How to Read the Bible (The Ask, Seek, Knock Approach)


Keep asking, and it will be given to you. Keep searching, and you will find. Keep knocking, and the door will be opened to you. (Matthew 7:7)

Asking, seeking, and knocking is a posture of the heart. It is an approach to all of life, especially spiritual life.

It is characterized not just by openness and seeking, but also by tenacity. The Greek stresses continual action: Keep asking, keep seeking, keep knocking.

It is a powerful way to approach prayer. It is also the best way to approach the Scriptures.

There are two ways to come to the Scriptures: passively and actively.

A passive approach just reads, receives what is understood on the surface, or maybe listens to a teaching.

(Sometimes this is a good way to come. It’s not all one way or the other.)

An active approach is more aggressive. It doesn’t just read the Word, it engages it. It wrestles like Jacob wrestling the Angel at the River Jabbok, the night before facing all of his greatest fears and the most soul-baring truths about himself.

It asks, seeks, and knocks.

Basic Skills: Noticing & Asking Questions

The Bible isn’t a magic book. God does speak directly to our hearts through it, but mostly, you learn from the Bible the same way you learn from any other book: you work at it.

You ask, seek, knock.

The first basic skill when it comes to learning anything is noticing.

You can do this many different ways. One helpful way to notice what you’re reading is to paraphrase it back to yourself, in writing or out loud or just in your thoughts.

Try unpacking single words into multiple words that better explain them. Like, when you read “The Lord is my shepherd,” you can unpack “shepherd” into whatever components you know about shepherds: protector, caretaker, leader, owner, affectionate friend.

(If you’re not so much a words person, you can also try noticing in other ways: draw what you’re reading; put it to a tune and sing it.)

It doesn’t matter that you don’t know everything, or that some of your assumptions might be wrong. The process of paraphrasing and unpacking will help you discover what you do know and what you don’t, and it will suggest questions and things to dig into more deeply.

You can notice in other ways too, like by noticing allusions—where one Scripture or word or story reminds you of another Scripture of word or story, which you can then compare and contrast.

Or by noticing the way a Scripture impacts you, how it makes you feel, how it connects to the events of your life or the world around you.

We bring our own experience to the Bible.

This is not a bad thing, but it’s good to recognize that we’re doing it so that we can get outside of our experience too. It’s just another way that we come to greater understanding, of Scripture and ourselves and also how the truths of God transcend time and culture

Exegesis: Facts on the Table

All that said, if we really want to understand the Bible and avoid undue confusion, we need to be careful not to go transcending time and culture too quickly.

A lot of understanding comes from doing exegesis, which is a big word for “understanding what it meant in its original context.”

Now, let’s be honest. There is a limit to how well we can do this, separated as we are by thousands of years from the cultures, languages, and events in which the original writers wrote. But even so, asking the question “What did this mean to the people who originally read it?” will get us a long way toward better understanding complex issues.

For example: in the famous story of John 4, where Jesus meets the woman at the well, we’ll get more understanding of the conversation’s impact if we understand that in times long past, a woman who had been married five times would be subject to a whole lot more social alienation than she would be now.

We get even more understanding if we recognize that men didn’t usually talk to women in a public social setting like a well, and that Jews and Samaritans of the time were ethnic and political and religious enemies.

The Bible tells us some of this and hints at other parts of it. Doing the work of exegesis just means that before we jump into asking “What do Jesus’ words here mean to me?”, we ask what they meant to the woman.

The understanding we get from asking that question will lead us to more water for our own souls too.

Before we start interpreting for ourselves, we get the basic facts on the table. We notice what’s said, how it’s said, its context, its original meaning as far as we can tell.

This, by the way, is where word studies and original languages become important too. Translations are limited by nature: most words do not have one-to-one correspondence in any two languages, so even the best English or Spanish or German or Hindi or Chinese Bible will lose something from the original.

Using concordances and Bible dictionaries to dig into the nuances of Greek and Hebrew can really help us get our facts laid out.

Hermeneutics: Interpreting and Applying

That leads us to hermeneutics, another big word that basically just means “interpretation.” We’re in hermeneutical waters when we start asking how a Scripture given thousands of years ago applies to us—what a proper method of interpreting it might be.

For example, Paul writes extensively about how believers should deal with the matter of meat sacrificed to idols, which they could pick up fairly cheaply in the local markets. Should they eat it or not eat it?

It’s a tricky moral question, but not one most of us will ever have to deal with . . . until we start asking how to interpret and apply the underlying principles in our own lives.

In our own contexts, with our own idols, and our own tricky moral questions.

Bible Study Is Hard Work

If all this sounds like hard work, well, it is. Which is wonderful, because if it wasn’t, we would quickly become bored with the written Word of God.

As it is, the Scriptures are rich and layered and powerful and inexhaustible, and they require us to work hard in the same way all rewarding things require us to work hard.

Climb a mountain, raise a child, get a PhD, read the Bible.

Worthwhile things are not easy, but they give the greatest rewards possible in life.

At the same time, the Bible isn’t complicated.

Even a child can understand its truths.

Simple, but difficult. Hard, but rewarding. Infinitely complex and immediately accessible.

One tiny insight can change your life. You don’t have to figure it all out.

Beyond the Five-Minute Devotion

If you can only give five or ten or fifteen minutes to the Scriptures each day, give that time and know that God will meet you there.


I encourage everyone to take Bible study more seriously. Put in the work, the time.

Go to school, so to speak, and get an education in the words inspired by God. Get to know the Bible and its riches for yourself.

You will have to ask, seek, and knock, and it will take your whole life.

It’s worth it.


(This is Part 86 in a series on the Gospel of Matthew, which you can access here. Unless otherwise marked, quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.)

I would love to hear from you. Scroll down to leave a comment below!








One response to “How to Read the Bible (The Ask, Seek, Knock Approach)”

  1. Kim Avatar

    Thanks Rachel! These are concepts I’m familiar with but you’ve laid it out so clearly and succinctly here. Thanks for the reminders, challenges, and encouragement. Reminding me that it is hard work to study the Bible, but there are straightforward methods of doing so, and that it is worth it. And how encouraging that we receive truth and benefit from God’s word along the way, even as our understanding isn’t complete.

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