The Bible is a very large book—actually sixty-six books collected together in one volume!—and it is very old, even if you read it in a modern English translation. Yet many people, including myself, still want to read and study it. Here are seven tips if you are starting out.
1. Use a good, modern translation.
One of the best (and certainly the most popular in the English-speaking world) is the New International Version. A translation like this aims for both accuracy in translation from the original languages and good expression in contemporary written English. It makes reading and study of the Bible possible.
2. Don’t be afraid to just start reading. Dive in.
Many people find the most accessible place to start is one of the four “gospels”: Matthew, Mark, Luke or John (Mark is the shortest). Each of these gives an account of the life of Jesus. Understanding one of them will give you good tools for tackling other parts of the Bible.
3. Prepare to enter the ancient world.
Even the last parts of the Bible are almost 2,000 years old, dating from the time of the Roman Empire. Many of the people, places, customs and ways of thinking at first seem strange. A good Bible dictionary—such as The New Bible Dictionary published by IVP—can be invaluable. An online search will also (generally) tell you who’s who, and what’s what. (But just like other internet searches, make sure you are getting your information from somewhere trustworthy. Be careful of sites that seem to focus on only one particular perspective or obscure detail. Look for good websites like thebibleproject.com)
4. Understand that the Bible has many genres, from historical narrative and law codes to prophecy, poetry, “gospels” and letters.
Learn to become attuned to the “sort” of writing each part of the Bible is. Sometimes it’s obvious. But often a good introduction to particular books of the Bible is useful (such as can be found in The New Bible Commentary, also published by IVP).
5. Be prepared to see the big picture—the “metanarrative” of the whole Bible.
Although the Bible has many parts, there is one overarching story. That’s what makes the study of the Bible so rewarding. It fits together. Learn to see how it tells this all-connected, epic story about God reaching out to save the human race.
6. If at all possible, find people you can study the Bible with.
One of the best ways is to find a local church—and/or a Bible college—where the Bible is taken seriously and taught well. It’s often far better than trying to do it solo!
7. Don’t simply read the Bible, nor simply learn facts about it.
Wrestle with it.
Pray over it.
Seek to understand how it can intersect with life in the twenty-first century. After all, it presents itself as precisely that sort of practical, real-life book. As you make it part of your life, you may end up “getting it” better than some university professors!
If you want to know more, you could try a book like the widely-recommended How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, by Fee and Stuart (now in its 4th edition), published by Zondervan.