silva. 

Read the Original Languages in Logos—without Cheating

Robust biblical studies software can be a hugely helpful tool.1 With just a few clicks, you can use it to pull together information in seconds that would otherwise take hours to compile. Unfortunately, making things easier and faster doesn’t always make them better.

A case in point is reading the Bible in its original languages. Modern Bible software can instantly provide you glosses and parsings for anything you see in a biblical text. But if you rely on this ability, what you’re improving as you look over the biblical text is your ability to use the software, not your ability to read the Bible in its original languages.

If you want to immerse yourself more in those languages, you need to avoid cheating and letting tools do the work for you. You need to do the work of thinking through the text for yourself and working out how to interpret it.

One way to do this is of course to use … a printed Bible. (A novel concept, I know. 🙂 ) You can then use other print tools that don’t allow you to cheat (e.g., not using things like analytical lexicons).

I did this for a while but then gravitated toward reading electronically. A primary reason is what a good job Logos does at keeping track of notes. Recent updates have improved this feature still more and allowed me to rediscover notes I’d made in the past about things I’d seen in the text but had forgotten because I failed to migrate them to a new Bible version when it came out.

So, if you too would like to use Logos to read the Bible in its original languages without cheating, here are 5 steps to help you get up and running.

1. Disable information tool tips.

Whenever I install Logos on a different PC, one of the first things I do is turn off information tool tips. When enabled, these tips allow you to point your mouse to a word in the biblical text and have morphological information instantly appear on the screen.

Of course, this is pretty distracting if you’re wanting to read the Bible without cheating. So it’s best just to disable the feature altogether. Besides, there are other ways of getting this information from the software if you just have to have it at some point.

To disable information tool tips, go to “Tools” > “Utilities” > “Program Settings.” Then, under the first section (“General”), set “Information Tool Tips” to “No.”

Illustration of steps to disable information tool tips.

2. Create or start a reading plan.

If you wish, use Logos to create your own Bible reading plan. If you’re reading from both testaments, you may want to create one reading plan for the Old Testament and one for the New. That way, you can easily use a Hebrew Bible resource for the one and a Greek New Testament resource for the other.

Alternatively, if you’d like to join my students and me on the reading plan we’re working through, you’re certainly welcome to do that as well.

3. Create your Bible reading layout.

Next, you’ll want to create the layout you’ll use for your Bible reading. You can do this as it’s convenient for you and based on the resources you have in your library.

To give you a place to start, though, the essentials of what I have in my layout are shown below.

Logos Bible reading layout screenshot

In this layout,

  1. The left-hand pane is a notes window. I use this for both vocabulary notes (as shown) and notes on syntax or other observations.
  2. In the upper-right pane are two Bible resources, Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia and the 28th edition of the Nestle-Aland. If you used Logos to define your own reading plan in step 2 above, you’ll want to make sure that the Bible resources in your reading layout are the same as the resources you used to create the reading plan.
  3. In the bottom-right pane are three lexicons. These are the Dictionary of Classical Hebrew (DCH, for Hebrew text), the Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (CHALOT, for Aramaic text), and the third edition of Bauer’s Greek-English Lexicon (BDAG, for Greek text).

Once you have your layout defined, let Logos know you want to use this layout for your Bible reading. To do this, go to “Layouts” > “Home Page Layouts” > “Bible Reading Plan,” and click the drop-down arrow. Then choose the option to “Replace with current layout.”

Bible reading layout definition illustration

4. Start reading and making notes.

Once you get this basic setup done, it’s time to dive in and start reading. Make notes as you go along as seems helpful for you. I mention below what I do in case it may be a helpful point of reference for you.

4.a. Vocabulary

When I come to a word I need to look up, I highlight it, and click the “New note” button in the notes pane. (You can now also add a note from the new text selection menu.) Then, I look up the word in the appropriate electronic lexicon just as I would in a print lexicon.

Vocabulary entry illustration

I save these notes to a “Vocabulary” notebook. But you can simply leave them outside any particular notebook. They’ll still be accessible to you via search in either case.

Inside the note, I then include the lemma, copy the glosses given, add a parenthetical reference to the lexicon section where I found the glosses, and include a link to that section.

Sometimes, I come across a word I think I’ve made a note about before but can’t recall the word’s meaning. In that case, I’ll search my notes by typing the word out in the search bar in Unicode. I’ll then highlight the word in the biblical text and use the “Add anchor” feature to attach my existing note to that word also.

