Updated: Jun 2, 2022
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I’ve researched “how to read the Bible” for some time before I dug in. I came up with endless, different instructions. One article says read it in one order while another talks about a different order. Some say start at the beginning, many say don’t. Why would anyone suggest not reading it in order? Because it’s not just a book. It’s a library.
What exactly is the Bible?
Looks like a book. Moving on...
No. That’s a joke.
Stop messing with my head, and with the headings
What is your problem?
I’m feeling a bit sarcastic right now.
I’ll be serious
The Bible is not just a book. It appears that way; but it’s actually more sophisticated and, I think, pretty cool... it’s a portable library.
Back in the day, just before the Bible came together; the world was full of written texts, personal accounts, instructions, songs and spiritual reference. Back then there were things called “Innnnnk” and “paaaaaaper”. Obviously there were no electronic tablets, laptops or large reprinting facilities. Mass production of publications did not yet exist; so the works we see in the Bible today were scattered all over, under the care of different people in many different places.
That was a bit inconvenient for people who wanted to explore them. So a group of people took on the charge of gathering them into one “book” where it would become much easier to study them. That’s when the Bible was born. So it’s not actually one book, it’s many books and publications put into one easy to reference place.
I’ve heard so many people recite “the Bible was written by people”, when supporting the idea that it’s not really the manual to life. “What? Manual to life? There is no such thing, right?”.
God speaks to us in so many different layers of so many different ways. Humans are often looking for signs that are straight forward and measurable by conventional means. If something doesn’t enter our senses and immediately click, we often disregard any possible messages that are embedded in our every-day experience.
“Signs and wonders” does not refer to Stevie’s family going on a road trip (waiting for the joke to click...); they are truth. We see them every day once we turn off the filters in the brain that only accept safe explanations. But they’re not the only ways God speaks to us.
Often times in my own life He will speak to me through people. For example; I was recently up in the middle of the night, angry about something happening to my family and I. The next day, a guy on one of my social media accounts posted something that directly related to the unusual situation we’re in. The post was an acknowledgement of our type of experience, along with the message “don’t give up”.
This kind of thing happens to us a lot. It’s not about random, easy alignments like “Oh woah! I was thinking about orange juice yesterday and today I saw Orange juice at the grocery store! God is talking to me!”. The things that Christians like myself take as messages are very specific and directly related to often unusual situations; the kind you’re not going to find in any normal conversation.
What I believe about the Bible comes from beyond some person just putting ink on paper for the sake of writing. I believe God used the words and experiences of those who wrote it, to speak to all of us. And when a being has the power to orchestrate an entire universe, I don’t think organizing a relatively small library is a problem. In other words, the information the Bible gives us is exactly what God needs us to know. It is, by his design, the manual to life.
Should I read the Bible in its own order?
Most everything I’ve read said “no”, and I agree. I’m not saying you don’t have the right. Read it in whatever order you read it in. But remember, the Bible is a library not just a book. When people go to their local, public library; they don’t walk in and just grab any title that starts with the letter “A”. They go in for what they want or need at that moment.
So while it may be good for some to follow a pre-laid plan, I suggest something different; let it unfold however it will for you. In other words, let God be the librarian. As crazy as it might sound, for Grace and I it was the best way. Not only does it keep us open for God to speak to us through the Bible, there are times when it gets downright uncanny.
Whether in the middle of a crisis or in need of words as weapons against the enemy; we often get something to read that has an obvious, sometimes mind blowing connection to something relevant in our lives. It doesn’t just help us in specific situations, it strengthens our faith by seeing sign after sign that God is hearing and leading us.
If you’re looking for human guidance, my only suggestion would be to start with books that involve or describe Christ. He’s the most important person in the Bible. Some of the ones I started with:
I also recommend; take a break every once in a while from the main book you're on and read Psalms in small chunks.
If I had to tell you to read only one other section, which I wouldn't, but if I did it would be Ephesians.
