Reading and Understanding

In the comments to my Omega’s Guide – Mind post, Ballista posted on the difference between reading and understanding and electricangel said it should get its own post, and I agree.

Actually, something I’ve found with my experiences (as illustrated on my blog in several different ways) is that simple reading doesn’t do this. What you are speaking of is the idea of training your mind. One can simply read something, never engage their mind, and just move on and are never better for it. For example, this is what is happens with the average Churchian since most of them do actually read copious amounts of Scripture.

The problem is that their minds are untrained. They do not engage their minds in what they read, nor they never desire to do so. You might say that they would have to when it comes to sitting in on the Bible studies, but believe it or not, this is the time when it reveals itself to those who know what to look for when interacting. Typically, this comes in the lack of depth of discussion. Sure, they’ve read the material, and even know what it says it on a shallow and passive level, but they don’t understand the deeper concepts it relates. Even Scripture itself points to how it should be handled:

This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success. (Joshua 1:8)

Note it says meditate, not read. This requires mental engagement with a focused goal, which requires training of your mind. This mental engagement can occur at any time, which is why it says “day and night” (or some Jewish commentaries will say “all day and all night”).

This isn’t limited to just Scripture, but any work of writing (yes even popular fiction, though you’ll find your enjoyment of a work you engage with as opposed to simply read is proportional to the strength of the mind of the author and their degree of mental engagement in writing the text. Perhaps this is one reason why GBFM’s famous list isn’t revered that much anymore. No one engages their minds with the text and consequently find it boring.

I’m thinking on how to handle a post on what “training your mind” looks like (in the vein of “how to study Scripture”), but it can be hard to describe mental processes in a way that others can relate to and understand.

The point Ballista makes here is worth knowing; I’m not going to repeat what he wrote, because he wrote it well; this post is to bring this distinction to the attention of others.

Anybody looking to better themselves intellectually needs to know the difference between just surface reading and understanding what is read. That is why I recommended How to Read a Book for those who weren’t sure of how to get the most form reading non-fiction.

That being said my goal’s for the Omega’s Guide project are limited. I’m not trying to create scholars with it. The develop the mind portion is a minor side part of the project; the mind portion could become a whole series in itself (and almost is, if you’ve been following along on my Reading List project).

What I am trying to do is distill many years worth of effort and experience on my part of going from a complete and total loser to a socially functioning man into a guide so that others can do it a bit easier and a bit faster than I did. There is not much advice out there in the manosphere for the abject loser, the omega, so I’m trying to fill that hole.

So, it is necessary to gloss over some of the things that are only tangential to the project. I assumed that those reading would understand I didn’t mean to just read, but to try to comprehend what they read. I was hoping that by simply having those following my plan read, they would begin to look into deeper understandings on their own.

lolz also had a few good things to say on the topic as well:

You can read n chapters a day, but without engagement and understanding it is useless.

The Bible was written in a high-context ANE culture, so you can’t just read it like a newspaper – far better to read less, but with deep engagement and understanding – with commentaries, Catechisms, solid theological texts, etc.

We see this same pattern in how Evangelicals copiously quote lone, disconnected Bible verses, out of immediate textual context, as well as cultural context, and come up with their ridiculous Churchian teachings as a result. We also see the Pharasaic legalism involved here, e.g. (“I read 3 chapters from the Scriptures a day” [another person says] “well I read 4 so I’m holier than you” and yet another says “I laugh at you heathens – you must read an entire book daily, or you are not a proper servant leader of our church!”, etc…

Note too that chapter and verse are artificial indices imposed on Scripture after it’s creation, for our convenience, and have no Spiritual significance of application. So the guidelines should be to pursue learning more about the Kingdom each day, with Scripture at the core, and various other assistant texts and teachers (like a non-Churchian Priest/Pastor/Bible Study leader/good theological stuff like Chesterton) as is Spiritually profitable. It’s not some issue of reading a certain amount of raw text/day – an issue of quality, not quantity.

Not much to add on my part.

These two have written wisdom, I though it fitting to share said wisdom.

17 responses to “Reading and Understanding

  • ballista74

    Anybody looking to better themselves intellectually needs to know the difference between just surface reading and understanding what is read.

    I didn’t use the word “understand” in my original comment for a good reason: It’s possible to go through the process of thinking, spending your time with a passage, etc, and still not come out with a correct understanding of what is being relayed. This is normal human nature, and the wise are the ones who are humble enough to recognize that they can look upon something (written or before them) and not understand it. Understanding does come with time in a lot of cases, but it is very possible for understanding to never come on something.

    But understanding never comes with a lot of texts (the Bible especially) when it is just read like a piece of popular fiction.

    I’m not trying to create scholars with it. The develop the mind portion is a minor side part of the project; the mind portion could become a whole series in itself (and almost is, if you’ve been following along on my Reading List project).

    While the points I made seem to have found value in other ways, the response to your post was to point out that your mind can be “fat and out of shape” as much as your body can and needs exercised, with reading for understanding (as you put it) only one component of it. This is useful in a whole host of your other points (esp 4-6 in your list). To wit, I found an interesting post on what a strong mind looks like when I did a little quick research that I’ll probably throw in my next links post.


