“I wish I could read the Bible, but I just don’t know how.”
“The Bible is such a difficult book to understand. I just don’t know what it means.”
“It’s such a big book that I don’t know where to start, and I’ll never learn it all.”
I’ve heard many different variations of this, and I don’t think they’re excuses for laziness. They come from people who want to read and understand the Bible, but they’re intimidated. They’ve been given the impression that the Bible is a book reserved for the clergy, or at least the highly educated. But it’s not true. Sure, there are parts that puzzle all of us, but most of it is really quite easy to understand. So if you’re still looking for a New Year’s resolution, make it to read the Bible this year. Or if that’s too big of a task, make it to read the New Testament. It will take some work, but it if you can read this article, you can read the Bible.
Most of the Bible is really quite straightforward. Most of it is simple to understand. The first step in interpreting the Bible is simply to ask, “What does it say?” Because what it says is what it means. Understand that some parts are poetic and metaphorical, but most of it is simply historical. For example, when it says, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1), what does that mean? It means that in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. It means what it says. When you read through the historical parts of the Bible, don’t look for the meaning behind the text. The text is the meaning. Reading the Bible is just like reading any other book. When you read the historical sections, read them as history. When you read the poetic sections, read them as poetry. When you read the letters (a.k.a., epistles), read them as letters. Know what kind of literature you are reading, and read it accordingly. And remember, it means what it says. You don’t have to get behind the text. God gave us his Word because he wants to be known. He’s not hiding behind the text.
I recommend starting with historical narratives. If you want to read the Old Testament, start with Genesis. If you want to read the New Testament, start with Matthew or, if you’ve already read Matthew, start with any of the other gospels. This year many of the sermons will be from Mark (which is also the shortest of the gospels) so it might be helpful to start there. And just read the book straight through. In lectures or Bible studies, a leader might quote verse after verse from various different places, but nobody reads books that way. Nobody reads Oliver Twist by starting at page 143 and then going to pages 47, 200, 33, 1, 25 and 162, so don’t read the Bible that way. No wonder people get confused. Just take a book and read it. It’s that simple.
And as you read the Bible, let it do what books do. Let the Bible do its own character development. As you read it, the Author will teach you about its main character—God. You will learn of the Creator who loved his creation unconditionally, even to the extent that he sent his only Son to redeem it.
I’ll admit there are some challenges. Since the Bible is such a big book, it will help to keep the overarching story in mind, so try reciting the Apostles’ Creed before and maybe even after your reading. It will help you keep the big picture in view. And you are going to have questions. It’s bound to happen. So ask your pastor. He may not have all the answers (even if he likes to think he does), but he really likes talking about the Bible. It also helps to have a good study Bible, like The Lutheran Study Bible from Concordia Publishing House. You don’t have to read all the notes, but when you have a question, the answer is probably there for you.
The Bible is a book for you. It tells you of the God who created you, redeemed you, and will keep you in his grace during this life and the next. May you be blessed in your reading of it.
The peace of Christ be with you all,