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

Foreword by Sean McDowell

Is reading the Bible the fastest way to lose your faith?

For centuries, the Bible was called “the Good Book,” a moral and religious text that guides us into a relationship with God shows us the right way to live. Today, however, some people argue the Bible is outdated and harmful, with many Christians unaware of some of the odd and disturbing things the Bible says.

Whether you are a Christian, a doubter, or someone exploring the Bible for the first time, bestselling author Dan Kimball guides you step-by-step in how to make sense of these difficult and disturbing Bible passages. Filled with stories, visual illustrations, and memes reflecting popular cultural objections, How (Not) to Read the Bible is a lifeline for individuals who are confused or discouraged with questions about the Bible­­. It also works great as a small-group study or sermon series.

Stay tuned for free teaching resources, videos, and study guides.

For churches interested in bulk orders, go to ChurchSource.com.


You will learn how to make sense of Bible verses that seem to be—

misogynistic and anti-female
pro-slavery
showing the Old Testament God as violent vs. New Testament Jesus being loving
intolerant and saying all other world religions are wrong
anti-science with fable-like creation stories of a talking snake and a rib-woman
saying we can’t eat shrimp, get tattoos or wear polyester
and many more very strange things found in the Bible

A Note from Dan

"I wrote this book from a sense of urgency due to the many discussions I was having with both Christians and non-Christians about the Bible. Strange-sounding scripture verses depicted on memes, highlighted in YouTube videos or read straight out of the Bible were causing understandable confusion and doubt. The church has been really great about pointing out the nice, positive parts of the Bible, but we don't do such a great job explaining the difficult parts. This book takes a direct look at many of the most disturbing sounding verses. It explains how read (and not read) them, and how to understand them in their complete context so that you can have full confidence in the Bible being the inspired Word of God."  

