It’s a good New Year’s resolution: Read the Bible this year. Maybe you’ve tried it before and haven’t gotten too far, or maybe you’re familiar with the Bible and yet reading it feels like trying to put together a complex jigsaw puzzle without the benefit of the completed picture on the box top.
The Bible is a lengthy, complex, and deeply challenging book to read and understand.
It was written over a period of roughly fifteen hundred years by dozens of authors in three different languages. To further muddy the waters, the books are not arranged chronologically making a linear reading of the story difficult. Imagery is unfamiliar and our translations don’t always communicate the nuances of ancient languages. Add to that the vast cultural differences between then and now, and it’s no wonder we get confused.
It is also the inspired Word of God and a magnificent expression of the character, love, and work of God in and through human history.
There are great rewards for those who persist.
Here are four suggestions to help you begin to read and understand the Bible.
1. Just do it. You have to start somewhere so just jump in and start reading, if possible with the help of a good Bible study to help you place the particular book you are reading within the larger context of the Bible. My understanding of the Bible has been informed by the excellent materials and format of Community Bible Study. If there is a CBS class near you, take advantage of it!
2. Pray. Really. The Bible is far more than a story, deeper than literature, and light-years beyond self-help advice. It is supernaturally powerful, and will only be understood with the help of the Spirit of God. The protagonist of the biblical story is God himself; let His Spirit inform your reading.
3. Understand the over-arching narrative. This will take time, but the sooner you get the big picture, the better each piece will fit in. The short version of the story is this: Creation (Genesis 1-2), Fall (Genesis 3), God’s redemptive plan (Genesis 4-Jude), Restoration (Revelation). (For more, see Childhood, Adolescence, Adulthood, and a Mid-life Crisis: A Guide to Reading the Bible.)
4. Start with Jesus. All of the Old Testament points to Jesus, the Gospels are the accounts of his earthly life, death and resurrection, and the rest of the New Testament is the history and writings of the Apostles as they began to follow their Savior. Jesus is the focal point of the entire Bible.
I once worked a jigsaw puzzle of a mountain scene with a lighted cabin as its focal point. Starting with the lighted cabin I began to place pieces around it, and eventually it was complete.
Do you regularly read the Bible? If not, why not? If so, how do you put all the pieces together?
“For the word of God is alive and active.” Hebrews 4:12