How To Read the Bible: A Lighthearted Look at a Serious Question
How to Read the Bible
First of all, there is no wrong way to read the Bible. However, I believe many people struggle to read the Bible for a whole host of reasons: it's hard to understand, it's too long, Bible reading plans are hard to stick with, and, perhaps most of all, they feel guilty for not reading consistently.
I am not a pastor, theologian, seminary graduate nor Bible scholar, but I have struggled with many of these same issues and, to some extent, overcome them. This is not a rigid "how to" or "you must", rather a helpful, hopefully encouraging, guide to make reading your Bible a little easier and a lot of fun.
How to Read Your Bible
Bible Reading Resources
Bible Reading Plans
Have you ever started a Bible reading plan, or a "How to Read the Bible in A Year" plan? Most Christians have, and most have failed. If you are one of the small number of people who are able to stick with one of these Bible reading plans, great. I encourage you to continue with what works for you.
If you are like the rest of us, then I want to suggest different approaches that will help you in your Bible reading. First, a few things to avoid:
1. Time Frames or Time Limits.
Unless you are a meticulous time manager, avoid placing time limits or benchmarks on your Bible reading that will only discourage you later. If it is an article of your faith that the Bible is the living, breathing inspired word of God, then you have the rest of your life to study your Bible. If you tend to procrastinate or push deadlines, this tendency will cause you to get discouraged when you fall a day or a week behind in your Bible reading plan.
2. Trying to Memorize Scripture.
This may seem odd and somewhat controversial, but I do not intend it to be. I am not saying not to memorize scripture, only not to use this as a yardstick for your Bible reading. Do not punish yourself or feel guilty because you are not memorizing everything you read. You read and seal it away in your heart and let the Spirit bring it to your recollection. Do not be discouraged by others who appear to know scripture "better" than you. It is not a contest. I know this is a hard idea to overcome, especially when everyone else around you seems to be able to rapid fire scripture at the drop of a hat. Rest assured, there are no bonus points for memorizing the most scripture.
3. Expecting to Understand it All.
I believe the Bible is living and breathing and that there is infinite wisdom and understanding to be derived therefrom, so you can never get it all. As you grow, and read, and make connections, and learn some of the symbolism, and recognize parallels, and explore the meanings of names and numbers, and reread, and make new connections, and learn more symbolism, and make new parallels...Do you get the idea? All you need to learn is what God has for you. Trust me, if you do that much, you will do well.
Bible Study Links
My Bible Blog
- Beauty of the Bible
An Exploration of the Beauty of the Word of God.
A Few Suggestions
No one Bible reading plan will work for everybody because the Bible is not meant to be the same for everybody. Well, it is, but it isn't. (???)
So, here you go, a few suggestions for how you can make it work for you.
1. OCDs / Addictive Personalities:
Pick a topic and become an expert. You can readily find a Bible with study guides and/or cross references, and you can easily spend a caffeine- driven, all-nighter (or four or five) studying the complexities of Bible prophecy or symbolism of Old Testament rituals vis-a-vis Jesus as the embodiment of those rituals. You will find that the connections never end, ergo an endless supply of ideas, concepts, nuances, and theology to master. An endless supply of fuel for channelling your tendencies positively.
Try the New American Standard Bible, The Holman Christian Standard, The English Standard Version or the King James Version (that is The Authorized Version outside of the US). You will also want to get a Hebrew and Greek interlinear, you will need it.
Whether you have a passing interest in linguistics, mathematics, physics or other sciences, or you are a proud conspiracy theory freak, you can indulge these fleshly desires in the pages of the Bible. Just do a Google search for "gematria"...I'll see you in a couple of years, bye.
If you are interested in other similar study ideas, check out the links to the right. Everything a nerd could ever want or need. Try using the same translations as the OCDs.
3. Literary Types:
Shakespeare ain't got nothin' on Solomon.
- Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm:
for love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave:
the coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame. Sol. 8:6
You can spend hours upon hours in the Psalms and Proverbs, and, of course, the Song of Songs (or, Song of Solomon). Pretty soon, you will be breezing through Leviticus and Deuteronomy, and 1 & 2 Chronicles, no sweat. If you're one of those dreary literary types, hit Lamentations, Ecclesiastes then Job. That should satisfy your depression fix.
It's the King James for you guys. You can also try the English Standard Version or the New International Version.
The Bible on CD and DVD
4. Tough Guys:
Well, let's see, there's King David, Samson, Moses, Elijah (killing 450 prophets of Baal, cool), it's war, blood and guts, violence, you name it.