    We also see the Pharasaic legalism involved here, e.g. (“I read 3 chapters from the Scriptures a day” [another person says] “well I read 4 so I’m holier than you” and yet another says “I laugh at you heathens – you must read an entire book daily, or you are not a proper servant leader of our church!”, etc…

    This comes out more properly in the church programs and Bible reading plans. You too can read the entire Bible in 90 days. But are you going to get anything out of it? My thought is no. Personally I’ve spent more time than that on one or two books of the Bible, let alone the whole thing.

  • Alan J. Perrick

    More psalter, less prophets.

  • Alan J. Perrick

    There are many prayer routines that cover the entire book of psalms in a month. So, do it every month.


  • Anonymous


    How is what you said any different than what ballista and I were critiquing above?

    Quality > Quantity + Repetition

  • lozozlo

    The above was me, sorry!

  • chris

    On the bible, the use of a discipline is probably more important than the discipline. You need a fairly extensive exposure to the word before you really should be diving inth hermeneutics and theology. You need to be able to work out what is poetry, what is metaphor — be exposure to the word — before just accepting that this authority says this is metaphor, this is not.

    And you should read in chunks, not verses. It’s fairly clear I follow the lectionary and daily readings (which the PCUSA publish online). But I used to read my 4 –10 chapters a day — three bookmarks in OT, NT and Psalms/Proverbs. (2 chapters OT & I psam and 1 chapter NT will not get you through the bible in a year — 6 ch OT, 2 ch psalms and proverbs and 2 NT will get you through the bible a couple of times a year and you will spend some days meditating on a verse because you get hit between the eyes by it).

    In your career, there will be some study and reading you need to do to keep up. This is easier now that most things are electronic — I’m old enough to remember having to go to the medical library to read paper journals, which is something I don’t do now.

    Off the bible, read extensively. Non fiction, Fiction. Read the people you disagree with. Read the people you agree with. Most of the really good books are old and available, free, online — which is useful because the lending libraries don’t keep them (as they are not deemed relevant).

    Time? Cut your news feed to a minimum, and switch the TV off.

  • lozozlo


    I know you mean very well I think that you are once again entering into the error that Ballista and I have been pointing out – placing more importance on *amount* you read and not the quality of the reading. Your 2nd paragraph was nothing but a set of metrics as to how to read the Bible a certain number of times a year – the entire commentary operating on the underlying assumption that *amount* of reading is what is important. It feels just like what I was arguing against in my post, quoted by FN in the OP.

    Reading the same text (even Sacred text) over and over again will not help you learn it and apply it – active engagement will. Mind you, this requires knowing the Bible quite well, but reading it multiple times a year, every year, is not necessary to do that. The sheer number of times that you have read Scripture is not the measure of how knowledgeable and informed a Christian you are – there are more dimensions to it.

    Often times I believe that reading the wise words of someone who has studied the Bible and Christian history and is far more educated than I can exposit wisely upon it is of more value than my less educated eyes viewing, unaided, Scripture text that I know by heart yet another time. Did not the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8 returning from Jerusalem need assistance in understanding the words of the prophet Isaiah? If he just kept reading 10 chapters of Isaiah a day forever, it wouldn’t have done him a bit of good, right? Understanding God’s Truth is the metric, not the # of Scripture verses. The number of times you have the Bible (well at least more than once 🙂 ) is vastly less relevant than what you understand – reading the Scripture is not the end in and of itself – it is a key part of the *means* to understanding. The means don’t make the metric, the ends do! Recall that not all the Church had the entire completed Scripture in all of Church History. Clearly simple Scripture reading is not the whole game, so to speak.

    Going a bit out there…I wonder if that since I am a Catholic, I perhaps have somewhat less emphasis on Scripture reading as a Protestant would – as Protestants have a history of Sola Scriptura and relying eclusively on the Bible, and Catholics factor in tradition and good stuff like Papal Encycles and theological studies.

  • lozozlo

    Also I would add to the end of my 2nd to last paragraph that most people could not read in most of history anyway, so any sort of ‘Bible reading regimen’ is a very new, localized phenomenon anyway.

    I argue that there are better approaches. I love reading the Scripture, but just repeatedly reading the same passages that I know by heart isn’t in and of itself going to teach me nearly as much as engaging with the material in a far more active fashion.

    But maybe your way works for you. It doesn’t for me though.

  • lozozlo

    Time? Cut your news feed to a minimum, and switch the TV off.

    Sound advice in any event. I cancelled TV service and watch the occasionally thing on Hulu/Netflix, and not only did I save $$, I saved time as well.

    As GBFM (and apparently FN) would put it, TV tends to leave you butthexted, desouled, and bernankified. (lozlzlzozozl) Another time saver – I have ste times to read surf the web, and I have a schedule of blogs that I visit. Otherwise I waste hours upon hours just surfing, and at the end of it all, it was such an information overload, across so many topics, that I don’t remember what I was reading.

    Technology can be wonderful, but it can leave you bernankified as well.

