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Cup of coffee, bible on table.

How to Start Reading the Bible

Glad you popped by! Today, let’s look at some ideas for how to begin reading the Bible for yourself. But first, let me ask you: have you tried reading the Word?

Maybe you’ve read the Bible a bit, and to be honest … it’s not so amazing. Maybe you don’t feel inspired, or any closer to God, etc.

I’ve tried it. He doesn’t talk to me. It doesn’t work.

Is that you?

Or … maybe, some days are awesome, some days just aren’t. The passage for the day may be difficult, and we have no teacher to help us understand. It might feel boring, or repetitive. We get restless, and our minds begin to wander.

In our tendency to seek immediate results, we might just give it up. Skip today. Then, maybe skip the rest of the week, too. I’ll bet you know what follows then. If that’s been your experience, read on. I hope what follows helps.

The Long View

It’s good to bear in mind that discipleship involves an act of the will. We may not always feel like we “got anything” out of todays reading. That’s OK. Our daily experience is not as important as our commitment. And that’s counter-cultural! We think that our experience really matters. Certainly it’s a factor, but there is more to it.

It’s helpful to approach our walk with the Lord as a journey that stretches over our lifespan.

When we take the long view, we understand that eventually, after years of faithful reading, study, and immersion in the Word of God, we are changed. Eventually our love for Him grows, and ultimately we are so eager for our moments in the Word with Him, that memories of when we first started out, when it felt dull or boring will probably elicit a smile. Of back, when.

It takes time, commitment, and a disciples’ discipline to stay the course and grow up into the men and women of God. Hang in there! It’s SO worth it.

Reverence

Because this is God’s book, we want to acknowledge Him straight off. I mean…

Wouldn’t it be weird to sit down and read a Dickens classic with Charles Dickens in the room?

Weirder still: reading his novel, with Charles in the easy chair across from you, and never once acknowledge the author in your living room.

The author is right there! You can ask Chuck straight out about anything you like! Question his themes, settings, symbolism, or the funny names Dickens came up with for his characters! Our imaginary Dickens is right there, ready and waiting to be of assistance. Fire away.

The Great Author of life itself wrote a book. And He’s sitting in that armchair, right now, with you, as you read.

And so we acknowledge His presence.

We approach His book carefully, with a sense of awe and reverence for the privilege. Not everybody has had what you have in front of you. So we are grateful.

We long to know Him better and better. We bow our heads and ask His guidance; we ask Him to open the eyes of our hearts and minds, to reveal what He has for us each day.

“Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things out of Thy law.”

Psalm 119:18

Go Home, Take it Out, and Play…

In the fourth grade I got my first violin. It was a beginner’s quality public school rental job, secured in a brown, nondescript case. The teacher passed them out to all of us newbies. When I opened it up I saw my violin encased in a cheap, green, fake-velvet fabric.

But to me, gazing on an actual violin for the very first time-it was a thing of rare beauty. I reached out my hand and touched the wood. I took it out and just held it, staring hard at this object of longing. This thing that could express music of great beauty, if one day I learned it well.

Our teacher then gave us our homework assignment:

Go home, take it out, and play.

He showed us how to tighten the bow and apply rosin. He showed us how to loosen the bow when we were done. We were instructed where to never touch the strings with a human hand, and then we were set loose.

Go home, take it out, and play!

If you’ve never opened the pages of a Bible, do the same thing. Sit down, open your Bible, and explore. Get to know it. Flip around to the many strange-sounding things you may find. It is an ancient text, obscure even at places.

Be surprised at stories and sayings you didn’t expect. Join in with the early believers and hear the Sermon on the Mount, or hear David introduce His Shepherd in Psalm 23.

Just dig in. Read anything you find!

Begin in the Beginning

One way you can read the Book is to start right from the very first sentence, in the very first book:

“In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth.”

Genesis 1:1

You can read the first five books, all in a row (the Pentateuch) and then just keep going. After those you’ll run into some exciting histories of the early nation of Israel and her judges, then her kings and a civil war. Then you’ll learn about more kings, (most of them wicked) and then Israel’s defeat and near-ruin from nearby powers–God’s just judgement (having pre-warned them in every conceivable way).

Next you’ll see Daniel rescued from the lions, Queen Esther bravely saving her people, and Elijah raising a dead boy to life. Along the way you’ll bump into the Wisdom Literature (poetry and proverbs) and finally you’ll finish up the Old Testament with the many amazing prophets. These were men sold out to God, whom He appointed to warn, instruct, and encourage the people of God along the way, from their captivity to a remnant returning from their captivity, after a period of 70 years.

The Old Testament is chock full of God showing up, displaying His power, judgments, wisdom, guidance, friendship, and grace.

After that, read the New Testament, which is all about God’s Son, the Lord Jesus.

That is a fine way to do it. I enjoy re-reading the Bible that way. It is always new, and always instructive.

Begin With Christ

Another idea is to start with the New Testament, and focus on the Lord Jesus Christ. Read all four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). They each cover the life of Jesus, but in a slightly different way. All of them end with the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. Reading all four will introduce you to all of the recorded sermons, miracles, and interactions.

