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So far in our ‘How to Study the Bible’ series we have explored common mistakes people make, as well as important foundational concepts to understand as you approach the Bible. Now it is time to get really practical. There are a lot of great ways to approach the Bible, but here are a few suggestions on where to start.
- Speed. How fast should I read the Bible?
Should you try to read a little bit at a time or make it through large portions to get the big picture? My answer is, both. I think it is extremely important to continually have the big picture of the Bible on your mind. It is so valuable to be repeatedly refreshed of the major characters, ideas, themes, and flow of God’s big story. I’ve had friends of mine read the Bible in 90 days, which translates to roughly 15 chapters a day. It is a lot, but all of them have told me how helpful it was to see how God’s Word fits together. On the other hand, I believe it is also so crucial to see the details. There is so much depth to God’s Word and we don’t want to miss the specifics.
Therefore, my suggestion is to alternate. Engage in a Bible reading plan each year that takes you through the whole story. Then, pick out a few books that you want to focus on and designate a period of time to go slow and drink in the depth.
- How often should I read the Bible?
Most people I talk to would answer this question, “more than I’m currently doing.” People seem to always feel guilty about how much, or better yet, how little they read the Bible. So...how much is enough? Whenever you can, once a week, three times a week, every day, several times a day - which one is it?
When asking this question, it is important to remember the why.
What is your motivation for reading the Bible?
Remember, the Bible is not a magic pill that makes God like you more, but you read it because God is the source of life. So, the better question is, how often do you eat, or how often do you sleep? Every day, right? Why? Because both are essential to your life. Exactly. Those essentials are a part of your everyday life because your body needs those things to survive. The same is true with your spiritual soul. You and I both need to be in the Word of God on a regular basis. We need to consistently be reminded of God’s goodness and his love for us. How often is regularly? Repeatedly. Frequently. Routinely. The point is... I won’t give you a number because a number easily becomes a task, and a task misses the purpose.
My encouragement is to go back to the reason why, and ask the LORD what the Psalmist asks, “open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law (Psalm 119.14).” When God opens your eyes to his beauty, good luck staying out of there.
- What time of the day should I read the Bible?
In some Christian circles this is a hot topic of debate. Some believe that the first thing all Christians should do when they wake up in the morning is to start their day by spending time with God in the Word. Others say, night time is the right time. Still others say, just fit it in whenever. The question is, is one side right?
I think it is helpful to listen to those who feel strongly about a particular time of the day and understand why. Maybe you will find their reasoning helpful for you. But, it is my personal conviction that there is not one time that is more glorifying to God than another. My encouragement would be to find the time where you are alert and can be consistent. If you are dead to the world in the morning, Bible reading will quickly become a task. If the day gets too crazy, making time in the middle might be rushed. If you wait till the end of the day, will you have any energy left? Examine your own life and personality and pick a time in which you feel like you have the time and energy to go deep with God.
- Which one should I use?
This might be common knowledge to some and brand new information to others, but the Bible wasn’t written in English. The Old Testament was primarily written in Hebrew, while the New Testament was written in Greek. Each language has unique characteristics and has significant differences from English. Therefore, Bible scholars make an effort to take what was written in the original languages and translate it into our language. When scholars work on a translation, they have goals they are trying to accomplish, and their specific goals drastically impact their translation. Some translations make it the primary goal to be readable; wanting the modern reader to understand what is being said and able to read it smoothly. Translations like this take a thought for thought approach, or even paraphrase what is being said which makes for easier to read sentences. Others have a greater emphasis on precision to the form of the original language, so they focus more on a word for word translation, though this might produce a choppier read in English.
So...what should you do? You should be aware of which translation is which. Charts are available online that can tell you which translation lands where on the scale of “word-for-word” to “thought-for-thought.” With this information in mind, you can use different versions for different purposes. You can use the NASB or the ESV if you are trying to get closer to the original form, or you can use the NLT or the Message if you are getting confused and need a fresh way to look at a passage. My opinion is, the more the merrier. These versions are a gift from God, so use them as a resource to further your understanding, which should deepen your love. Just know what is what!
- What resources are out there?
We live in a day and age where we have an embarrassment of riches at our disposal. There are so many great resources out there that can help you understand and go deeper. Let me point you to four.
First, I would suggest a study Bible. I personally have the ESV study Bible and I love it. It has the biblical text as well as some study notes at the bottom which provide brief explanations. It also includes some background and other important information for each book of the Bible. This is a great tool.
The second tool I would recommend is a commentary. Commentaries are resources that systematically work through the Bible verse by verse and provide explanations of what is being said. The Bible Knowledge Commentary and The New Bible Commentary are examples of reasonably priced resources that are great places to start if you don’t already own any.
Third, start a journal. A great way to digest the Word of God is to write it out. This will take time, but this will afford you the time to think deeply about what is being said and give it a better chance of sinking in. Another way to use the journal is to write your reflections from your Scripture reading. Simply read the Bible, then write down what sticks out to you. Think about what is being said, and write thoughts, questions, and reactions.
Fourth, sermons. Not only should the church you are attending be a great source of learning God’s Word, but there are so many great sermons available online for FREE. Ask someone you trust for recommendations, and start there. Email me, and I’ll send you mine!
So, over the last several weeks you’ve found out what not to do when reading the Bible, gained a foundational understanding of God’s Word, and been equipped with the necessary steps to start making the Bible an important part of your everyday life. Now, watch in the coming weeks for my fifth and final post in the ‘How to Study the Bible’ series where we’ll see how you can take the knowledge and tools you’ve gained to really dig into the Bible and get the most out of God’s Word.