Suggestions for Reading the Bible

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I’m going to chalk it up to a massive brain fart that I never thought to post something along these lines until now. As my faith and my reading are topics on this blog, this should’ve been a no-brainer. This may not be your thing, I understand; check back on Friday when I’ll be attempting to blend two other subjects – writing (fiction) and parenting.

There are books written on the subject of how and where and when to read the Bible (and according to Google, about 160,000,000 other articles out there) so keep in mind this is just my experience with a few suggestions at the end.

My Experience

As a Christian early in life, my introduction to reading the Bible was as a spiritual discipline. It was something I was encouraged to do in order to better understand what it is to say “I follow Jesus.” In my teens, this had more to do with answering the same two questions every day as I scanned assigned passages: “What is this passage saying?” and “How do I apply this to my life?” For every reading. Including Leviticus. If you’re familiar with some of the wild guidelines in early Israeli history the idea of applying any of it to your life should scare the socks off of you. Different place, different time. Still, day in and day out I completed the task. It became a habit. I did it hoping for an eventual revelation. I came to one that I doubt was intended: this didn’t work.

Maybe just drop the questions? Okay, so then reading the bible became a challenge. It was a New Year’s Resolution. Every day, a little bit more. Genesis to Revelation. Or, if I had found a particularly schizophrenic reading plan I could be jumping around Old Testament and New Testament throughout the year with nary a care in the world. It did bring a sense of accomplishment, but not much else.

Several years ago I put my own plan in action and have been loving it since. I read a chapter; I journal about it. I put down what annoys me. What doesn’t make sense. What is encouraging or inspiring. I put down questions – some that I have already gone back toย work out and others that I will eventually revisit. I got through the first five books (the Pentateuch) and got hung up on Moses. So I started reading literature, secular and Christian-based, on anything related to Moses, the Exodus, Bronze Age, Mount Sinai, Israel’s history, etc.. I’m still on this kick. When I hit a wall with the Pentateuch I visit another book of the Bible. I’m now in Isaiah and trying to figure out how to approach prophecy.

Here’s the deal: the Bible has 66 different books in it. Think of it more like a library than one giant manuscript. The books are different genres – it’s not a great idea to read the poetry in Song of Solomon and expect to go tell your lover that her hair is like a flock of goats (it won’t get you far) just because that’s what the Bible says. I have to be careful when reading the books at the beginning because they are meant to tell a history and reveal God not tell me exactly what to do right now. The biographies of Jesus (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) are written by four very different men who remember and recall different aspects of Jesus’ ministry. Back to Isaiah. It’s a book of prophecy. I’ve got to figure out the best way to approach that or I am likely to go down a side-street of Christian thinking that is not at all what the author intended.

Basic Suggestions

That’s how I’ve enjoyed it. Here’s what I would suggest to someone whoย was interested in tackling a reading of the Bible.

  • Get a modern translation. Unless you plan on tackling this in the original Greek and Hebrew, get one that is translated into the language you speak. My preference is the New International Version for English speakers.
  • Don’t start in Genesis and try to read through 66 books to Revelation – if you make it through Leviticus and Numbers you’ll eventually run into the First and Second Chronicles which are basically a family tree of begats.
  • For order, I’m going to borrow from what my pastor recommends: start with one of the biographies in the New Testament (Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John). Then for a quick whiz-bang-pow synopsis of what being a Christ-follower should look like, read the quick book of James. Maybe back to Genesis for a sense of where God’s commitment to humanity started.
  • And then, have at it. Go where it takes you. Some of my favorites are Proverbs (nuggets of wisdom in digestible sizes from King Solomon); Esther (girl-power and all that jazz); and Romans (a letter Paul wrote to the church of Rome; he has a direct, no-nonsense style).

Good luck!

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