In the New Testament, Peter and Paul were tough guys, hot heads of the highest order. Jesus called James and John "sons of thunder". You think they knew how to raise a little hell? Start reading in Joshua, by the time you get to Psalms, you'll be ready for it. If not, try Daniel, Ezekiel and Revelation.
I would suggest the New International Version or New King James Version, or try a men's devotional Bible. There are also Bibles for every walk of life: fireman's Bible, military Bible, dad's Bible...you can still be a tough guy even while reading your Bible.
5. Holy Rollers:
Let me guess, your Bible has a cover that is falling off, the edges are frayed, and every other verse is highlighted or underlined with margin notes and sermon notes and stars and check marks and if you had to open up another Bible you'd be lost. Keep it up.
Try this though, start reading someone else's bible. Have a look at what your spouse or sibling highlighted. If it's clean, highlight stuff specifically for them. Do that with different people and different Bibles. You'll be surprised what you learn.
6. If You Prefer the Cliffs Notes:
Read Mark, then the letters (James, Peter, John and Jude). By then, you will be ready for the hard stuff, and you can move on to the gospels and epistles. Try the NIV or New Living Translation.
Or, you can listen to the Bible on CD, with real actors (Denzel Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, Angela Bassett, LL Cool J, etc.), it's almost like watching the movie. The Bible Experience brings the words of the Bible to life.
If you prefer, you can listen to The Word of Promise: New Testament with Jim Caviezel as Jesus (so, if you saw the movie, The Passion of the Christ, you can listen to the same Jesus), Marisa Tomei as Mary Magdalene, Terence Stamp as God (way cool), and many others.
7. Too Busy:
Aren't we all? See No. 6. Above.
Bible Stuff for Techies
- Olive Tree Bible Software.
Bible Reading Software for Your PDA, Pocket PC or Smartphone. Virtually Every Translation and in Many Languages and Many for Free.
- Study Light
Multiple Translations, Hebrew and Greek Parallels and Interlinears, Multiple Source Texts, Online for Free.
- Logos Bible Software
Everything You Could Ever Need.
- Bible Explorer
Bible Search Software with a Nice Video Tutorial.
Bible Software for Every Platform, Computer, PDA, Pocket PC, Smartphone, etc.
- Free Bible Software
You Can Download Bibles, Dictionaries, Commentaries, and Plenty of Other Stuff.
"Books? I don't do books, only digitial." Ah, my People.
Great news. You don't have to touch a book. You can read online, on your desktop or notebook, or on you pda or smartphone. Anywhere and everywhere, anytime and all the time, available in a cool techie format just for you. No more tissue-thin paper with highlighter bleedthroughs or ink smudges, you can highlight in a multitude of colors with the stroke of a stylus.
The first time I saw my pastor quote scripture from his Palm Pilot (from the pulpit no less), I knew I was home. The Bible is high tech now, and you can spend hours playing with Bible gadgets and software if you really need to. Check out some of the stuff on the right, you will love it.
9. It's Too Hard to Understand:
This is a legitimate concern. Fortunately, there is a Bible translation for you. Admittedly, I'm somewhat particular about the translations I read, but, there are translations that are simply easier to read. Also, start in the New Testament. Specifically, start in Matthew 1:18 and go from there. The genealogy of Jesus is important, no doubt, but you can come back to it later. You can incorporate the Psalms and/or Proverbs too.
Use one of these very readable translations to start: The New Living Translation, The Good News Bible or The Message. You can also try a parallel with different translations side-by-side, a more readable translation and a more literal translation. For example The Message and NIV parallel, The Message and NASB parallel, or the King James Version and New Living Translation parallel.
10. First Timers & Everyone Else:
You can pick up any Bible you want and start reading it, but some, like the King James Version, can be difficult for first-timers because the language is unfamiliar. And while I would certainly encourage you to read any Bible you can get your hands on, I would suggest that you start by getting a Bible that is written in a language and style you like and understand. Here is a rough continuum of literalness to readability:
- Highly Literal: New American Standard Bible, King James Version (or Authorized Version).
- More Literal Than Readable: New King James Version, New Revised Standard Version, English Standard Version, Holman Christian Standard Bible.
- As Readable As Literal: New International Version.
- More Readable Than Literal: New Living Translation, Contemporary English Version.
- Highly Readable: Good News Translation, Amplified Bible, The Message.
Get the Most Out of Your Bible
There are many different reasons to read any book. The same is true for the Bible. You can read for enjoyment, for study, for thrills (yes, for thrills), or for spirituality. All are valid. I would add one final suggestion, though: pray before you read. If you truly want to get the most out of your Bible reading experience, ask for it to be interactive, for it to talk back. The Bible claims to be the Word of God, so hold God to it. Ask him to speak to you through his Word. You might be surprised what He says.
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