To Begin Reading the Bible, Start With a Good Plan

Reading the Bible

So youve 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 lets 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 first thing you need to do is actually get a Bible in your hands. While that should seem easy this in fact can be an important decision and is often one that daunts many. Lets break this down to make it manageable. You must decide if you want a translation or a paraphrase.

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 dont 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 dont 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. Dont 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

Whew! You have finally purchased a Bible. Now you have to read it. I would not recommend trying to read it like a regular book starting on page 1 and reading straight through to the end. The main reason is the Bible is not a regular book. It is a collection of books that is divided into two parts. The first part is called the Old Testament or The Jewish Scriptures. These are the 39 scrolls collected and canonized by the Jewish Church. They were written between 1400 and 400 B.C.

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.

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. I think the best way to do this is to find a Bible Study group within your church. This way you will have a guide and a structure and other people to discuss what you are reading. Private reading is always encouraged, but group discussion is very helpful. If this is not an option for you or you are just bound and determined to read it by yourself I understand. That was how I did it myself. I only wish someone had told me not to try and read it straight through.

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.

 

About Daniel Scholl

Daniel Scholl is a member of the United Methodist Church and the Church Universal. He attended Perkins School of Theology while contemplating a career in ministry. He tries to constantly follow God’s two greatest commandments: Love God and Love Your Neighbor.


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Comments

  1. says

    I’m often asked by new believers where they should start reading the Bible. Although I understand the context setting that starting with Genesis/Exodus can provide, it has led to many many false starts. I always recommend starting with the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) because they are the essential guides to the teaching of Jesus Christ. Then continuing with a few books like 1 John and James. I wouldn’t recommend anyone read Genesis/Exodus until after they have a solid understanding of the gospels, because then those OT books take on new meaning and significance. Also, there is generally more sustaining desire to push through the difficult chapters of the OT once the NT gospels have been absorbed. That’s my recommended reading plan for new believers.

  2. Mike says

    I agree that new christians should read the gospels first. However, I would start with John and the move to Mat, Mark and Luke. Remember, that Genesis 1-11 is the foundation by which our faith stands on. If the foundations are not understood and excepted, then you might as well get rid of the rest of the bible. Genesis is meant to be taken literally.

  3. Mary says

    First I’d like to start off by saying I think this website is a really good idea. I’m not a totally new christian, my family, including grandparents were very faithful christians. I had been led astray in my teen years and had many issues with faith and trust in god, and after I had gone so far I didnt know how to find my way back. I recently started attending church again, and have let jesus back into my heart. I also want to start reading and learning the bible but i wasn’t sure how to go about it or where to start. This has really helped me in thinking about which bible is right for me ( there are so many!), where to start, and that there are bibles a little easier to understand. :) Again i really think this page might help show people that not all christians are like the ones in the media. Thanks :)

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