My system for reading the Bible
I have three main parts:
1. Look for guidance. When looking for my next book in the Bible, I ask God for guidance first. Then I either choose something by sight, or, randomly flip without looking. Even if I start reading and don’t think it’s right for me, I stay with it. 90% of the time, I eventually get a clear understanding of why I was led there. The other 10%; I figure I needed it, but didn’t consciously know why. I sometimes read more than one book at a time, but mostly stay with one.
2. Keep track. When I first read the entire Bible, I made notes of what I last read, so I knew where to start back. I also had a list of what I read, in the order I read it in. As I drew closer to completing the entire Bible, I also made a list of what still needed to be read. Just keep track somehow, even if it's not my way. It's such a long read that it's easy to forget what you've already read.
3. Re-read. I figure if I can watch a movie so many times that I can almost recite it word for word, I can do that with the Bible. And why not? When I get a new, complicated machine; I don’t just read the instructions once and forget them. I keep the directions with that machine, so as I use it I can read them again and again until the machine's use becomes second nature. The most important machine I’ve ever used is my body. So I keep the manual, the Bible, close at hand and read it consistently, repeatedly.
There are a couple of extra bits of info here that I think are important:
1. Read out loud whenever possible. It helps drive off unwanted activity and cleanse your body, soul and personal space.
"For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword" Hebrews 4:12 KJV
What’s it like to read the Bible?
Remember; while God uses the Bible to speak to us, its contents were written by many different people. Each has their own writing style. Personally, I click well with some of the writers; hanging on every word, pining to see what comes next. However, reading what some others wrote; honestly it wasn’t a cake-walk. But sticking with it through every piece has rewards. A lot of my life has improved just by reading, understanding and practicing the philosophies in the Bible.
Ups and downs aside, overall the Bible is the most important thing I’ve ever read. It’s full of good philosophy, good life practice, wisdom and straight forward instructions on how to get through some of life’s best and worst. It helps the reader with discernment, protection, patience, forgiveness and kindness. It helps with understanding The Holy Trinity. It’s one of the biggest, brightest lights on the path home.
What version of The Bible should I read, and where do I find it?
To me the answer is simple; Read the KJV (King James Version) first. Peek at the NKJ ("New King James) or the NIV (New International Version) as a reference for when the KJV might get confusing. The KJV is more complete and true to the original Bible. It's also much more artistically written; making it more interesting and memorable.
The NIV is highly debatable and for good reason. It leaves out some very important statements and often changes the way the information is delivered. I'm not saying it has no use, but again; to me it's only there as an occasional reference for clarity. Otherwise I don't trust it to deliver everything needed. Let me give you an example why: In Mark 9:17-29, Jesus' disciples encounter a boy possessed by a demon. After they try to cast it out and cannot, they ask Jesus why they couldn't. In the King James Version; in Mark 9:29; Jesus explains: "This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting.". He's clearly saying that fasting has to be part of the process of removing such a demon. But in the New International Version; Mark 9:29 says: "This kind can come out only by prayer", which is deceptive, leaving out one of the most important tools we have; fasting. This is one of many examples of where the NIV is discrepant.
Of course you can get most versions in printed form if that's your preference, but I've found a much more convenient way. I use the Olive Tree app on iOS, Mac OS and Android. It's wonderful. You can easily copy things, get plans, compare two versions of the Bible side-by-side, etc. Its features are incredibly useful and virtually endless. It's free if all you need is the KJV and the NIV.
Old Testament vs New Testament
The Old Testament is, basically, the old system God governed with before Jesus came into the world. It was harsh for anyone who sinned and anyone in their general vicinity. To make up for such sins back then, there was a lot more sacrifice and punishment.
The New Testament is the system God now uses which Christ paved the way home with. Under the New Testament; we have the ability to rise up from the ashes and breakage simply by accepting Christ, repenting and rebuilding a new foundation on the rock of Jesus.
For whatever reason, God decided there was a better way. He gave it to us through the suffering, life, death and resurrection of his Son. So if I think too much about how ugly things got during pre-Jesus times, I remind myself of how ugly humans can be now and still be forgiven and brought home.
If you want a more specific list of what books are Old vs New Testament, see the bottom of this article.
For information on how to use the Bible as a defense tool, see Fight Right - Scripture for Battle
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List of books in the Bible:
Song of Solomon