Reading the Bible
So you’ve decided to read the Bible. Perhaps you are new to Christianity or are interested in why this book holds such power for so many. Or maybe you have been on your journey for quite some time but have been unsure and uncertain about how to start reading this sometimes enigmatic tome. Regardless of your reason you have taken this first step only to find that step one leads to many paths. So let’s talk about how to read the Bible.
Deciding on a Bible
People always ask which Bible is better. When Billy Graham was asked this question he famously responded, “The best Bible is whichever one you will read.”
The Bible is a collection of ancient scrolls. The Old Testament was written in Ancient Hebrew and the New Testament was written in Greek and Aramaic. Fortunately Bible Scholars master these languages so we don’t have to. Some have translated it word by word or sentence by sentence. This is a translation bible. A paraphrase attempts to convey the meaning of a passage or section.
People always ask which is better. When Billy Graham was asked this question he famously responded, “The best Bible is whichever one you will read.“ If you choose a paraphrase I might recommend “The Message“ or “The Living Word.“
I prefer a translation but even this can be a difficult choice. There are many translations out there. Some churches or denominations endorse a certain translation. So if you are unsure which one you want, you could always ask your clergy which translation they use. Also remember you can always buy more down the line and see which one you like. Bible software is also available to show you each translation side-by-side, which also can be very helpful.
The most common translations in the U.S. are the: New King James (NKJ), the New International Version (NIV), New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) and the New American Standard Version (NAS). The most traditional old English Bible is the King James. This is full of words like “saith”, “leadeth“ and others words we don’t use that end in “th“. While it may make a great family gift and has some beautiful language I would not recommend it for everyday reading. The language is just too archaic and unapproachable. The NIV is generally considered both a very precise word for word translation and is also reasonably easy to understand.
So you have picked your translation. Don’t relax yet. There is still one more decision to make. What “type“ of bible do you want? Different publishers often include various footnotes, cross references, maps, forwards, etc. to compliment the text and aid your understanding. These are often called Study Bibles. While these may make the Bible thicker and possibly more daunting, I find them to be a big help and highly recommend getting one.
The Structure of the Bible
I would not recommend trying to read it like a regular book starting on page 1 and reading straight through to the end
Some Christians give them less credence but I would caution against this. It is important to remember that Jesus was Jewish and positioned these scriptures as Holy and worthy of study. Jesus knew the OT scriptures backwards and forwards, and we should strive to know them too. The OT itself is broken into several parts. The first five books are called the “Torah“ which is Hebrew for the Law. Next are the “Prophets“. All the other books are put under another umbrella called “Writings”.
The second part of the Bible is the New Testament. It is here we find 27 “books” that relate directly to the life and teachings of Jesus, and His disciples or apostles. The first four books are called the Gospels which is Greek for
“The Good News.“ The first three gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) are often called the synoptic Gospels because they are very similar and are most historical and linear in their telling. The other Gospel is John which departs from a linear history and is more theological in nature.
Next is the book of Acts which tells the story of the disciples after the time of Jesus. This leads into a collection of letters, sometime referred to as “The Epistles.“ Most were written by Paul but not all. It ends with a mystical book called Revelation.
A Reading Plan
So you can see why this is not a regular book to be read cover to cover like a John Grisham novel. You need a plan.
Here is what I would do if I were to do it again:
- Read the book of Genesis. It literally is the beginning. Then read the next book, Exodus. This will feel familiar because you have been watching Yul Brinner and Charlton Heston duke it out on the Silver Screen for years in the movie The Ten Commandments.
- After you have read these two OT books stop. Next, move on to the Gospels. I would recommend you to read them in this order: Mark, Matthew and Luke. The reason why is because Mark was probably written first, then Matthew and Luke about the same time. Acts is a companion piece to Luke so I like to read it right after finishing Luke.
- I would then read a few of the letters; 1st and 2nd Corinthians, Galatians and Romans. Once you have done all this you should have a pretty good foundation and at this point you should be able to head back into the OT for some Psalms and Proverbs. This intro plan should take you quite some time.
- After this you could pretty much read the rest in whatever order you want but I would recommend focusing on the New Testament. I am going to be talking about the individual books later so you will get at least an idea of what may interest you.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: there are many good reading plans out there. If you want a personalized recommendation, use our contact us form and send a question to “Dear Larry”.]
Other Tools Required
There are two other tools you need before you begin. First is a prayer. Bible reading is a spiritual discipline. It requires prayer before you begin and reflection when you end for the day. The other tool I would recommend would be getting a good Bible Commentary. Without going into a whole discourse like I did at the beginning let me just recommend one: The Harper Collins Bible Commentary. It’s chapters and verses match up to the Bible so you can have them open side by side in case you ever need help understanding what is going on.
So now you are ready. I know what you are thinking. “Navy Seals don’t even prepare this much.” Ok, maybe you aren’t thinking that exactly. But reading the Bible is a serious undertaking. But hopefully it is a bit less scary now that you have a plan. Plus, know that I will be with you throughout the journey.