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Endorsements

From authors and leaders

I use color coded markers to underline particular passages when I read the Bible. Yellow means - “pay attention!”, blue means - “very poetic”, green means - “super weird or hilarious.” There is a lot of green in my Bible! Dan helps make sense of the more bizarre and demonstrates why we can have confidence that the Bible is a trustworthy and God-inspired.
—David Crowder, Grammy-nominated artist, musician, and author
In our culture the Bible has, for many people, become an obstacle in their journey of faith. Biblical stories about sex, slavery, and divine violence are often too bizarre and disturbing for most modern readers. Dan Kimball understands this from personal and pastoral experience, and he’s given us a thoughtful guide for reading these problematic parts of the Bible. If you’re struggling to make moral sense of the Bible, or know someone who is, this book is for you!
— Tim Mackie, The Bible Project
There is no one in the world better to write this book than Dan Kimball, and here’s why: the Bible presents many problems to many readers, and they can be forceful and fearless in their questioning traditional beliefs in the Bible. They are not looking for pablum or authoritarian decrees, which is what most offer them. They are looking for “professionals” who see what they see, who feel what they feel, and offer responses that have integrity. It’s because the pastoral heart of Dan Kimball has heard people ask these questions and because he has worked through their issues that this book is designed for Dan to write it. A book full of theological wisdom and pastoral care for honest Bible readers who have genuine and difficult questions about the Bible.
— Scot McKnight Professor of New Testament Northern Seminary 
Whether it’s learning to master a sport, cooking, driving, or some other life skill, there are times when learning how not to think or perform a task is crucial to success. Dan Kimball has rendered such a service with his provocative, humorous, but ultimately instructive book, How (Not) To Read the Bible. There are many things in the Bible that are foreign, strange, and offensive to the modern reader. All of them require context for understanding. Yet studying Scripture today frequently fails to transcend sharing reflections about it means to each person in the room. Never has the need for reading Scripture accurately, within the contexts of its ancient writers, been so dire. This book re-orients readers to make that task possible.
—Dr. Michael S. Heiser, best-selling author, Executive Director of the Awakening School of Theology & Ministry, and host of the Naked Bible Podcast
Dan Kimball has the unique ability to answer tough questions with both clarity and a genuine sympathy for those who struggle with them. His compassion and sensitivity are a result of his own struggles with the strange book called the Bible. In How (Not) to Read the Bible, Kimball describes how to resolve those doubts. Since the Bible was written for us but not to us, and since it’s not one book but a “library” of books from an odd, ancient culture, we need to read it cautiously and carefully, with ancient eyes not modern ones. This book is Kimball’s winsome and insightful tutorial on how to accomplish that task.
Gregory Koukl, president of Stand to Reason (str.org), author of Tactics and The Story of Reality
We need this book. Dan Kimball has long been a guide for a generation trying to find their footing in a post-Christian world. For those of us who want to believe, yet struggle to make sense of the Bible in our age. Yet again, he steps in to offer kind, intelligent, wise, and, as you'd expect from Dan, funny guidance; this time around, on how (not) to read the Bible.
—John Mark Comer, pastor of vision and teaching at Bridgetown Church and author of The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry
In a world of quick and instant information accessible online, there are many criticisms being raised about the Bible’s credibility. For that reason I’m so grateful that Dan Kimball helps us sort thru the puzzling messages emerging in this generation. In How (Not) To Read the Bible, Dan addresses how to make sense of the confusing parts of the Bible and provides us the confidence needed to embrace God’s word. I’m very excited see this message get into the hearts and minds of the younger generation.
—Doug Fields, pastor, author, founder of  Downloadyouthministry.com
Dan Kimball once again raises his voice to help us understand how this generation is learning about faith and the Bible. He shows ways to help understand the difficult parts of Scripture while being faithful to its historical and beautiful truths. Insightful, powerful, and practical, you’ll love this book! 
—Margaret Feinberg, author of More Power To You
“How (Not) To Read The Bible is a ‘right now message.’ This book will help a generation see how beautiful Jesus truly is.”
—Dr. Derwin L. Gray, Lead Pastor Transformation Church Author of The Good Life: What Jesus Teaches About Finding True Happiness
The Bible is the most amazing and life changing book ever in existence. Yet today, many are being confused by Bible verses that seem strange and disturbing. The good news is that when you learn How (Not) To Read The Bible you will find there are answers and explanations that make sense. Dan shows ways of gaining confidence in how and why the Bible was written and how to make sense of difficult Bible passages.
Josh McDowell, apologist, author of Evidence That Demands a Verdict, More than A Carpenter and many others  (josh.org)
Dan Kimball’s How (Not) To Read The Bible is a brilliant book that delivers evidence for the skeptic and provides confidence for the saint. Kimball has given us a go-to scholarly reference that offers thoughtful explanations to the most controversial and troubling topics in all of Scripture. How (Not) To Read The Bible is a rare book that requires having two copies – one for you and another to give away.
Dave Ferguson, Lead Pastor - Community Christian Church, Author - B.L.E.S.S. 5 Everyday Ways to Love Your Neighbor and Change the World
Biology tells us that when an organism feels threatened it will respond in one of two ways—fight or flight. Sadly, many Christians respond the same way their their view of the Bible feels threatened by a skeptical culture. Many Christians impulsively react by fighting for the Bible in a way that only discredits its message further, or they flee into safe enclaves of faith where their view of the Bible is never questioned. Thankfully, Dan Kimball shows us a third way. This book respects biblical skeptics enough to take their concerns seriously by offering thoughtful, rigorous, and accessible answers to their most common objections. Not only is it an excellent resource for those doubting the Christian faith, it will also teach those who already believe how to engage the Bible with maturity and wisdom. This book is exactly what skeptics outside and inside the church need right now.
