66 books written by 40 authors over 1,500 years can be a bit daunting to read. The Bible, however, is the only way that we can know God truly. Scripture is God’s Word, it’s His self-revelation. He is defining to us who He is, who we are, and what Creation is. If we don’t read His word we risk defining God after our own understanding rather than submitting to what He says. We must read it and handle it correctly (2 Timothy 2:15). Reading the Scriptures can be hard work. A cursory or brief scanning of Scripture can sometimes yield very wrong conclusions. Therefore, it is crucial to understand several principles for determining the correct meaning of Scripture.
Bible Version: ESV or NLT
Starting Book: Gospel of John
Duration: Read 10 mins a day
Start with Prayer & write down your favourite verse from the reading.
Begin with Prayer
When reading the Bible, the best place to start is not the reading itself but in prayer. Ask the Holy Spirit to impart understanding, for that is one of His functions. Just as the Holy Spirit guided the apostles in the writing of the New Testament, He also guides us in the understanding of Scripture. The Bible is God’s book, and we need to ask Him what it means. If you are a Christian, the author of Scripture—the Holy Spirit—dwells inside you, and He wants you to understand what He wrote. So, before reading pray something like, “God, quiet my soul & mind to hear your voice. Guide my reading and help me to receive what you want to communicate to me. Help me to lay aside my own bias and understand your Word as you intended it to be understood.”
“But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come” – John 16:13
Read in Context
After praying, start reading a chapter or larger section at a time. To understand the Bible properly, we cannot pull a verse out of the verses that surround it and try to determine the meaning of the verse outside of the context. We should always read the surrounding verses and chapters to discern the context. While all of Scripture comes from God (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21), God used men to write it down. These men had a theme in mind, a purpose for writing, and a specific issue they were addressing. To study the Bible, we should understand the background of the book we are studying: it’s helpful to know who wrote the book, to whom it was written, when it was written, and why it was written. Also, we should take care to let the text speak for itself. Sometimes people will assign their own meanings to words in order to get the interpretation they desire.
While there are tools such as commentaries or online Bibles that can help with providing context, an easy starting point is to set aside at least 10 minutes for your readings so that you can read more than just a few verses.
Don’t Read Alone
To understand the Bible properly, we should not think of ourselves as totally independent in our reading of the text. It is arrogant to think that we cannot gain understanding through the lifelong work of others who have studied Scripture. Some people, in error, approach the Bible with the idea that they will depend on the Holy Spirit alone and they will discover all the hidden truths of Scripture. Christ, in the giving of the Holy Spirit, has given people with spiritual gifts to the body of Christ. One of these spiritual gifts is that of teaching (Ephesians 4:11–12; 1 Corinthians 12:28). These teachers are given by the Lord to help us to correctly understand and obey Scripture. It is always wise to study the Bible with other believers, assisting each other in understanding and applying the truth of God’s Word.
So, if you read a verse or passage that you find hard to understand, ask someone else. Christianity is a communal faith, not a “lone wolf” faith. We are meant to grow together and asking questions and reading together in the context of a Connect Group, church service, or even one on one, is a great way to grow in our understanding of God.
Choose a Translation
Here’s the flat out truth: If we don’t understand it, we won’t read it. The Bible was originally written in Hebrew and Greek. One of the earliest translations to English was the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible, but today we have a variety of versions to choose from. Some translations focus on being more precise and are best for Bible study, while others focus on readability and are great for devotions.
We must differentiate a good translation and a bad translation however. ESV, NASB, NIV, & NET are great word-for-word translations of Scripture that accurately represent the content of the original manuscripts. NLT or CEB are easy to read thought-for-thought translations that communicate the theological principles in easy to understand language. The MSG is a commentary good for reading alongside a translation but does not accurately translate the original manuscripts. The Passion Translation is not a translation, but rather an interpretation by one man (rather than a team of scholars) and we recommend avoiding as it does not communicate what God originally intended.
Where Do I Start?
Not at the beginning. One of the most important things to understand is the difference between the Old Testament & the New Testament. The Old Testament provides the history of a people (Israel); the New Testament focus is on a Person (Jesus Christ). The Old Testament shows the wrath of God against sin (with glimpses of His grace); the New Testament shows the grace of God toward sinners (with glimpses of His wrath). The most important thing to understand is that many of the rules and commandments presented in the Old Testament are fulfilled in Jesus Christ. We live in a New Testament world now and so we recommend beginning there.
Start with the Gospel of John. A “Gospel” is the story of Jesus Christ. It is the foundation of our faith and is the best place to start. We recommend John’s as it provides a great insight into the character of God, not just the historical account of Jesus.
Where to next? After John’s gospel it’s good to progress somewhere that interests you. Acts describes the birth of the church and includes heaps of miracles. Romans, Ephesians, Galatians, & Corinthians are the Apostle Paul’s letters to churches and includes instructions for Christian living as well as in-depth details about what Christians believe. Psalms is a collection of songs about God. Proverbs are short statements of wisdom. Genesis is the story of Creation and God’s plan for Israel. Pick one that interests you and go from there!
As you read the Bible ask two questions:
- What does this teach me about God?
- What does this teach me about how I should live?
No doubt, as you read you’ll find one or two verses that seem to leap off the page. Maybe they speak to an issue you’ve been grappling with; maybe they answer a long held question; maybe they give you comfort or encouragement; maybe they provide an example to follow or avoid.
When a verse resonates with you, stop and write it down, word for word. Pause to let the message sink in because these words are God’s words to you. Then write down your thoughts about the verse and what you feel God is saying to you through that verse. You could also write down a prayer based on that verse.
Recommended Reading Plan
A great place to find guidance for Reading Plans is the YouVersion Bible App. If you would like advice from us here’s our recommended plan:
THE READING TIME:
10 minutes every day, beginning with prayer. Grab a paper Bible, pen, and notebook. Underline verses that interest you in the Bible. Select one verse from your reading and write the verse in your notebook, some thoughts below it, and a prayer related to that verse.
SUGGESTED READING PATHWAY:
- Gospel of John: This is a great starting point about the story of Jesus.
- Genesis & Exodus: The beginning of the Bible detailing Creation and the reason we need a saviour.
- Romans & Galatians: These are great to read next as they highlight the message of Jesus and how He fulfilled the Old Testament law.
- 1 John: A short letter about having assurance in the Love of God and His salvation.
- Gospel of Luke & Acts: Luke details the entire life of Jesus and then continues the story in Acts to explore the beginning of the church.
- Ephesians: Understanding the church and our identity in Christ.
- Colossians: Reinforcing the supremacy of Christ.
- James: Learn the practicalities of faith.
- Psalms: Beautifully written songs about God
- Joshua: The story of God’s people and their conquests.
- Daniel: A story about God’s faithfulness and standing strong in faith.
Other Books: by this time you should understand the overall arch of Scripture and can continue reading as you see fit.