Often those new to the Bible are encouraged to start with the Gospel of John. The disciple John was near to Jesus from the start of His ministry. He held a unique position, part of Christ’s “inner circle”, so his summations are insightful and brilliant.

After you read John, read the Gospel of Mark. Peter, another in the “inner circle,” provided much of the background to Mark, who was not one of the twelve. This is a short, fast-paced gospel, full of action.

Next, read the Gospel of Matthew, the first book of the New Testament. Matthew writes his gospel for Jewish believers, so his gospel spends time showing the “proofs,” the many prophecies in the Old Testament which Christ fulfilled.

Finally, read Dr. Luke’s books. This missionary companion to Paul wrote both the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, commonly known as Acts. Luke wrote both of these letters to his friend, Theophilus. Acts starts right in where Luke leaves off. It covers the adventures of the early church.

After this, read the Epistles! These are letters, written by the early church leaders, including James, Peter, John, Jude, and the most prolific author in the New Testament, Paul.

The Bible ends with the Revelation of John, an apocalyptic book to which many people are drawn. For an insightful treatment of this often confusing book, see Steve Gregg’s Revelation: Four Views.

Bible in a Year

If your aim is to read the whole Book, and to keep at it daily, the Bible in a Year is a super great option. This edition of the Bible is available in many translations, and basically divides the Book into 365 readings, taking the reader from January 1- December 31.

But you don’t have to buy one of those. Daily reading guides are in many bibles, and you can download and print a guide, stick it in your Bible, and tick off your progress every day. This method helps to facilitate your new daily reading habit, and works out to only about 3.5 chapters a day–roughly 20 minutes of slow, careful reading each day for the year.

Chronological Bible

The Bible is not set up in a purely chronological fashion. It can be worthwhile to read the events as they transpired, in sequence. In this sort of Bible, history, wisdom literature and prophecies are all mixed in, and interspersed throughout, giving the reader a panoramic view of events, as they occurred. Putting a prophecy and poetry right into the context of historical events is an exciting way to read the Bible. Why not try this method! It may become your favorite method.

Through The Bible

The radio program Through the Bible is one of the most enjoyable ways to stay in God’s Word, every single day. The teacher is an “Ole Southern Boy”, as he would say when he was alive on earth. J.Vernon McGee is in heaven now, but his recordings are played each week day through the radio program and online, if you miss it (or prefer it that way). His broadcasts reach listeners in over 160 countries around the globe!

Dr. McGee’s lessons through each book of the Bible take a full five years aboard the “Bible Bus”, to go through every chapter of all 66 books. His ministry provides Notes and Outlines, free of charge. You can just listen each day, or you can read along, with the Notes and Outlines, like Dr. McGee recommends.

I really appreciate Dr. McGee, and continue to benefit from His program through the years. (I don’t agree with all of his interpretations, because I am not a dispensationalist. But that difference in our views is so minor, it barely gets a mention.) I hope you check it out, and that you enjoy it as much as I do!

Translations

Translation or Paraphrase? And what’s the “Authorized Version”, anyway?

There are a lot of translations out there. (Some call themselves “translations” when they are in fact paraphrases.)

A translation is a rendering of the text from its original language (Hebrew or Greek). For more about Biblical translation, read this article.

Translations can be rendered “word-for-word”, or “meaning for meaning”. For example, the New American Standard translates word for word. This suffers just a bit in the “readability” but is more accurate to the source.

Some “meaning for meaning” examples would the the New Living Translation, the New International Version, and the English Standard Version. They are certainly more readable, but do lose some of the deeper shades of meaning.

A paraphrase is a re-telling of a translation into the common language that the modern reader might more easily understand. Examples of paraphrases would be the Living Bible and The Message. These are very readable, and offer ideas for understanding the text that we might not see if we confine ourselves to translations, only. For a discussion about the differences between paraphrases and translations, read here.

The “Authorized Version” is another way of saying the King James Bible. The “authorized” annotation comes from King James of England, himself. Previous kings of England had prohibited English versions, (such as Tyndale’s) burning at the stake (as heretics) those brave ones who translated, printed, smuggled–and even those who read or who were in possession of this Book. Since it had been illegal to own an English version of the Bible, when James authorized some learned men to translate it into English, this version was the one that was “authorized” by the crown.

The point is to find a translation that you understand, that is readable, and that works for you!

Our Response

Whew! Long post! But you made it. I hope that some of the ideas proved helpful as you pick up the Book and dive in!

Finally, as we read His message to us, and we get to know Him more, often it’s only natural to respond in prayer – talking to Him about what we are reading, in the moment. This is a beautiful time for the believer; holy, and powerful.

Our responses to this connection sometimes includes questions– requesting that He reveal to us what He is saying, and to help us understand.

Our response might look like confession, when we are convicted through reading the Bible about an area in our life that He is gently correcting.

Sometimes our response to interacting with Scripture results in worship — in grateful praise, and in song. And this is where the intersection of prayer and praise and reading the Word come together. All of these practices work together, in bonding our hearts to His.

Ready to go deeper still? Click on over to How To Study the Bible, for more.