Wednesday, May 6, 2020

The Bible: Where do I start?

Diane is grinning, carrying a stack of heavy Bibles.

The Big Idea: If you are new to studying the Bible, here are some pointers about how to start reading it. 

The Bible is a big heavy book that can weigh a lot. The issues discussed are weighty too. Let's face it. There are things in the Bible that are confusing: those verses that stump you, those verses that, well, you aren't even sure what they are talking about. Or perhaps you are using a version of the Bible that sounds like Shakespeare. It doesn't sound the way people talk anymore. Is that how God talks?

A few pointers

Don't give up. The Bible is a huge library about God. It is made up of 66 different books, split into the Old Testament and the New Testament. It is relevant for every day we live, with advice for our problems and relationships giving us values, attitudes, illustrations of every kind of emotion you can imagine. Most importantly, it shows us how to know God, our creator and the way to live with Him forever after you leave this world. 

 Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path. Psalm 119:105 New Living Translation (NLT)

The Spirit alone gives eternal life. Human effort accomplishes nothing.
And the very words I have spoken to you are spirit and life.  John 6:63 New Living Translation (NLT)

Read a version you understand

 If you are brand new to Bible study this is especially important. There are a lot of different versions of the Bible now. Some are intended for an international audience. Some are designed to be an informal understandable language. Some are focused on accuracy to the original ancient languages of which the Bible was written (mostly Hebrews and Greek). Because of electronic versions online, it is very easy to try out different versions If you want a version that is very easy to read and quite accurate, check out the New Living Translation (NLT). If you wish to have a very accurate translation, try the English Standard Version (ESV) or the New American Standard Bible (NASB).

Here is a good guide from the American Bible Society

Here is a more detailed discussion about how multiple translations developed and what their differences are.

Ask the Holy Spirit for help

One of the Holy Spirit's purposes is to help us understand the Bible and the things of God. 1 Corinthians 2:10 (NLT) tells us It was to us that God revealed these things by his Spirit. For his Spirit searches out everything and shows us God’s deep secrets. Ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom each time you read the Bible. Ask him to reveal the meaning, the truth of God and his Word, to you.

Start here...

If you are just beginning and don't know much about the Christian walk, a very good place to begin is the Gospel of John. Any of the four Gospels are great because they tell us the story of the life of Jesus on earth. John is a particularly good book because it explains the story and explains well Jesus' mission on earth. On the Christian life, my favorite book is Philippiens. It has a theme of joy, even in the middle of severe hardship.

Many who have been Christians for a long time have a favorite book of the Bible. If you are new, you might want to ask an experienced Christian what is their favorite book of the Bible. What is their favorite verse and why?

Mark up your Bible

Cheat sheet of colors and symbols for different topics in the Bible
If you have a paper bound Bible learn to write in it. Underline favorite verses. Mark a verse that changed your life or really spoke to you. You can put the date there, or the name of the Pastor who preached on that verse.

  • It will be easier to find verses you want to remember.
  • It will be easier to share a verse or passage with a friend.
  • It will help you remember important lessons.
  • It will help organize and categorize what you've learned.
  • It will be a journal type record of what God has taught you.
Avoid ballpoint pens as they tend to bleed over time. You might find it useful to have a color code and use colored pencils. This is what I did with my first serious Bible I received for Christmas when I was 16 ... I underlined verses about Salvation in green. Black indicated sin. Pink was the Christian life. You could use whatever color you want. This is your Bible, and your tools. I used symbols for topics as well. Here is the page of codes from that Bible from the 70s, and a page from that Bible.

I got a lot of great training for Bible reading on a summer mission trip when I was 16. The organization, called Teen Missions, International , created this guide for studying the Bible and I made the markings my own. Used with permission.

Teen Missions Intl information sheets for marking the Bible.

Your daily bite

Yes, I said bite. That's a good way to start if the task seems overwhelming. The Bible is food for your soul, for your Christian life. The Bible makes the analogy that God's Word is like food. Jesus quoted the Old Testament when he said, " The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ " Matthew 4:4 (NLT) (quoting Deuteronomy 8:3)

Just as you would eat food every day, read something from the Bible every day. You may say:

It's hard to imagine it.
It could be boring.
I don't have the time.
Maybe I won't understand anything. First things first. Pray before you read, asking for God to teach you.

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. 2 Timothy 3:16 New Living Translation (NLT)

When I was a teen at a Bible Camp, the speaker challenged us to start reading the Bible every day. At the least, he said, commit to read one verse a day. If you read more, great. If not, at least you are reading God's Word. In one year you will find that this has changed your life. I took that challenge. I started with one verse a day. But the funny thing was, as time went on I developed a hunger for what the Bible said. I started gobbling it up like a kid eating their favorite ice cream every day. It did change my life. My parents saw the hunger and bought me that Christmas Bible. I decided to go on a mission trip for teenagers. That trip too, changed my life.

It's OK to start reading one verse a day. Maybe, just maybe, you'll get hungry for more!

Diane is reading her first Living Bible, now falling apart.

Up Next: God's Word! So Inspiring!

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  1. I recognize the cover of that Bible! The binding is broken - a well used and loved book.


    1. Yes! I still have it and it brings me such comfort and encouragement!