4.b. Syntax and content

If I need to clarify something about the syntax of a text, I’ll follow much the same process described above for vocabulary, but I’ll save this in a “Commentary” notebook. I’ll do the same with any other miscellaneous thoughts I have about a text as I’m working through it.

5. Hide your notes.

Why would you take notes only to hide them? Well, if you’re rereading a text where you’ve already made notes, you might not want to see where those notes are only a click away.

For cases like this, Logos allows you to hide particular notes based on the notebook they’re in. (This is one of the reasons I started segmenting vocabulary notes into their own notebook.)

To hide any notebook’s notes, click the visual filter button on any biblical text resource. Then scroll down to find “Notes and Highlights,” and uncheck the boxes for the notebooks whose notes you don’t want to see.

Notebook visual filter modification

Conclusion

In the end, technology can make it easier to get information out of the biblical text. But in terms of you getting into the text and its languages, there’s no substitute for learning through the discipline of encountering the text and looking things up for yourself.


  1. Header image provided by Joshua Mann

Reading for writing

Cal Newport outlines the basics of how he reads when working on a project. According to Newport,

The key to my system is the pencil mark in the page corner. This allows me later to quickly leaf through a book and immediately identify the small but crucial subset of pages that contain passages that relate to whatever project I happen to be working on.

For the balance of Newport’s process, see his original post. For broader suggestions about effective and efficient reading, see for example Rick Ostrov’s Power Reading and James Sire’s How to Read Slowly.

Truly unmethodical: Gadamer’s “Truth and Method” in English translation

Photograph of H. G. GadamerI’ve sometimes had the privilege of teaching a seminar in which H.-G. Gadamer’s Truth and Method was the core text through which we worked over the course of the term. The work’s English translation is in its second edition, prepared by Joel Weinsheimer and Donald Marshall. This second edition, however, now exists in at least four different printings with four different sets of pagination.

An overview of the printings

In his Whose Community? Which Interpretation?, Merold Westphal has the following helpful note about the earliest two of these printings:

In a reader-unfriendly gesture, Crossroad reissued this second edition in 2004 with different pagination. (70n2)

I haven’t found a 2004 edition issued by “Crossroad.” The first English edition seems to have been issued in 1975 by Sheed and Ward, with the second edition following in 1989 by Crossroad. The second printing of the second edition I’ve only yet found to have been issued by Continuum. The first of these was in 2004. A second Continuum (third overall for the second edition of the English translation) was issued in 2006.

The main difference between the second and third printings (both by Continuum) seems to be the shift from footnotes in 2004 to endnotes in 2006. So, I wonder whether I’m missing a printing somewhere or whether Westphal’s footnote should perhaps read “Continuum reissued this second edition….”

In any case, the pagination shifts induce Westphal to adopt an awkward-but-helpful citation format of “TM x/y”

where x = pagination for the 1989 edition and y = pagination for the 2004 edition. (70n2)

Westphal’s volume came to press itself in 2009. So, the differences in the 2006 printing of Truth and Method may have come to light insufficiently early to have invited yet a third set of pagination to be included in Westphal’s footnotes.

The situation has, however, now been still further compounded with Bloomsbury’s 2013 release of its own edition in the Bloomsbury Revelations series. This fourth printing of the second edition has been entirely re-typeset, producing still a fourth set of pagination that readers and researchers must handle.

Further, this fourth printing appears currently to be the only one readily in print, Continuum having been absorbed by Bloomsbury. The second  and third printings under the Continuum name seem to have been discontinued but are still available in a variety of more-or-less used copies. The two times that I’ve previously taught the seminar that I did again this spring, I’d used the 2006 text. But, students started having an increasingly difficult time obtaining copies in good shape. In addition, not until writing this post did I fully realize some of the shifts involved between the 2004 and 2006 texts themselves. So, for this spring, we shifted over to the 2013 text, hoping to bring things current and make getting one standard text into folks hands a bit easier process.

The 2013 printing and its difficulties

Ahead of obtaining my copy, I looked at some of its reviews on Amazon, and three in particular struck me. One concern was related to this fourth printing’s durability and margin size. Having now worked through and thoroughly marked up the whole text of the 2013 printing, both its durability and margin size seem quite reasonable to me. (On advice I first encountered in Rick Ostrov’s Power Reading, however, I do routinely prepare a book’s spine before I start reading the volume. So, this may account for why the binding may or may not hold up well under different circumstances.)

