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  • Gladys Childs

Confused? Lost? Not making sense? Simple steps on how to read the bible.

Mac from Utah messaged this to me at my Instagram account:

I know we need to read our bible. I struggle with just reading through the whole thing. How do I read the bible?

Good question. One I have been asked a lot of times at work and church. While there is no one right way to read the bible...even if some people say so, there are things you can do to make your time in the scriptures more engaging and fruitful.

First, what version of the bible are you using? Pick one that you find is easy to read and understand.

While I know some seminaries, theologians, and lay people say the King James version of the bible is the only version anyone should ever read, I am going to go out on a social media limb and will risk condemnation by saying, it just ain't true. People, it just ain't true.

King James authorized this translation to be written in 1604 and it was completed in 1611. Yes, 1611, when people in England were speaking Elizabethan English. That is why this version sounds like you are reading Shakespeare. There is nothing wrong with Elizabethan English, the King James version of the bible, or Shakespeare. However, that was the language of that time period. Language changes over time. How people speak and the words people use are always evolving. In 500 years, the language of today will seem odd to the people in 2722.

To find a new version to read, I would recommend going to BibleGateway. Here you can enter a bible passage and then select the version you want to read. One can even compare the versions and see what best fits him or her. Here are just a few to start with: English Standard Version (ESV), Common English Bible (CEB), and The Message (MSG).

Here is just an example of one verse below and the various version translations:

Psalm 119:93 (King James Version)
I will never forget thy precepts: for with them thou hast quickened me.
Psalm 119:93 (English Standard Version)
I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have given me life.

Psalm 119:93 (Common English Bible)
I will never forget your precepts because through them you gave me life again.

Psalm 119:93 (The Message)
What you say goes, God, and stays, as permanent as the heavens. Your truth never goes out of fashion; it’s as relevant as the earth when the sun comes up. Your Word and truth are dependable as ever; that’s what you ordered—you set the earth going. If your revelation hadn’t delighted me so, I would have given up when the hard times came. But I’ll never forget the advice you gave me; you saved my life with those wise words. Save me! I’m all yours. I look high and low for your words of wisdom. The wicked lie in ambush to destroy me, but I’m only concerned with your plans for me. I see the limits to everything human, but the horizons can’t contain your commands! (Note: The translator for this version is not always so wordy. I like this version and use it sometimes.)

It sounds like you want to read the bible in its entirety. You should. How can we call ourselves Christians if we have not even taken the time to read through the entire bible. So secondly, start reading in the New Testament. Yes, the New Testament, which is in the second part of the bible. Just because we start reading most books from the front, does not mean it always works. I would say the bible is one of the books that you do not start from the beginning. Reading the New Testament first engages you immediately into the life of Jesus and the beginnings of the Christian church. And there is no scripture that says, "Thee shouldest did read thy bible from the beginning." (I translated that into Elizabethan English just for fun.)

Thirdly, if the goal is to read the bible in its entirety, after reading the New Testament, begin reading the Old Testament. Begin with Genesis and work your way through to the end of this testament. To be completely honest, there will be sections of books or maybe even a whole book that you will think you are going to die before you complete it. (Do not hate me, everyone knows this is true, they just will not say it.) Being a bit frustrated, at times, is normal. The reason people tend to struggle a bit with certain sections is because culture (and what is important to that culture) changes over time...just like language.

There is a reason all the books in the Old Testament are there, they each serve a beautiful and needed purpose. I will not get into that in-depth discussion here, because that is its own blog, instead I will give one short example. If you are reading a long list of "who begot who," it might be trying to: make claims about social roles, organize a narrative, tell the difference between insiders and outsiders, tell a story, or tell us where Jesus came from. When we understand the purpose and context of a book, it helps us engage with it more. You can buy a study bible and it will provide scholarly information to help you better understand the context of the scriptures. Just Google "study bibles."

Fourth, read the bible in small bites. It is not a speed-reading contest. There is nothing wrong with reading large swaths of scripture at a time, but if the goal is to read the bible in its entirety, then pace yourself. Give yourself one year or two years to accomplish this goal. Yes, it can be done faster, but learning from the bible and soaking it in as you go will do you more good than winning the "who can read through the bible the fastest contest." You can buy one year or two study bibles which break up the daily readings for you. There are apps and online versions available too.

In closing, in one of my college New Testament classes I taught, I had two Muslim students take the class. They were horrified when I asked, "For the Christians in the room, who has read the entire bible?" Only one student raised his hand. The Muslim students said that they could not believe Christians would not read their scriptures and one said, and I quote, "How can you call yourself a Christian if you do not even know what your scriptures say?" I asked the Muslim students if they had read their scriptures, the Qur'an, and they looked at me as if I was crazy as they answered, "Yes. To be a Muslim is to read the Qur'an."

To be a Christian is to read the bible.

My prayer for you and others who are struggling to read the bible: "God, be with Mac and other individuals who struggle with reading the bible. Let them know it is okay, You will guide them to the plan that works for them. I pray as they read the scriptures, they will learn more about You and Your love, grace, mercy, and awesomeness. May they connect with the people in the bible and learn from their lives. Help them when they struggle through certain sections and give them understanding and strength to continue. May they learn how to bring honor and glory to You through their study. Amen."

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Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

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