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How To Read the Bible: A Lighthearted Look at a Serious Question

Updated on December 16, 2014
How to Read the Bible
How to Read the Bible

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

Reading the Holy Bible
Reading the Holy Bible

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.

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.

2. Nerds:

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.

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.

8. Techies:

"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.

Bibles, Bibles, Bibles?
Bibles, Bibles, Bibles?

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:


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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    • Zsuzsy Bee profile image

      Zsuzsy Bee 9 years ago from Ontario/Canada

      All this makes me wonder if there is such an animal as the "Bible for Dummies". I guess you're saying that it doesn't matter how or what version you prefer, just read the book...

      Great HUB regards Zsuzsy

    • In The Doghouse profile image

      In The Doghouse 9 years ago from California

      Peter

      I think that I can see myself in almost all of those catagories, at one time or another! YIKES

    • ripplemaker profile image

      Michelle Simtoco 9 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      I could never find myself reading the bible often. So its basically what I hear during sermons and readings hehe but I like what you said, pray before you read. That makes me reflect again. Thanks Peter!

    • Peter M. Lopez profile image
      Author

      Peter M. Lopez 9 years ago from Sweetwater, TX

      Zsuzsy, I'm not endorsing all versions, but if a version is easier to read for someone, then I would encourage them to read that version. I firmly believe the Word of God is sharper than any two-edged sword, even if the translations are slightly different.

    • Peter M. Lopez profile image
      Author

      Peter M. Lopez 9 years ago from Sweetwater, TX

      How do you think I came up w/the categories, Doghouse? I relate to them all.

    • Peter M. Lopez profile image
      Author

      Peter M. Lopez 9 years ago from Sweetwater, TX

      ripplemaker, see 6. & 7. above, but most importantly, do not feel condemned about it, when it starts to become interactive, it will become easier.

    • profile image

      tenom894 9 years ago

      The bible is the word of God so you need spiritual wisdom to understand His word.

      Pray for wisdom from God because that is what Elder James tells us in the Book of James "if you lack wisdom, you ask God for it." Do not read the bible like the way you read any other book. God's mystery can only be revealed to some.

    • brittanyc profile image

      brittanyc 9 years ago from Houston, Texas

      That's a unique way of approaching the Bible. I like how you have different categories for different kinds of people. Keep up the good work!

    • Peter M. Lopez profile image
      Author

      Peter M. Lopez 9 years ago from Sweetwater, TX

      Thank you for reading, temon894. Actually, I concluded by advising everyone specifically to pray before reading. I do want to note, though, that I am simply offering those who do not regularly read or who are having difficulty reading the Bible simple advice on how to begin and stick with it.

    • Peter M. Lopez profile image
      Author

      Peter M. Lopez 9 years ago from Sweetwater, TX

      Thanks, brittanyc. There are probably as many approaches as there are people, that's the beauty of it. I appreciate your kind remarks.

    • Jerrico Usher profile image

      Jerrico Usher 9 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      I read the bible like this.. if life gets hard I just flip the pages until I feel like stopping.. I feel the angels will nudge me when the answer is on a certain page.. then I stop and just start reading the page whereever my eyes seem to go.. more often than not the answer is there somehow.. I do the same thing in book stores.. a huge google search for the mind :)

      I believe the bible is a refrence not a "Book" your supposed to read cover to cover.. if it were it would be easier to understand and the stories would blend (and they don't hence how hard it is to read cover to cover).. lots of good "life" information in there..

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 9 years ago from North America

      Yes, Zsuzsy - Bible for Dummies:

      http://www.dummies.com/WileyCDA/DummiesTitle/The-B...

      Great Hub Peter!

    • Peter M. Lopez profile image
      Author

      Peter M. Lopez 9 years ago from Sweetwater, TX

      Thanks, Jerrico. Keep searching out as needed. I've noticed though, that if you turn to the Bible when "life gets hard', you may as well turn to it before life gets hard, rather than play catch up. But, it's nice to know there's help.

    • Peter M. Lopez profile image
      Author

      Peter M. Lopez 9 years ago from Sweetwater, TX

      Patty, thank you. I always appreciate you stopping by. Thanks for including the link. If anyone needs it, I hope they use it.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 9 years ago from North America

      I think you have plenty in your hub, but thought it was fuinny that there IS such a Dummies' Bible. LOL I didn't look up The Bible for Idiots... :)

    • Froggy213 profile image

      Greg Boudonck 9 years ago from On A Mountain In Puerto Rico

      Great hub!!

    • Peter M. Lopez profile image
      Author

      Peter M. Lopez 9 years ago from Sweetwater, TX

      Patty, I should have included it above. Someone might have actually bought it.

    • Peter M. Lopez profile image
      Author

      Peter M. Lopez 9 years ago from Sweetwater, TX

      Thanks, Froggy. I appreciate you stopping by.

    • profile image

      Eric 9 years ago

      Great post, bro. I've found myself in just about every one of those categories. Another great resource for techies is www.logos.com. Highest quality Bible software out there!

      Keep 'em coming.

    • Peter M. Lopez profile image
      Author

      Peter M. Lopez 9 years ago from Sweetwater, TX

      Thanks, Eric. I did list logos above, and from a pastor, that's quite an endorsement.

    • amy jane profile image

      amy jane 9 years ago from Connecticut

      Peter, what an awesome hub! I love your OCD reader discription - that would be me. It is mind boggling how much there is to learn, and yet reading one little verse can at times reveal more than hours of study. This is a super resource -thanks :)

    • Peter M. Lopez profile image
      Author

      Peter M. Lopez 9 years ago from Sweetwater, TX

      You are quite welcome, amy jane. It is very true, one lesson from God is worth all the hours of study in the world. I'm a recovering OCD reader myself.

