I was late to the party. I was in my 30s before I started reading the Bible. I mean, I had touched them here and there, even opened them once or twice, and had somehow memorized the 23rd Psalm from hearing people speak it at funerals or in movies. So basically, I knew nothing.
I have been going to church weekly for about 7 years. And about three years ago, I got the calling to go to grad school to learn how to counsel people biblically. I have always been an adviser and helper. But I wanted to know how to help people in a more meaningful, less self-serving (for me and for them) way.
I had to take a Bible test to get into grad school. There was no minimum score requirement, but I knew as soon as I opened the test that I was in trouble, or at least my ego was. The proof that I knew nothing about Scripture was about to be emailed to a Christian college. I pictured a room full of theologians talking about what an idiot I was. I had an urge to cheat on my Bible test. Oh, the irony.
School has required me to learn a lot about the Bible. But mostly, I have really wanted to learn for my own sake. I want to know how to apply Jesus’ teachings to my life. I wanted to be more like Him: a better counselor, teacher and just plain kinder.
I never had a picture Bible as a kid. I didn’t grow up knowing that Jonah lived inside a whale, or that David killed a giant. I didn’t see colorful illustrations of Moses floating in a basket. I didn’t know that Genesis came first or that Revelations came last, or that there were four “Gospels.” I still need a table of contents for some books, and in case you were wondering Habakkuk is an actual book of the Bible, not a hiccup with a vengeance.
So I want to help you faithful friend. If you want to learn more about God’s word but you don’t know where to start, I have some tips from my personal experience. Those stuffy theologians in the room laughing might disagree with me, but so what. I am here to serve God and you, not them.
Here are my tips:
- There are lots of kinds of Bibles–KJV, NKJV, NIV, NLT, ESV, and the Message just to name a few. Don’t stress over which one is “best.” Read what makes sense to you for now. You can get picky later.
- I like the NIV or NLT for an ease of understanding without too casual of language (like in the Message, which has it’s uses too but is sort of the outcast for traditional Christians because it is so informal and further away from the original script.)
- Speaking of informal, if you just want to know Bible stories, pick up your kid’s Bible and read it in the simplest terms (alone or with your kid.) You can build on this knowledge later.
- Bibles are not translations of translations–This is a myth. Bibles are translated from their original Greek or Hebrew text into the new “version.” Language changes so it’s okay that we translate the Bible into words we understand. Otherwise, only those who spoke Hebrew and Greek could learn the Word of God. Not fair, right?
- Get a study Bible–I have a big fat NIV study Bible on my desk/nightstand. It is amazing because it tells me:
- The setting
- The author
- The meaning of each book
- Cross references (other verses that relate)
- The meaning of each verse
- The meaning of words as they are used in their context
- How to find topics in the Bible (look up “love” in the index and be prepared to be sent on a journey!)
- Get a Bible App–There are tons of them (I use YouVersion) and most have a verse of the day and reading plans. Some have videos too, and plans to do with kids.
- Don’t get upset with yourself if you don’t stay on track with a “plan.” I am like 180 days behind on a one-year plan, yet I have read the Bible almost every day since I started the plan. Sometimes I am “led” in a different direction. The plan is to help; not to make you feel like a loser.
- Some plans are better than others–A blended plan helps you read through both Testaments at same time, but you might not understand the context within which they were written because the sections they give you are small and that leaves you keeping up with three or four stories at once.
- Consider a Chronological Bibles–The Bible is collected into books that are logical, often by author, and topical. Sometimes, they do not follow the history class order that we are used to. A chronological Bible tells the Bibles stories in the order that they happened.
- Warning–The Old Testament is long and sometimes hard to read if you don’t have someone to ask questions. Leviticus is crazy dry, and Job made me super mad when I first read it.
- Find a Bible buddy–Ideally, they will know more than you about the Bible. If they don’t, then they should at least be willing to learn about the actual meaning of the text with you. Reading one book at a time is a great way to go through the Bible with a friend.
- Keep historical setting in mind–Times change, but biblical truths and values do not. Be careful to not to jump to conclusions on what the Bible supports. Yes, slavery was a fact of life then, and the Bible has instructions for slaves and slave owners, yet it never condones slavery. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and use “commentaries” (books that tell you about the meaning of verses.) We can still learn from these verses but we need to understand them in their historical context first.
I hope these tips help get you started. If you have any questions just ask. I saw a meme recently that said something like, “Just getting started has you running laps around those on the couch.” Is it time to get off your spiritual couch and get in gear?
Don’t worry friend, we are this together.