Hello friends, Robert here.
I was talking to a friend the other day about reading the Bible and they said they were going to start from the beginning and read through the end…
Now, somewhere along the way, many of us have had this similar notion. When I received my first Bible, at the age of 21, I thought I was going to do the same thing. Yeah right. I enjoyed the beauty of Genesis, I loved the deliverance in Exodus, but Leviticus left me in the dark. I’m sure that many of you have had a similar experience.
So, I’ve come up with a few pieces of advice for any of you who are feeling moved to read your Bible. I think it’s great that you’re actually going to read the Bible and try to journey through the text on your own.
-Use a Bible that you can actually read. I do not recommend the King James Version. It is a very good translation of the early texts, but it is written in a version of English that will be very unfamiliar to you. I personally prefer the New Revised Standard Version, but many consider the gender neutral language to be unfaithful and heretical. So, if you’re afraid that you’ll turn into an “evil” progressive Christian (like myself), stick with the New International Version. The NIV is a pretty faithful translation and it’s often used by both conservative and progressive Christians alike.
–DO NOT try to read the Bible from Genesis straight through to Revelations…you’ll never do it. You’ll get bored, you’ll get discouraged, and you’ll be confused. The Bible is not a novel, it is an anthology. The Bible is not one book, it’s a collection of books bound together. Some books are about history, some books are filled with wisdom quotes and poetry, and some books are actually letters.
-I would suggest starting with one of the Gospels. The Gospel texts are Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The Gospels are the only four books of the Bible that actually tell the story of Jesus’ ministry. The Gospels are not autobiographies, Jesus did not write them. The Gospels are not biographies, they don’t fit the literary style. The Gospels do their best to explain the teachings, ministry, and mission of Jesus of Nazareth. Outside of a couple of birth narratives (Matthew and Luke) and one childhood story, the Gospels only talk about roughly three years of Jesus’ life. By reading one of these first, you will begin to learn about the nature of Jesus and it will help give you a lens through which to view the rest of the Bible. Martin Luther would recommend that you read the Gospel of John, but I recommend the Gospel of Luke. You’ll be safe with either one, or heck, all four of them are really good.
-After you’ve read one of the Gospels, move on to one of Paul’s letters. There was a guy names Paul, he used to kill Christians, but then he went through a conversion experience. After that, he became one of the greatest Christian missionaries who helped establish and nurture many Christian communities. Paul wrote letters to these Christian communities and other Christian leaders, and we have them in our Bible. In fact, most of the New Testament (13 out of 27 books) consists of Paul’s letters (or letters ascribed to Paul, more about that another day). These letters helped the communities he was writing to, and still help us today, understand the importance of Jesus and what He has done for us on the cross. I would highly suggest starting with Romans or Galatians.
-After you’ve read one of the Gospels and one of Paul’s letters, I’m going to put the ball in your court. Feel free to explore the rest of the texts, try another Gospel or letter from Paul. Maybe you’ll be brave enough to go back and check out Exodus (which will bear many similarities to elements of the Gospel story). Or, perhaps you’ll feel compelled to go read about one of the prophets. (I really enjoy Amos and Micah) However, whatever you decide to read next, I encourage you to do some background reading about the book and the context in which it was written. This will help you understand what you’re getting into. If you have a study Bible, read the 1-2 page intro about the book you are about to read. Or heck, look it up on Wikipedia. You’ll be glad you did.
I hope I’ve brought some clarity to the subject of reading your Bible. Explore the Beauty, Wisdom, and Grace that the text has to offer. And, if you have any questions, don’t be afraid to ask me or any other Pastor. God can handle your questions, and you are certainly not the first person to ask them.
Grace and Peace to you.