CAN I TRUST THE BIBLE?
See this short video for three great recommendations:
The video is intended as satire, but the three titles it recommends are all great places to start:
I also recommend Understanding the Big Picture of the Bible by Wayne Grudem and others.
If you’re interested in recorded talks on the subject, I recommend these:
Amy Orr-Ewing, a very good and understandable philosopher, discusses how the Bible holds up to contemporary historical criticism in this video.
I also highly recommend the Why We Believe the Bible series by John Piper, covering the subject in five video talks.
WHAT TRANSLATION SHOULD I READ?
I recommend reading the New International Version (NIV) or the English Standard Version (ESV). However for reading larger portions of the Bible, a lot of people like the New Living Translation (NLT). I don’t recommend the NLT for your “standard” Bible, but it can be a nice reading Bible if you’re not studying a smaller passage but trying to read, for example, the whole Gospel of Luke in one or two sittings.
WHAT STUDY BIBLE DO YOU RECOMMEND?
If you are just starting to read the Bible and are starting to crave some kind of help, you don’t need to buy a bunch of reference books right away. A good study Bible might be all you need. They provide introductions to each book, and notes about passages that may be difficult to understand, require an understanding of background information, or be difficult to figure out how they best apply to your life.
The study Bibles that I recommend are the NIV Study Bible and the NIV Life Application Study Bible (both available in large print). Both of these are very good and have been done by trustworthy scholars. The ESV Study Bible is also great, and may be the best study Bible being printed in English right now. There are other very good ones, but I don’t want to confuse anyone with too many recommendations. If you’re looking for a Bible for a teenager, the NIV Student Bible is pretty good.
If you’re looking for a good children’s Bible, The Jesus Storybook Bible edited by Sally Lloyd Jones would be my recommendation.
WHAT TOOLS WILL GET ME STARTED?
The Look at The Book video series by Desiring God Ministries is a great resource for people who want to see how to read the Bible in real time. John Piper walks you through studying a Bible passage in a way that both teaches you the passage you’re studying and shows you HOW to study a passage.
For a collection on other talks about Scripture, see this list of talks offered at a Desiring God conference in 2014 .
Any of the four books recommended above are also great resources for getting started.
WHERE SHOULD I START READING?
Here is the order I recommend for people starting to read the Bible:
6. Genesis and Exodus
7. 1 John
There is nothing magical about a list like this. Generally speaking, it’s best to read one of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) so that you can get a sense of the life of Jesus. The book of Acts is the story of the earliest moments of the Church after Jesus ascended to heaven. It tells the story of the earliest Christians in the work of God’s Spirit.
Epistles (letters written to the churches) like Galatians and Philippians give direct instructions about what it means to believe the gospel to follow Jesus. Then it is good to read some of the Old Testament books that are constantly being referred to in the New Testament, Genesis and Exodus being the most important.
You want to read the whole Bible eventually, but it’s good to read a good portion of the New Testament before you go about trying to read the whole Old Testament. Still, there are some books in the Old Testament that are helpful to understand. A good Bible mentor can really help you with this.
HOW DO I GET THE BACKGROUND KNOWLEDGE I NEED?
There are many online Bible dictionaries where you can simply type in whatever you aren’t familiar with and find out what it is. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia is in the public domain, is searchable on the Internet, and is entirely theologically trustworthy. If you want to buy a physical book, the New Bible Dictionary published by InterVarsity Press is a great single volume, but it’s going to run you about $30.
HOW DO I GET SOMEONE TO WORK WITH ME, LIKE A MENTOR?
Look around and ask. If you’re just starting out, many questions that will seem hard to you can be answered by almost anyone who’s been studying the Bible for a little while. Sunday classes are a great place to ask questions, since these are environments specifically designed for learning and Bible study. Small groups can also be good places. If you have any trouble, the Christian education department, or our pastoral staff or elders can always help hook you up with someone. Finding someone who can help get you going in reading the Bible isn’t hard if you’re willing to reach out even a little bit. If you find it awkward to find someone relationally, just email or call the office, and we will get you rolling.
WHAT PRACTICES SHOULD I TRY?
- Try reading large portions of the Bible without stopping. If you’re around some Christians, you’ll see them trying to get everything they can out of just one line, or even one word. This is usually evidence that this sort of person either knows very little about the Bible or very much. Either way, one of the first steps to really becoming a student of the Bible is not reading tiny versus, but large portions. Just sit down in a quiet place with something that will help you concentrate (like a nice cup of chai) and just read at a nice leisurely pace. If you find it very difficult, just flip to a different part of the Bible. Keep doing that until you find something you find interesting without having to work too hard at it.
- Start having a seven minute “quiet time.” This would simply include getting in a quiet place, praying and asking God to speak to you through his word, reading the Bible for about three minutes, thinking for a couple minutes and maybe jotting down some thoughts about what you are meant to learn. Then pray with a mind toward application, asking God to help you accept and apply what you learn. You’d be surprised how much you can do in just seven minutes.
- Listen to the Bible on audio. There are lots of Bible programs and apps out there that let you listen to the Bible in audio format. The YouVersion Bible app is a free tool for this. It’s been downloaded more than 150 million times. Apparently it ain’t bad. If you have a long commute, it may be worth investing in some MP3 CDs like these. Remember, most of the Bible was written to be heard read out loud. Most people couldn’t afford books, and the biblical authors understood that most people would hear another person read what they had written out loud. The Bible is actually designed more for hearing then for reading. Sometimes you’ll get things out of listening to the Bible you simply won’t get out of reading it.
- Start journaling about what you’re learning in the Bible rather than about your feelings. By all means, if you have time, journal about your feelings too. However, much educational research has demonstrated that we learn and remember the things we write down. There is an old saying that that which passes over the tongue or is written by the hand grows clearer and is remembered. What things do you want to be clear in your own mind? What is it that you want to remember? Journal about those things first. I recommend journaling about what you’re learning reading the Bible.
- Attend a Sunday class that is studying a book of the Bible. This is the quickest and easiest way to get involved in learning how to study and understand the Bible. Sunday classes are classes designed explicitly and specifically to help people understand the Bible in general and a particular book the Bible in particular. This is why we have them. We intentionally have children’s ministry during them too, so that you can go and benefit from them.
- Read the Bible with others. This can be either studying the Bible with another person in real time, or starting an agreed-upon passage and then coming together to talk about what you learned and what you think you found. Again, Sunday classes are among the best places to do this, but a one-on-one mentor will often produce the most growth the fastest.