Skye Jethani, author of What If Jesus Was Serious? and co-host of the Holy Post Podcast
The Bible can make or break your faith, depending on how well you read it. In How (Not) to Read the Bible, Dan Kimball provides an essential resource for anyone whose questions about the difficult (and often downright bizarre) parts of the Bible lead them to doubt Christianity as a whole. In an ever more secular and biblically illiterate age, we need help making sense of the strange parts of Scripture. This book does just that. It should be on the bookshelf of every pastor or parent who gets peppered with "gotcha!" questions about the Bible. It should be read with an open mind by skeptics and anyone on a spiritual deconstruction journey. Chances are, there’s someone in your life who needs to read this book now.
Brett McCracken, author, The Wisdom Pyramid, Senior Editor Gospel Coalition
In his engaging new book Dan Kimball asks a question that I and many of my fellow nonbelievers have been asking ourselves and others: ‘How do thinking people understand and believe the weird and disturbing things found in the Bible?’ Indeed, as Kimball points out, many of them don’t, and as a consequence they leave the faith. Although I made a similar transition myself and so I am sympathetic to their skepticism, it must be admitted that most initial salvos from atheists against the many disturbing and morally-problematic biblical passages we quote have explanations, or at least historical context for what the stories are really trying to convey. While my religious skepticism remains undeterred I will confess (if I may) that I learned a lot reading How (Not) to Read the Bible.
Michael Shermer, atheist, Publisher Skeptic magazine, Presidential Fellow Chapman University, author The Moral Arc, Heavens on Earth, Giving the Devil His Due, and other books.
No matter what your belief, the Bible doesn't say what you think it says. You need to read it yourself, all the way through. Before you do, read this short guidebook first, which may increase your ability to understand all its weirdness.
Kevin Kelly, Senior Maverick and founder of Wired Magazine, author of  New York Times Bestseller, The Inevitable (kk.org)
I already knew the Bible had weird things in it. After reading this book, I realize it’s far more bizarre than I thought. And yet, Dan digs deep to discover the reason behind every outrageous anecdote. Everyone would benefit from reading How (Not) To Read the Bible.
Mark Frauenfelder, Boing Boing
Buckle up for a practical and common-sense tour with a wise and trusted guide through some of the craziest sounding (to modern ears) verses in the Bible! How (Not) To Read The Bible is a stellar introduction to not only how to read these difficult verses, but how to read the Bible as a whole.
Joshua Ryan Butler, author of The Skeletons In God’s Closet
Dan Kimball is a man after my own heart: part investigator, part pastor, and part storyteller. In How (Not) to Read the Bible, Dan deftly explains how to read the Bible the way it was meant to be read. Perplexed by difficult passages in the Scripture? Struggling to respond to friends and family members who sometimes misread the text and assume the worst of God? How (Not) to Read the Bible will equip you to read more clearly and explain more concisely. This timely book will change the way you consider and defend the truth.
J. Warner Wallace, Dateline featured Cold-Case Detective, author of Cold-Case Christianity and So the Next Generation Will Know, Senior Fellow at -the Colson Center for Christian Worldview
What a brilliant and easy-to-understand guide to the Bible difficulties that perplex Christians and drive the mockery of skeptics. Dan writes with a humility and clarity that will draw you in and won’t let you put this book down. I’ll be recommending How (Not) to Read the Bible for years to come—this is the most accessible resource I’ve seen on the topic.
Natasha Crain, speaker, blogger, and author of 3 books including Talking with Your Kids about Jesus
Dan Kimball’s How (Not) To Read the Bible is a wise, honest guide to caricatures about the Bible as well as challenging and difficult-to-understand passages. It is accessible, readable, and engaging. Kimball speaks with great pastoral concern and insight about the most troubling or perplexing questions raised by Scripture.
Paul Copan, Pledger Family Chair of Philosophy and Ethics, Palm Beach Atlantic University; author of Is God a Moral Monster?, Loving Wisdom: A Guide to Philosophy and Christian Faith and others
Hand this book to a seeker who is struggling with scripture or to a young person who is ready to give up on Christianity. Dan Kimball walks through the hardest passages of scripture and the ways they are mocked on social media. On science, he shows how texts like Genesis 1 were not meant to answer our modern questions about evolution, but to teach the ancient Israelites about the one true God and the goodness of creation.
Deborah Haarsma - Astronomer and President of BioLogos
Dan Kimball takes us through the weird, the bad, and the ugly of the Bible with penetrating insight. Whether its misogyny, slavery, or violence, Kimball takes an honest approach and shows us how (not) to read the Bible and why we can still believe in a God who loves all people. A valuable resource for doubters, seekers, or anyone confused about whether the Bible is true and good for people.
Rev. Dr. Michael F. Bird (Ph.D University of Queensland) is Academic Dean and Lecturer in Theology at Ridley College in Melbourne, Australia
What a fantastic reading that Dan offers us with this book. To the point and with simplicity as well as depth. Gentle and forceful this book is an antidote to the poison of pragmatic, ethnocentric, and monocultural thoughtlessness in today's suburban Christianity. Thank you Dan for answering today's dilemmas with Bible, logic, and common sense.
Dr. Lucas LeysFounder of e625.com
