Note this is part 2; part 1 here. I want to share some book reading tips that can also be applied to Bible reading. I think some people struggle with reading comprehension, whether a book or the Bible, because they forgot how to read a book! Perhaps particularly with the Bible, they just start reading a book abruptly, with no preparation.
Before I started seminary a few years ago, I’d been out of school for years and went to the public library to find books on reading, studying, etc. Even though my mind had not been sedentary during my years out of school (I’d remained a reader and informal learner), I wanted to do anything I could to improve my skills and get back in the swing of formal learning. I definitely found some helpful tips, but was also pleased to confirm that my approach to reading was already quite good.
One book I looked at said this:
“If you know nothing about a subject before you start, it is almost impossible to remember what you read. The 5-step system helps you build a framework of knowledge – making retention and recall easier. The more you understand the content of what you are reading, the better your comprehension will be when you read in depth.” *
I already did a mini-version of this system. The 5-step system is essentially a series of steps to familiarize yourself with a book’s themes before you actually read it. Why? See the quote above! When you have an understanding of what you will read before you read it (a framework of knowledge) this improves your reading comprehension and memory. Here are 3 key ideas:
Know why you are reading the book. So, why are you reading it? Personal enrichment? Desired knowledge on a particular topic? For a class? To write a report? This can affect how you read it and your approach to it – whether you read quickly and your main concern is with key ideas, or slowly because you want an in depth understanding. Not every book needs to be read in the same way. Also, knowing why you are reading can keep you motivated.
Preview the book carefully. Read the back cover. If it is hardcover, read the inside flap. Look at the content page, and note chapter titles, etc. If there is a forward, read it. A forward can provide a good overview of a book. Then flip through the book, particularly note chapter layouts. Does each chapter begin with a quote? Does the end of each chapter have a “in summary” paragraph at the end? Are there questions for thought? Etc. You may want to quickly go through each chapter and look at these, as it will give you a more detailed preview of what is to come as you read the book.
Finally, when you begin to read, be an “active reader.” Highlight or underline key points or content that jumped out to you. Note: highlighting everything or too much defeats the point!! Don’t do it! (Nothing worse than a used book with 75% of every page highlighted!) If I think an entire paragraph is exceptional, I will put a bracket around it with my highlighter. Jot questions or thoughts in the margins. If I was uncertain about something or not certain I agree, I will put a “?” next to it. When I finish a chapter, I ask myself if I got the gist of the chapter. If not, why not?
I said 3 points, but one more: If I begin reading a book and then I am away from it for a few days, when I return I review the previous chapter before starting the new chapter. Review will involve a look at what I highlighted, or perhaps re-reading the end-of-chapter summary, if there was one.
Again, all this is to help you comprehend what are reading, and remember it after the fact.
→ The Bible? These ideas can be applied to Bible reading too. There are advantages in approaching a book of the Bible “objectively” without helps, but due to Bible knowledge being quite poor, even among Christians, I think applying these reading comprehension ideas are important. And the Bible is a unique book, containing everything from history, narrative, poetry, and personal letters!
It helps to know what you are jumping into before you jump in!
Before you read a book of the Bible, grab a study Bible. Read the intro to the book; it should set the scene for you by explaining basics such as the authorship, setting, key themes, etc. There may or may not be an outline of the book – if there is, peruse it. Flip through the book, and read any charts, textboxes (etc) with explanatory info. Note chapter or paragraph titles/headings. If the intro noted that certain verses or passages from this book are well-known, look those up.
If you do these things…you have built a framework of knowledge which will help you as you read it.
In part 3, I will share ideas for becoming better at OBSERVING when you read the Bible.
* Unfortunately, while I took notes from the book that gives the 5-step system, I never recorded the book title. Doh!