(How Anyone Can Easily Understand the Bible, Even When Reading It For the First Time)
I am often asked the question: “I want to start reading the Bible, but I don’t know where to begin. Can you help me?” While it would be easy to recommend a Bible reading plan (which I do, by the way) or give folks the obvious answer (“Hello… start in Genesis!), I thought it would be more fun to share the tips I wish someone would have told me when I was starting out with the Bible. Here are five keys that will transform your Bible reading and help you glean understanding, even if you’re reading it for the first time.
1. The Bible is a Library, not a Book
Sadly, many people are taught to study the Bible before they’ve even had a chance to read it. Because of this, we treat the Bible differently than any other book. When was the last time you received an email from your boss and instead of reading the entire thing from start to finish, you skipped down to the third paragraph and focused only on that? The Bible is a library composed of 66 books, and you should start by reading each one, one at a time, from start to finish. Reading part of one book and part of another, a few chapters here and a few there will likely do more to confuse you and give you wrong impressions than it will to ground you in the truth of Scripture.
2. Read First, Study Second
Because the Bible is a library composed of 66 books, you shouldn’t start studying the individual books until you’ve read all of them at least once. You must read before you study. Many people make the mistake of focusing on one passage of Scripture before they’ve read through the entire library or even the whole book that the passage is contained in. Once you’ve read through the entire library, if you then want to begin studying an individual book, you must begin by reading that entire book again, multiple times if possible. For instance, last year when I began teaching verse-by-verse through the Book of Revelation, I read the entire book straight through a dozen times before preparing my study. I’m not saying you have to read a book a dozen times before you can study it, but you should be familiar with the entirety of the book before you drill down into an individual passage contained within it.
3. Pick Up on the Genre
The Bible contains books, letters, and writings in many different genres, from historical narrative and wisdom literature to prophecy and apocalyptic literature, poetry, parables, and epistles. You do not need to be an expert on any one of these before you start reading the Bible, but you must at least be aware of the many different genres that exist in Scripture if you want to understand what you’re reading. When you’re reading a parable, that is very different from reading historical narrative or prophecy. As you read through the Bible and get familiar with the story of Scripture, I’m sure you’re going to come across certain passages that make you wonder: “what am I reading?” Don’t be concerned. There are plenty of resources out there that can help you distinguish between prophecy, narrative, and everything in between. The important thing is that as you read, you think about what you’re reading, ask questions, and pay attention to what’s going on in the story.
4. The Bible is Supernatural
If there is one thing about the Bible that should cause us to read it differently than any other book, it’s this: the Bible is the inspired Word of God. The Bible is unlike any book one could ever read because its author is God Himself. He inspired the human writers to record as his Holy Spirit gave them utterances (2 Timothy 3:16-17). The Bible contains God’s words, will, thoughts, and intentions. When you begin to read the Bible as a Christian, you need to remember that the book is living. It was and is inspired by the Holy Spirit, who wants to inspire you as you read it. Therefore, if you ask the Lord to open your eyes, to give you understanding, and to bring you into a deeper relationship with Him as you read, He will certainly do so. The essential thing to remember is this: God desires to reveal Himself to you as a Father when you read His book with a meek and grateful heart. We don’t get to pick and choose the things we like and don’t like. We don’t get to decide which parts are good or bad. You either take it as a whole, or you don’t take it at all. But I promise you: if you commit to reading His Book with humility, as someone who wants to encounter Him and be transformed, the Lord will certainly meet you at His Word and reveal himself to you.
5. The Bible Tells One Story – Focus on It!
One of the most common mistakes that people make is forgetting that even though the Bible is not one book, and even though each book has something unique to offer, all the books work together to tell one story. The story is His story, the story of our wonderful creator who gave us life, breath, purpose, meaning, and most importantly, who redeemed us from sin’s power. As you read the Bible from beginning to end, nothing will help you understand it more than focusing on the story of Scripture. If you can learn to read the Bible the way it was intended to be read, one book at a time, while focusing on the one story that Scripture is telling, you will be amazed at how much understanding God gives you even on your first time through.