I can't count the number of times I've rolled my eyes and groaned when confronted with yet another online meme bashing the Bible and thought, 'If only I could recommend a book on how to read those passages of scripture intelligently'. Well, now I can! Dan's book is a superbly accessible resource for sceptics, seekers and Christians who want to understand the Bible better, especially the embarrassing bits we often skip over in church and our daily devotionals.  The good news is that you'll not only be able to respond to those eye-rolling memes, but you'll end up appreciating again the strange, wild and ultimately beautiful picture the Bible gives us of the God who is made known in Jesus Christ.
Justin Brierley, UK radio host, author of Unbelievable?
Dan Kimball gracefully shows that those who mock and dismiss the Bible don’t know too much, they know too little. Along the way he helps us to read the Bible— especially the parts that seem crazy to modern ears— as it was meant to be read. This is an extremely valuable book for this culture. Mom’s and Dad’s, get a copy for yourself and your teenager and study it together. The issues Dan addresses here are the ones that needlessly tear kids away from the faith. I can’t recommend this book more!
Frank Turek, CrossExamined.org, author of I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist 
Many people, even Christians, write off the Bible without really reading it. Or perhaps they selectively read it and avoid the parts that embarrass them. They do this because they believe the Bible is anti-science or violent or intolerant of other religions or promotes slavery and patriarchy or just plain weird. Dan Kimball takes us right to these controversial passages and helps us set them in the broader context of Scripture as a whole. Thank you Dan for this insightful, well-written, profound, but very readable book on and very important topic. Reading this book will transform your attitude toward the Bible and toward God himself.
Tremper Longman III, PhDDistinguished Scholar and Professor Emeritus of Biblical  Studies, Westmont College
This is a book about how (and how not) to read the Bible. Author Dan Kimball delivers on that promise…and so much more! He takes his readers on a wonderful journey that traverses two strange and quirky worlds: the world of the Bible and the world we inhabit. This book not only helps us make sense of the Bible and its many oddities; it helps us make sense of ourselves and our culture. In the end, readers of this book find answers to their questions and concerns about the Bible’s trustworthiness. But more than that, they discover the Bible’s supreme unifying theme, which lies at the heart of all our longings. This, in a word, is Dr. Kimball’s finest work.
—Charles J. Conniry, Jr., PhD, Provost, Western Seminary; author, Soaring in the Spirit: Rediscovering Mystery in the Christian Life
This book is honest. It does not gloss over or bypass the difficult topics of the Bible. Instead, it lays them out on the table in great detail, for all to see. If the Bible can ever be trusted as an authoritative word from God Himself, it must answer its critics. And Dan Kimball is a brave and careful guide, walking us through a thorough investigation of the Bible’s most difficult themes and passages. If you give this book a fair reading, by the end, you may better understand why the Bible is considered a magnificent piece of literature in human history and how it reveals a good and loving, yet untamed God. The Christian and skeptic alike will benefit greatly from this book.
Brett Kunkle, founder and president of MAVEN and co-author of A Practical  Guide to Culture: Helping the Next Generation Navigate Today’s World
Handle with care… and consult a trusted guide.” Our Bibles should have a label like this because all who read will find themselves vexed when they encounter some of the commands, rituals and events in Scripture. Dan Kimball is a guide you can trust, leading the vexed, the skeptical and confused on a path toward understanding and trust in God’s word. Read Kimball, set out of context memes aside, and discover that God has given us words that bring us to Him and to true life.
Vincent Bacote, Ph.D. Associate Professor of Theology, Wheaton College
 Tragically, the church today is hemorrhaging people because of its unwillingness to engage with thorny, controversial questions about the Bible. Yet, as Dan brilliantly reveals, engaging with these issues isn’t anything to fear or hide from; rather, they are an invitation towards a more honest, intimate and gritty relationship with God. This is a vital read for any who are struggling with, or wanting to grow in their understanding of Scripture.
Dominic Done, author of "When Faith Fails: Finding God in the Shadow of Doubt."
Dan Kimball is an absolute genius at helping Christians see why many people reject God because the read the Bible! He goes deep into those strong negative reactions to help us feel their power before gently showing us a better way. Reading the Bible a library with a single narrative that leads to Jesus helps us see the God of compassion and grace who does not leave the guilty unpunished. Reading crazy passages in light of the whole story shows us the power of the redemption of God through Jesus.
Gerry Breshears, Ph. D. Professor of Theology Western Seminary, Portland OR
In our internet-driven culture, some of the more strange and uncomfortable Bible verses have been creatively crafted into social media ammunition against the Bible itself. These passages, to contemporary readers, can range from a light-hearted weirdness to the seemingly shocking and offensive and disillusioning to Christians reading them. Dan Kimball’s book “How Not to Read the Bible” helps us to make sense of the more frequently tossed around passages by uncovering the culture and context of these strange findings. He further invites us into some best practices when reading the Scriptures that seem to have gotten lost in all our digital noise. And he does all of this with a unique mix of depth, whimsy, and humility that is truly a rare find!
Mary Jo Sharp, author of Why I Still Believe and Assistant Professor at Houston Baptist University
How do we make sense of a library of books written thousands of years ago, in languages and cultures we know so little about? What are we to do with the often ignored Biblical passages seemingly depicting violence, racism, misogyny, and on and on? With his characteristic warmth, wit, and depth of thought, Dan Kimball takes us on an honest journey through some of the strangest and most challenging parts of Scripture. He helps us navigate through the complexity and arrive on the far side of the Bible's most perplexing stories with a renewed confidence in God's love and grace. This book is a must-read for anyone struggling to make sense of the difficult and disrobing pars of the Bible."
—Jay Kim, Pastor and Author of Analog Church