Of more concern were two reviews that addressed the quality of the reprint itself (1, 2). Surely, though, I thought, these must be overly critical reviewers—who might themselves not be entirely able at judging where errors occur in what is admittedly quite a difficult text to begin with. Unfortunately, having now worked through it, there are several features in the 2013 printing that do make it seem to be a reasonable hypothesis that it was produced by scanning the 2006 text (which also has endnotes, as does the 2013 text), running it through optical character recognition software, and not proofreading it as attentively as would have been helpful to readers before it went to press (cf. Steve S.).

More minor errata

Some of the errata I’ve noted in the 2013 printing are below with the corresponding correction from the 2004 printing. (Yes, despite the fact that it looks like the 2013 printing derives from the 2006 printing, I’ve used the 2004 printing for this discussion as the reference basis for the table and class exchange scenario below.)

On pagein the 2013 printing, the textShould read, as found in the 2004 printing
xiiErfah-rungErfahrung
xvVer-ständigungVerständigung
107insteadInstead
319sciences:sciences.
326techne —buttechne—but
361iilustratesillustrates
361latter— “experience”latter—”experience”
370platonic dialecticPlatonic dialectic
417batbut
456language —differentiateslanguage—differentiates
471As f see itAs I see it
496grasped, ftgrasped. It
518“feeling [the smart quotation mark curls in the wrong direction]“feeling
520need only have beneed only have be [“need only have been”? a mutual error in the two printings?]
536HistoristnusHistorismus
552—”all [the smart quotation mark curls in the wrong direction]—”all
558modemmodern
559BewußitseinsBewußtseins
587language —seemslanguage—seems

A more serious erratum

Doubtless, this list is not a full one, and some of these errata are fairly nominal. But, in the seminar, we also came across a more serious erratum that we had to spend several minutes sorting out in order to understand what was happening.

In the 2013 printing, we read the following sentence:

In a real community of language, on the other hand, we do not first decide to agree but are always already in agreement, as Aristotle showed.82 (463)

On consulting note 82 to follow up on the Aristotle reference, we found

Cf. pp. 429f. above [and GW, II, 16, 74]

The bracketed portion is a reference to the series of Gadamer’s Gesammelte Werke (Collected Works). Dutifully following the reference to pages 429–30, therefore, we were puzzled to find not a discussion of Aristotle but of Plato and Socrates in Cratylus. After perusing that section for some minutes, I finally pulled the 2004 printing off the shelf, found the corresponding note (446n82), and followed its indication to pages 431–32 in that printing. Lo and behold, there, the discussion is indeed of Aristotle and his Topics in a way that helpfully informs the latter comment quoted above.

In the 2013 printing, however, this discussion doesn’t occur on pages 429–30—per the note in that printing. Rather, it appears on pages 448–49 (!). The endnote reading “Cf. pp. 429f. above [and GW, II, 16, 74]” apparently derives from the 2006 text. In that text, the endnote has the same reading as in the 2013 text, but the discussion of Aristotle and his Topics actually does occur in the 2006 text on pages 429–30.

In addition, the above-noted errata from xii and xv in the 2013 text do not involve hyphenation in the 2004 printing. But, both involve line-breaking hyphens in the 2006 printing that apparently weren’t removed when the formatting changed for the 2013 text and these terms no longer fell at the ends of lines.

Summary

In sum, Gadamer’s Truth and Method is a seminal text for contemporary reflection on hermeneutics. It is also, unquestionably, a difficult text through which to work. (For an introduction and overview, see the very good walk-through in this post.) English speakers can surely be grateful for English editions of the work, but the publication history of this text in English and what seem to be the errata in the most up-to-date English printing mean that—at least for the present—there are a few additional matters to be noted and navigated as readers work through and with this tome.

Searching Highlights in Logos

Logos Bible Software logoOn the Logos Talk blog, Mark Ward has a helpful post about the syntax of searching for particular highlighting styles in Logos Bible Software. In addition to the specific example given of how to search for a given highlighting style, the search to find any highlighting style would be

{Highlight *}

For the balance of Mark’s reflections, see his original post.