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BibleProject Podcast
BibleProject Podcast
The Paradigm • Episode 12
How (Not) To Read the Bible
57m • December 6, 2021

What do we do with the passages in the Bible that are really difficult? Violence, slavery, the treatment of women—what the Bible has to say about these topics has, at times, been misinterpreted and misused. Join Tim, Jon, Carissa, and special guest Dan Kimball as they discuss his book, How (Not) to Read the Bible, and explore how any topic in the Bible looks different when we see it as part of a unified story.

What You'll Learn:
  • The danger of cherry-picking Bible verses
  • Questions we should ask when reading short passages of Scripture
  • God's view of corruption in humans
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The Church, in general, has been really great at pulling Bible verses out, memorizing them, putting them on coffee cups and different things like that. But often, using Bible verses like that can lead to a lot of confusion about where a verse is from, where it is in the storyline, and we end up unintentionally misusing the Bible. But what’s happening now is a lot of people who are anti-Bible are guilty of the same thing. They are pulling Bible verses out of the grand story and then pointing them back at Christians. And if Christians aren’t ready to respond, if they don’t know the Scriptures, they’re getting very confused.


  • Cherry-picking Bible verses is a problem no matter where you’re coming from. When Christians take singular Bible verses out of context, we miss their place in the storyline of the Bible and, therefore, misunderstand their significance and meaning. However, many people who seek to undermine the authority of the Bible do the same thing: pick out verses to make a point and ignore their context in the story of the Bible.
  • If a line in a story or a portion of a passage strikes us as odd, we have to ask, “Where does it fit into the whole story? What does the rest of the story say about this?”
  • Just because portions of the Bible make allowances for human corruption doesn’t mean God invented that corruption. God always works with humans where they’re at, but he pushes them in a redemptive direction toward the ideal for which he created them.

The Bible’s Most Difficult Passages

In part one (00:00-15:20), Tim, Jon, and Carissa interview pastor and professor Dan Kimball about his book, How (Not) to Read the Bible, in which he addresses multiple hot-button questions asked by Christians and those exploring the Christian faith. Dan employs tools for reading and understanding the Bible (especially its more “difficult” passages) that pair closely with the paradigm we’ve been exploring throughout this series.

In the Paradigm series, we’ve been working on exposing our own assumptions about the Bible and tuning into the assumptions of the biblical authors so that we might understand the Bible on its own terms.

Dan explains that the impetus for How (Not) to Read the Bible was years of conversations with people who were leaving the Christian faith because of what they had read in the Bible about women, violence, slavery, sexuality, etc. He believes part of what causes this trend is a tendency within Western churches to teach from the Bible without teaching people what the Bible is and how to read it effectively. Dan remains convinced that if we truly understand the Bible, it is the most convincing argument for becoming a disciple of Jesus—not the other way around.

The Bible Was Written for Us, Not to Us

In part two (15:20-26:40), Tim, Jon, Carissa, and Dan discuss a concept from How (Not) to Read the Bible: the tendency to memorize and lionize singular verses of the Bible. Dan suggests that this practice is, in a way, misusing the Bible.

When Christians take singular Bible verses out of context, we miss their place in the storyline of the Bible and, therefore, misunderstand their significance and meaning. However, many people who seek to undermine the authority of the Bible do the very same thing: cherry-pick verses to make a point, ignoring their context in the story of the Bible. What’s worse is these problems tend to compound each other. If followers of Jesus aren’t familiar with their Bibles as a unified whole (in other words, if they only know singular verses), then when arguments against the Bible arise, we won’t know how to respond, and we may end up confused ourselves.

When it comes to interpreting ancient laws as modern readers in a totally different context, we must remember the Bible was written for us but not to us. The Levitical laws, for instance, carried specific instructions that would make Israel distinct among the ancient peoples who lived nearby, but to modern readers, they sound bizarre.

Dan shares four key ideas for how not to read the Bible.

  • The Bible is a library, not a book.
  • The Bible was written for us, not to us.
  • Never read a Bible verse.
  • The Bible is a unified story that points to Jesus.

What Does the Bible Say About Women?

