I was in college and working part time at a Christian bookstore in the mountains of North Carolina. It was a beautiful two-story bookstore with a stone fireplace and a honey pecan-stained hardwood staircase. People came from all around just to see the store, and on this particular day, a woman walked in. I can’t remember what she looked like, but I’ll never forget what she said, with anger in her voice, as she left the store.

After grabbing an item or two from the gift section, she walked into the Bibles section. We sold so many Bibles. We had nearly every type of cover you could imagine. Real leather. Paperback. Hard back. Duo-tone. Faux-leather. We had children’s Bibles. Princess Bibles. Bibles for those in the military. Bibles for people who like to hunt. Study Bibles for pastors. Children’s Bibles.

We engraved Bibles with people’s names in gold ribbon. We had Bible covers and special bookmarks for Bibles. And we had nearly every translation. The KJV, NIV, NASB, NLT, ESV, CSB, NRSV, NKJV, and even older translations like the King James 1611 version. That was the Bible this woman was looking for.

If you’re not familiar with it, the KJV 1611 was commissioned in the year 1604 by King James (hence the title: the King James Version). It includes not only the 39 books of the Old Testament and 27 Books of the New Testament, but also the 14 books of The Apocrypha. It became a hugely important part of English culture, and was a literary masterpiece. It reads beautifully. And for the woman that day in the bookstore, it was the only true version of the Bible.

She called over a coworker.

“Do you have the 1611 KJV?”

“We do,” my coworker answered, grabbing the leather-bound Bible, covered in shrink wrap, from the top shelf.

“Just so you know,” the woman said, “All of these other translations have changed the word of God.”

My coworker took a breath, “I don’t see it that way.”

I don’t know everything that transpired over the next few minutes, but evidently the woman became quite angry. I think they got into a little bit of a debate. She was really frustrated that we had other translations, or in her mind, mis-translations of the Bible. She felt the need to defend what she called “God’s word.” Like many of us Christians feel at one time or another. Like I’ve felt before.

She ended up setting down the gift items she had picked up, and on the way out the door she said something that I will never forget. “If the KJV 1611 was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me.” And she meant it.

I remember being so confused because I had never heard this before. I grew up differently, and had been taught the NASB was the best translation. And I had friends who believed the NIV was the best translation. And my wife’s grandfather read a translation in Spanish, and I don’t even know if it has letters attached to it like NLT or CSB.

I do know that when I drove the 2-hour trip home from college to visit my family, I passed a small church that had a sign that read, “KJV 1611 Only,” and I knew she wasn’t alone.

The Bible is considered by many to be the most important book of all time, and many people say it’s the #1 best-selling book of all time. For people like me, we grew up in homes where it was revered and respected. Pastors often referred to the Bible’s “authority” in all matters. And some people would say, “The Bible, only the Bible, and nothing but the Bible.” Or in reference to the Bible, they would say “God says it, I believe it, and that settles it.”

But then people like me, who heard how important the Bible is, would try to read it. And sometimes it was easy: do not lie. Got it! Do not murder. Got it! But then I would read something like, God asked Abraham “sacrifice your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love” (Genesis 22:2). Wait?! What?!

And in those moments the Bible felt so foreign to me. And so uncomfortable. And then I would read something about the Israelites, and I felt even more pushed out of the biblical story because I’m not Jewish. I would read books like Leviticus, and not understand hardly any of it, and the Bible felt ancient, irrelevant, and outdated. And yet the trustworthy people in my life said I should be reading it. And even more, that I should be applying it.

It was only recently that I realized the problem. So many people told me the Bible was important to read, but looking back no one ever stopped to answer two really important questions: what type of book is the Bible? And how should we read the Bible? Is it a history book? Is it a handbook with basic instructions before leaving earth? Is the Bible a love story? Is it an ancient mythology? Is it an answer book? Is it a scientific textbook? Will it really answer all my questions and solve all my problems?

And I’m not the only one with these questions about the best way to read the Bible.

I recently interviewed eight different Bible teachers and professors for a project, and all of them admitted that they had to piece together answers to these questions. As a result, they all admitted to misreading the Bible at various times in their lives.

I’ve misread the Bible too. Many times. But that’s part of the journey, and that’s okay—especially if we show some humility by holding loosely to interpretations of Scripture. That doesn’t mean we can’t be confident, but as Dr. Jeannine Brown, a professor at Bethel Seminary told me, “We just want to claim [our interpretations] humbly. I mean just the humbleness of, ‘No…I can always be wrong.’” And she’s right! We can get our interpretations wrong.

So what type of book is the Bible and how should we read it?