  • lozozlo

    Sorry for so many comments, but also I would like to add that watching the news is pointless since it’s not like there is anything you can do about whatever is happening.

    Most news cycles are just a list of horrible crimes and terrible accidents, nothing of which I can affect the outcome of at all. All I can do is pray to God for the repose of those who died and the comfort of the survivors. Information and news overload is a serious problem in today’s world – it leaves us too numb, tired, and confused to properly respond when it is warranted, and leaves us focusing and worrying about that which we cannot control.

    I recall some wise Carpenter dude saying something along the lines of not worrying about things, since our Father in Heaven knows what we need…I wonder if that can be applied to this situation as well.

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  • Chris

    My comment on quantity is not a regulation — it’s what I have done over the years. It’s not the amount it’s having enough of it in you thqt you have the background. /bold/ It has to become a habit, but it cannot be mechanical /bold/. The error does not exist.

    If you look at the book of common prayer — which was basically a Lutheranized missal — there are huge readings, each day, in the morning and evening prayes. This got a huge amount of scirpture into the average believer years ago.

    Combine that with careful thinking, and you are set. Without a baseline knowledge and searching the scripture you are dependant on the quality of your teachers, and that leads to soft mindedness and error.

    I changed to the lectionary because my church uses it. It’s having a system of looking at passages and then thinking on them.

  • Free Northerner

    @ ballista: There are different levels of understanding. One can come to a certain level, even if never able to reach full understanding.

    @ Chris: There is something to be said for developing discipline as well. So the question becomes, what is the best balance between discipline and avoiding rote reading that does not lead to greater understanding.

    @ lolz: I quit watching and, for the most part, reading the news for the same reason. It accomplishes nothing and fills your mind with irrelevancies.

  • Alan J. Perrick

    “lolzololso” writes:

    How is what you said any different than what ballista and I were critiquing above?

    Why does it have to be? Are you an insecure type? L.O.L.

  • lozozlo


    I just found it weird that after both Ballista and I took down a particular viewpoint, you simply parroted that viewpoint once again…i would have expected a defense or some sort of justification for it.

    I see your comments a lot on GBFM’s blog, so I will use the following metaphor: say that after GBFM shows how Bernanke is butthexing our economy and culture, you simply replied back ‘Bernanke is helping our economy and culture’ totally sans justification or counter-argument.

    Do you see what my objection was now? lzozlzlzozozolo!

  • lozozlo


    I think we will just have to agree to disagree. We could go back and forth on this but i suspect no one would change their minds, so I will drop this topic after this post. I am sure you’re an awesome dude even though we don’t see eye-to-eye on this.

    Your most recent post, IMHO, was still focused on a quantity of reading as opposed to the quality – as Ballista mentioned above (and correct me if I am wrong or misinterpreting you, sir) it is difficult to get much out of such a dense book as the Scriptures by simply imbibing vast quantities of text, delivered via Book of Common Prayer or otherwise. What is the point of ‘getting a huge amount of Scripture into you’ if you don’t understand them? As a matter of fact, due to the fact that the Scriptures were written in 2,000 year old languages long since gone, and the fact that they were written in a high-context ANE culture (as I mentioned above) too much time reading them yourself without good teaching could easily set you on the wrong track. It is not always clear from the English reading what is metaphor, poetry, etc. The Body of Christ should not conduct its’ learning as if each member were isolated – while I cannot just uncritically accept everything everyone else says, I (as well as all of us) need to acknowledge our dependence upon one another as well. No man is an island, especially not in the most important endeavor of them all. So relying on each other is part of the game, IMHO.

    This is part of the reason that I believe that so many Protestants, especially evangelicals, have such a weak, often Churchian, understanding of Scripture. Simply measureing your program by sheer volumne of Scripture read, and reading it as if it were a newspaper or fiction novel, not a dense and very difficult text, is not only not going to produce understanding, it may produce the illusion of such in lieu of the real thing – you can quote Bible verses from here to the other end of the Internet but it doesn’t mean that you can put a coherent theological thought together.

    Recall that throughout the NT, it was mainly through preaching and teachers that the Word was both spread and developed among the people – most people couldn’t read anyway and the whole Canon was not yet formed. So clearly there are several ways to go about becoming a stronger Christian.

    Yes, you need to have a good ‘feel’ for the Bible as a whole before you begin studying seriously, but you don’t need to know every bit of text by heart to do that. I think that for a new Christian the best approach is to read and study side by side until they have covered the Scripture, and then go back and fill in the gaps, but that is getting a bit off topic.

    As an analogue, to learn Calculus you must have a strong background in algebra and trigonometry, but you don’t need to know everything about every other mathematical subject, as you study, those will come in time, as all of these subjects are connected. Mastering one will facilitate mastering another. I can start studying the Gospel message without knowing all of Acts, for example, and as I keep learning, I would naturally start moving on from the initial 4 Gospels to their logical follow-up. From Acts I could refer back to the Gospels as needed. There is no need to ‘pre-load’ the Bible by reading vast amounts of text over a short period of time.

    BTW I use my Church’s (Catholic) Lectionary as well – it’s a good idea to have a system . On that we do agree.

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