How to Start Reading the Bible

Perhaps you’ve made a New Year’s resolution to start reading your Bible or to read it more often. Great! But how do you get started? And how do you stick to your resolution without just going through the motions?

As I noted in this article, a great place to start reading the Bible is with the gospels of Mark and John. Mark is a fast-paced account of what Jesus did and John focuses on what Jesus said and claimed about himself. From there, move on to Acts, the sequel to Luke’s gospel. Acts sets up the letters of Paul, Peter and others that follow in the New Testament. Read Romans next for a grace-focused collection of the basic teachings of Christianity.

Now you’re ready to start moving through the rest of the Bible. Begin with Genesis and Exodus, the first two books of the Old Testament. Reading these will help you begin to see how Jesus fits into God’s overarching story. As you continue, consider reading the Psalms concurrently as a sort of preface to your times in God’s living Word. And try to vary between Old Testament and New Testament books as you move through the rest of the Bible.

When you’re ready to look more closely at particular passages, here are five steps that will help you understand what the passage is saying, what it means, and what it means for your life.

Be Expectant

As you approach the Bible, pray that God would meet you so you experience God Himself in His Word; speak to you as a friend to a friend; teach you His truth; surprise you with some new insight or discovery; and transform you over time into the image of Jesus.

Get Honest with God

As you approach God in expectant prayer, take time also to think through what the last few days have been like for you. Share honestly with God what and how you are feeling as you approach your time with Him. Share your struggles and joys. Ask Him to speak, over time, to issues in your life.

Read the Passage Carefully, Write What You See

First, take note of who is there, what is happening, when it is happening and where and how it is happening. As you read, make note of those words, phrases or ideas that connect the parts of the passage together by repeating, contrasting, being similar, going from the general to the particular, or stating a cause that leads to an effect.

If the passage you’re studying is a story, imagine yourself as a character in the story. If it is a letter or law section, imagine what it might have felt like to get the letter or hear the law. If it is poetry, let the power of the poem and its images sweep over you.

Be sure to write down any questions the passage raises for you. What words, phrases, or concepts don’t make sense? Does the passage turn in any unexpected ways? What intrigues you?

Interpret the Passage

Focus here simply on figuring out what the text itself says. Look back at the grammatical connections you observed (repetitions, contrasts, etc.) and try to determine the main connections and main threads of thought. Go back to the things that troubled or intrigued you about the passage and reread the text with these questions in mind. If the text itself doesn’t answer your questions, look at the passages right before and right after the passage you’re studying. If you’re studying a New Testament passage, look up any Old Testament references and allusions. Now would be a great time to take a look at resources like a dictionary, Bible dictionary, or map. Try to write out the main point or points of the passage in an overall, integrative sentence.

Connect the Passage to Your Own Life

What does the passage say or point to about Jesus? Do you sense that God is speaking to any particular part of your life? Are you experiencing what any of the characters in the story are living out? Is there a promise to trust, a command to obey, or an example to follow or avoid? What action are you going to take in response to what God is saying to you?

If you’re studying the passage on your own, take the next step and share your observations and interpretations with a community of other Christians you can trust to get their correction, affirmation, and insights. If you can, it’s best to have at least one fellow believer with whom you share Bible study on a regular basis.

Whether you’re reading on your own or with others, remember that reading the Bible isn’t about earning a good grade. Instead, we read the Bible in order to meet God. Whatever resources you use and however you approach reading the Bible, if you keep focused on meeting God, you’re less likely to burn out.

A great resource for your daily Bible reading is the Thirsty program which sends you a passage of the Bible each day along with three inductive questions, to your email, Smartphone, etc. The questions are written by InterVarsity staff. If you use it each day it will take you through the whole Bible in three years.

You might also want to check out these links:

The Story of God, the Story of Us

Transforming Bible Study

Search the Scriptures


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