From local church pastors/teachers

As a pastor, I am keenly aware of the internal struggle so many are facing when reading the Bible. Culture tells the Christian the Bible is filled with intolerance, racism, sexism, and more. Making this problem worse, when the Christian reads the Bible, they encounter issues that seem to affirm the accusations. Deep down, there is a desire for someone to pave a way forward. In this timely book, Dan Kimball does precisely that and gives ways to understand these difficult parts of the Bible. With the mind of a theologian and the heart of a pastor, he articulates with clarity the beauty, truth, and goodness of the Scriptures.
Isaac Serrano, pastor of South Valley Community Church, Gilroy, CA
 For anyone who has ever been bothered, discouraged or perplexed by specific parts of scripture, leading them to consider abandoning the faith altogether: I beg you, please read this book. As a teacher of the Bible to high school students and young adults, this is a readable, comprehensive, invaluable tool for addressing very specific (and very relevant!) questions that young people are asking. As a student of theology myself, it is a powerful, compelling work that challenges me to put aside my modern lens of social and cultural biases, and instead observe and be transformed by the magnificent words and story of the God-inspired Bible. I am eager to share this work with my high school students who are earnestly wrestling with specific passages in scripture, as well as fellow church leaders and friends who desire to be educated and equipped in how to wisely address these questions in their own ministries and personal lives.
Megan Ryan, high school student life director and Bible teacher
In this corner: a generation drawn to spirituality yet with deep reservations about the Bible and traditional Christianity. And in that corner: a group of trusted scholars who have pondered those same questions for a lifetime and have thought-provoking answers. Standing in the gap: Dan Kimball, who provides those perplexed by Scripture with tools for understanding the Bible that most people never learn unless they’re in grad school. Best of all, Dan covers these sticky topics in his own inimitable, honest, non-dogmatic style. Timely, relevant, authentic, and unafraid. We will use this at our congregation for both individual and group study. What if the problem isn’t the Bible, but how we’re reading the Bible? There is no reason to let your confusion about parts of the Bible deny you of the beauty of the whole Bible. Love Dan, love this book!
Rene Schlaepfer Senior Pastor, Twin Lakes Church, Santa Cruz California

From people in their 20’s

After graduating from my university and becoming the manager of a local coffeehouse I interact with a lot of college students. Many that I have had conversations with have had poor interactions with The Church and The Bible and the very questions that are covered in How (Not) To Read The Bible. In my opinion, this book provides a great tool for myself, the people I know, and the town I live and work in to respond to these questions.
Samantha Womack, coffeehouse manager, age 23
Being from a generation that faces a lot of tough biblical questions, this book uses thee memes that we see and then helps explain them. Visuals make it easier to understand and digest as we are a visual generation. I would recommend it to anyone willing to lean in and wrestle through the messiness of faith and the Bible.
Breana Trejo-Quibelan, Designer, Age 26
Too many of my friends have turned away from their faith because of unanswered questions about the Bible. This book does a perfect job of understanding the weirdness and complexity of the Bible all while giving answers that actually make sense.
Anson Stoller, Age 23, surfer, worship pastor

From a non-Christian

I was raised as a Christian, but once I started studying my religion, I became an atheist. When I read the Bible as an adult, these stories were too far-fetched for me, Noah’s Ark , Adam and Eve, Lot’s wife turning to salt, unicorns and many more. From reading the book How (Not) To Read the Bible, I’m better at understanding how the message that was delivered thousands of years ago gets lost thru time in how it is often talked about today. I appreciate Dan explaining what he has about the Bible and is willing to understand my point of view. I am still not a Christian, but I now have a lot more insight to the Bible and Dan hopes one day I may become a Christian, I don’t think so - we shall see.
Daniel Zavala, barbershop owner