“I can’t understand what I’m reading!” This is a common remark that I hear when a person desires to grow in the Christian faith and he/she has been encouraged to read the Bible. The Bible is not one book, but rather, sixty-six! It is quite important to understand that it is not necessarily a chronological ordering of the books it contains, but rather a collection of works that the Church prayerfully agreed are the inspired words of God. It includes law, history, prophetic messages, poetry, perspectives on the life of Jesus, and even letters.
“Where do I start?” That is a great question! Some would prefer to start at the front, in the book of Genesis, with the creation account. Others just want a simple book to ponder on a spiritual level. A simple book about the life of Jesus is the book of John. Another basic read about some of the basics of Christianity is the book of James, written by one of Jesus’ own brothers. For a raw and heartfelt perspective about life experience, reading the songs and poetry in the book of Psalms (most by Israel’s former king David) would be valuable. For wise principles to conduct your business or relationships in your sphere of influence, you might consult Proverbs, written by King David’s son, Solomon. It’s your choice, but these are a few pointers to help you read to understand.
Understanding the Bible:
- Pray for understanding. Ask God to guide you and help you discover truth to apply to the way you live.
- Read everything in context. The author had intent and purpose when he wrote the text under the influence of the Holy Spirit. The events happened at a particular time in history. When anyone attempts to make a point by sharing a particular verse with another person or group, the fact needs to line up with the message the author desired to convey. It must harmonize with the message of all the other verses in the 66 books of the Bible. Understanding the author’s background, the time in history that the book references, the main purpose of the book, and the audience to whom the author was writing, all help to make what is written meaningful. In many study Bibles, much of the background information is included.
- The Bible wasn’t written or organized chronologically. Please view this basic historical timeline (located at the bottom of this document) to help you understand the historical period related to each book in the Old and New Testaments.
- Use helps. Maps, commentaries, and even Google can be helpful in investigating content in the Bible. Caution — as with any research project, be aware that all sources of information aren’t reliable.
- Ask yourself questions as you read the text. “Is there a command for me to obey? Is there a promise for me that relates to my situation? How will I live differently now that I’ve read this? What truth may I apply to my life today? Is there a word/phrase that is being repeated or a message that is being reiterated?”
I hope these suggestions will make your reading a valuable experience and that your understanding will grow. As the Holy Spirit teaches you, you will grow in your spiritual walk as you learn to assimilate the Scripture into your daily life. It’s a discipline that has amazing results.
“Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” Joshua 1:8