    • Kenny Wordsmith profile image

      Ashok Rajagopalan 9 years ago from Chennai

      What a delightful hub! I believe, like you, that all we need to do is 'be' with the Bible and let it guide us. No tension, only peace.

      Thank you, Peter!

    • Peter M. Lopez profile image
      Author

      Peter M. Lopez 9 years ago from Sweetwater, TX

      I couldn't have said it better myself, Kenny.

    • WeddingConsultant profile image

      WeddingConsultant 9 years ago from DC Metro Area

      Peter, I know I'm late to chime in, but I just read through your hub above. What a great resource to those looking around and trying to find help. In a way, you published your own "dummies guide to reading the Bible". Great hub.

    • Peter M. Lopez profile image
      Author

      Peter M. Lopez 9 years ago from Sweetwater, TX

      It's never too late to chime in. Thanks, WC, I'd hoped it would be a resource for anyone wondering how to. I appreciate your kind words.

    • SparklingJewel profile image

      SparklingJewel 9 years ago from upper midwest

      Main point to me is...go to you heart and ask, and you will be spoken to!

      Great Hub!

      Many Blessings

    • Peter M. Lopez profile image
      Author

      Peter M. Lopez 9 years ago from Sweetwater, TX

      Thanks, Sparkling-Jewel. To you as well.

    • Renee and Audra profile image

      Renee and Audra 9 years ago from VA

      Such an awesome hub. Thank you for making the bible relevent. I'm so glad He's prepared me through his word and continues to mold me. It's a God thing!

    • Peter M. Lopez profile image
      Author

      Peter M. Lopez 9 years ago from Sweetwater, TX

      Thank you, Renee and Audra. I must say, I had nothing to do with making the Bible relevant. I do, however, hope to expose people to it again or in a new way, perhaps.

    • Patience Virtue profile image

      Patience Virtue 9 years ago from All Over

      It's refreshing to me to find someone who is so open to all the different translations and different ways of reading the Bible, instead of condemning people who don't read the Bible one way. Thanks for being open and helpful!

    • Peter M. Lopez profile image
      Author

      Peter M. Lopez 9 years ago from Sweetwater, TX

      Thanks, Patience Virtue. Why should I condemn. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. I firmly believe that. I do think some translations are more literal, but if it's not in the Hebrew or the Greek, there is always some level of subjectivity. So, just enjoy it.

    • Encourager profile image

      Encourager 9 years ago from Cotswolds, UK

      Peter, very good hub. My wife bought a NLT Bible and I have been enjoying the new slant I am getting to the word. Re Bible reading plans I followed one for about 5 years and went though the whole Bible in 2 years and the new testament, psalms and proverbs each year, and I can honestly say my spiritual life went on to a new level. The anointing I received by spending time with the word can only be described as awesome! Blessings.

    • Peter M. Lopez profile image
      Author

      Peter M. Lopez 9 years ago from Sweetwater, TX

      Thanks, Encourager. Your comments are very encouraging. I hope your testimony is an encouragement to others.

    • Music Lady profile image

      Music Lady 9 years ago from Los Angeles

      Great hub! Twenty plus years ago I met an older gentleman who told us he had read the Bible from cover to cover every year of his adult life. At the time, I had read very little in the Bible. It sounded like such a good goal I was inspired to do the same.

      The first few times through the Bible I sure didn't understand a lot of it... especially the Old Testement. But, as you said, the book is alive. I always see something fresh and new. I especially like the Awesome Ending of the book!

    • Rob Jundt profile image

      Rob Jundt 9 years ago from Midwest USA

      Peter, I loved this hub. Daily refection on the Bible for me is not only a habit, but necessary! I find that reading God's word to us, (especially in the morning) charges my mind and soul for the day. Life has many hooks it sinks into you on a consistent basis, God pulls them out. Being relatively new to Hubpages, what an encouragement it is to read hubs such as this. I look forward to your other writing and hopefully write what's resting in my heart as well. Blessings!

    • Peter M. Lopez profile image
      Author

      Peter M. Lopez 9 years ago from Sweetwater, TX

      Thank you Music Lady. It does take a little while to start making connections, and understanding the symbolism, etc. However, the effort is always well worth it.

    • Peter M. Lopez profile image
      Author

      Peter M. Lopez 9 years ago from Sweetwater, TX

      I agree Rob. Man cannot live on bread alone but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God. How better to start your day.I encourage you in your reading and writing. Welcome to hubpages.

    • commentonthis7 profile image

      commentonthis7 9 years ago

      great hub i find that some of the name are harder for me to understand i can read a verse or two and not understand it and closed the bible and start to do something else then all at once it hits me and i get what the meaning of what it means and i go back and start reading somemore

    • Peter M. Lopez profile image
      Author

      Peter M. Lopez 9 years ago from Sweetwater, TX

      Thanks, commentonthis7. I appreciate you reading. I also encourage your Bible reading. I hope this helps.

    • profile image

      Mindy 8 years ago

      And Peter said, "Let there now be no more excuses. And it was so." Great hub!

    • Peter M. Lopez profile image
      Author

      Peter M. Lopez 8 years ago from Sweetwater, TX

      Thank you, Mindy. Yes, I had hoped to eliminate some of those non-excuses, hopefully this will provided some refreshment to those in need. I appreciate you reading.

    • UPStar profile image

      UPStar 7 years ago

      Hi! You wrote this two years ago, but when I went to give my hub the same title it wouldn't let me, so I thought I'd check this out! It's a great Hub! Mine is unpublished right now while it gets clkeaned up a bit, but I have a link to yours on it!

    • profile image

      Gabriel 6 years ago

      Find several Bible study guides in this page:

      http://www.thelordlovesyou.com/bible.htm

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