These questions lead to some pretty complex answers. But, as the old saying goes, “there’s simplicity on the far side of complexity.” So in the spirit of wanting to know the best way to read the Bible—or at least to read the Bible better, let’s consider something simple I’ve learned from the experts and in my own studies that I’ve found really helpful in answering these questions.

First and foremost, the Bible is a story about God.

And it tells us about a present God who saves, and invites people to follow him.


The Bible is a story about God.

The Bible is an ancient book, and fits well within ancient history and cultures.

For example: there are multiple stories about how the world came to be that show up outside of the Bible in other ancient cultures (some of these stories pre-date the Bible).

Another example: there are multiple flood narratives that show up in other cultures outside of the Bible.

Or another example: there are multiple series of “law codes” that show up in other cultures outside of what is presented in the Bible (i.e. The Code of Hammurabi).

In other words, the Bible is not the only ancient book that describes how the world came to be, or how a flood destroyed things, or that the gods would interact with the world through expectations of how to live. BUT…and this is an important but…the creation story, flood story, and law-codes in the Bible are also very unique. And it is this uniqueness that makes the story the Bible is telling so compelling.

Picture an ancient Israelite and an ancient Babylonian walking into a coffee shop. The Babylonian looks at the Israelite and says, “Did you hear about our god Marduk and how the world was created? There was a rebellion, and a battle of the gods. There was chaos, and humans were created to serve the gods. And Marduk is the greatest god ever!”

The Israelite responds, “No way! The world was not created in chaos out of a rebellion, and we are not made to serve the gods. Yahweh, the one true God, is so powerful and amazing that he simply spoke, and everything came into being. And then he made humans—both men and women—to be his representatives and partners in caring for the world!” That’s the story that is written in Genesis 1 and 2—instead of chaos there’s order, and instead of humans as slaves humans are co-laborers with God.

Ancient stories like these are stories that paint a picture of who God is, what he’s like, and what types of things he does. So first and foremost, that’s what the Bible is–it’s a story about God.

Side note: Just because it’s a story, doesn’t mean it isn’t true! There are lots of true stories.


What Type of God does the Bible introduce us to?
A Present God

God did not create the world and retreat back into his heavenly home. He was with the first human beings in the garden.

He was with Abraham.

He was with Moses and Israel.

He goes with the Israelites into exile.

He introduced his Son to us by naming him “Immanuel” meaning “God with us.”

He’s the Holy Spirit that fills us and walks with us today.

And the future promise presented in Revelation is of a God who is present with us for all eternity.


A God Who Saves

He saved the first humans from eating of the tree of life (Genesis 3:22-23).

He saved Noah’s family.

He saved Abraham quite a few times.

He saved Moses and then Israel from Egypt. He saved the Israelites from exile in Babylon.

He saved the whole world from sin and death, including you and me, by dying on a cross and rising again.


A God Who Invites

God invited the first humans to trust him and not eat from the tree of good and evil (they didn’t follow him).

He invited Israel to obey the law, and follow him into a life of new life and flourishing (they didn’t follow him).

He invites us to obey the new command Jesus gave to love God and love others (we often don’t follow him).

And he sent the Spirit to help us follow him in the ordinary, extraordinary, and every-day moments of life.


So what type of book is the Bible and how should we read it?

First and foremost, it’s a story about a present God, who saves us and invites us to follow him.

This doesn’t fix all of the issues we will run into when reading the Bible, but this is a great place to start!

It helps us read a poem like Genesis 1, because we can read it looking for the story about God.

It helps us read the confusing books of the law in the Old Testament because we can ask, “What picture does the law paint of the law-giver’s justice?”

It transforms how we read prophetic books like Jonah. “What does the story of Jonah reveal about who God is, what he’s like, and what he does?”

And ultimately, it helps us read the Gospels (meaning: good news) of Jesus because these stories paint a picture of who God is, what he’s like, and what he does.

And Jesus is probably the clearest picture of this in the Bible—this God is willing to lay down his life to rescue the people he loves (that’s you and me).

I hope this helps you navigate the Bible a bit better because it sure has helped me (especially when I run into the difficult passages of the Bible).

Now, every time I open the Scriptures, I’m looking for the bigger story, and honestly, it’s helped me want to read the Bible more.

I still have days when I would rather not, and that’s okay. And if you’re struggling to get back into it, maybe start with what is slowly becoming my favorite book in the Bible. Read the book of Jonah (fyi—it’s short). It’s not a book about Jonah (although he’s a character in the book)—it’s a book about God.

Ask these questions as you read: Who’s the God the book of Jonah reveals? What does he do? What’s he like? I promise you, you will walk away encouraged and amazed by this story of such an awesome God.

Friends, the Bible is such an important and special book because it’s a story about God. And it’s not just a story about any god, it’s a story about the one True God who is present with us, who saves us, and who invites us to follow him. Now that’s a story worth reading.