In part three (26:40-44:00), Tim, Jon, Carissa, and Dan talk about the third chapter in How (Not) to Read the Bible, “Boys’ Club Christianity: Is the Bible Anti-Women and Does it Promote Misogyny?”

This topic is frequently debated among followers of Jesus, and Dan believes it is debated by doing what he already cautioned against: appealing to a single passage by lifting it out of its context within the Bible and within the ancient culture of the biblical authors.

The Bible contains a number of stories in which women are demeaned and mistreated, and some of Paul’s epistles contain instructions for women to be silent in church (1 Corinthians 14:34-35, 1 Timothy 2:11-15). Dan argues that to take those passages and derive from them the principle that women are always meant to be silent and never lead within the Church is reading the Bible incorrectly and forgetting that it’s a unified whole.

So how does Dan answer or interpret these passages? Is there a way forward through these questions that honors the entirety of the biblical text? Dan suggests we read these passages like we read anything else in the Bible—as a unified story. If a line in a story strikes us as odd, we have to ask, “Where does it fit into the whole story? What does the rest of the story say about this?”

Throughout the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, God raises up women to lead and prophesy and teach, and those passages must be considered alongside Paul’s instructions. What do these seemingly contradictory passages communicate to us within the whole story of the Bible? Dan argues that just as God didn’t invent slavery, he also didn’t invent misogyny. He believes God writes to his people where they are, to help correct them, but he creates humans with the intelligence and wisdom to deconstruct their own oppressive ideas and treat each other as the equals they were created to be. God works with humans, pushing them in a redemptive direction toward the ideal for which he created them.

Trusting God’s Character

In part four (44:00-57:14), the team wraps up the conversation by discussing the tension readers of the Bible sometimes feel about science and the Bible, Christianity’s relationship to other religions, and divine violence in the Old Testament.

When it comes to the Bible and science, Dan reminds us it’s helpful to remember early writers and readers of the Bible asked totally different questions about the cosmos than we would today, so the Bible’s not really designed to answer scientific questions. This gives us a lot of freedom to both embrace biblical creation and take into consideration the testimonies of scientific data.

While it’s true that the God of the Bible is exclusive in the way he reveals himself and commands that he be worshiped, when you read the Bible as a unified story, it’s clear that God has always been on a mission for all people. And all people have the freedom to respond to him or not.

Divine violence is a difficult topic, to say the least. Dan suggests that it can be helpful to notice that God’s violent acts are never petty, random, or without reason. The authors of the Bible had a deep reverence for God as the author of life and, therefore, as the one who can give it and take it away. However, God takes life only as a last resort. This is why it is imperative that we know the entire story of the Bible. The biblical story as a whole paints God as a loving, merciful, and patient God. So when we read stories of him carrying out judgment violently, we can trust his character even in these moments that are difficult for us to wrap our minds around.

Referenced Resources

  • How (Not) to Read the Bible: Making Sense of the Anti-Women, Anti-Science, Pro-Violence, Pro-Slavery, and Other Crazy-Sounding Parts of Scripture, Dan Kimball
  • Gregory Koukl
  • John H. Walton
  • Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis
  • A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, Karen Armstrong
  • Interested in more? Check out Tim’s library here.

Show Music

  • “Defender (Instrumental)” by TENTS
  • “Cycles” by SwuM

Show produced by Cooper Peltz. Edited by Dan Gummel and Zach McKinley. Show notes by Lindsey Ponder.

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Paradigm E1  –  1hr 5m
How Do You Read the Bible?
1hr 5m
Paradigm E2  –  53m
Who Wrote the Bible?
Paradigm E3  –  59m
The Bible Had Editors?
Paradigm E4  –  53m
How the New Testament Came To Be
Paradigm E5  –  56m
Who Is the Bible About?
Paradigm E6  –  56m
Literature for a Lifetime
1hr 19m
Paradigm E8  –  1hr 2m
Wisdom for Life’s Complexity
1hr 2m
1hr 11m
Paradigm E11  –  1hr 3m
The Last Pillar: Communal Literature
1hr 3m
Feat. Dan Kimball  –  57m
How (Not) To Read the Bible
Paradigm Q+R #2  –  1hr 9m
Is the Bible Trustworthy?
1hr 9m
Movements and Links  –  58m
Applying the Paradigm
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