How to Read the Bible When You Don’t Know Where to Start

Faith Today‘s Sept/Oct feature “How to Read the Bible Well” touched a nerve with many readers, including Al Reimers, who shared his Bible reading plan with senior writer Patricia Paddey. She shared it with us. And now we’re sharing it with you.  And the rest is blog history! Or about to be. Straight from a Faith Today reader, comes an invitation to you for the New Year, to dip into Scripture anew, in perhaps a new way. 20140910-Feature5

By Al Reimers

So, here’s another Bible-reading plan.

Do we really need another one?

What makes this one worth recommending?

Well, I designed it for new Christians who don’t know where to start and who need to know why it makes sense to start in a Gospel rather than with Genesis.

It also works for those who are not ready for a “chapter a day” or other fixed-length assignments. Most of us like the freedom of deciding for ourselves how far we want to read at one sitting and how long we can spend reading.

The main feature that commends the plan is that there is a clear reason for each book’s place in the order of reading. A person who follows the plan will move gradually from the facts of Jesus’ earthly life to an appreciation of his claims to be the Son of God, and then on to understanding of what it means to be a Christian.

Moreover, the order of the readings also shows the basic connection between the Old Testament and the New Testament. And I believe that limiting the plan to nine basic books makes basic Bible study appear manageable, especially if one is intending to go at that study alone. 

So, now let me tell you how can study the Scriptures without a trained teacher up front. You can study alone, or with a partner (like husband, wife, friend) or in a small group.

You will need a good translation, preferably one that has notes and cross-references. It will be helpful to have a Bible dictionary and, if possible, a concordance. Ask God to give you a plan, i.e., an order for reading the books of the Bible. There are many plans available, e.g., UCB Word for Today, a list of readings suggested by the Canadian Bible Society, the Daily Bread devotional books, the prescription that I have given out, or a plan from a Christian internet web site.

All the best plans start with studying one of the Gospels, because knowing Jesus is the key to understanding the rest of the Bible.

Once you have a plan, stick with it until God gives you a better one.

Remember that God is not concerned with how many chapters you read in a month; he is concerned with whether you understand his Word, believe his Word, do what his Word asks.

Whether you are studying alone or with a partner, or in a small group, read out loud. (Read about Philip hearing the Ethiopian official, starting at Acts 8.29)

Try different approaches, e.g., 3H: Head – What is God saying to us? Heart – How does this passage make me feel? Hand – What should I do about it?

Or the “Swedish” method: a candle to mark a passage that gives you new light, a question mark for sections that puzzle you, an arrow to mark verses by which God speaks directly to you about something in your life that does not please him.  Or ask questions about historical, moral, allegorical interpretations. Historical: what was really happening then? Moral: what is the lesson for us today? Allegorical: Is there some sense in which the event foreshadows the future? Or some way that it is an analogy to some personal experience?

Here it is:

Rx: A Prescription for Bible Reading

1- Gospel of Mark (quickly, all in one day):

Because this Gospel was the first one written, gives a “bird’s eye” view of Jesus’ ministry, is full of action, is short and easy to read.

 2- Gospel of Luke (slowly, 10 or 15 minutes a day)

Because it was written for non-Jews and is full of poetry and teaching that requires some reflective meditation.

3- Acts of the Apostles

Because it was written by Luke and follows naturally after his Gospel. It shows how the first disciples put into practice their understanding of Jesus’ claims and teachings.

4- Book of Genesis

Because Jesus often referred to events mentioned in Genesis and it helps us to understand the culture in which he grew up.

 5- Gospel of Matthew

Because Matthew apparently wrote primarily for the benefit of believers who came out of the same culture as Jesus, and Matthew shows that Jesus is the Messiah promised by the prophets.

6- Gospel of John

Because as far as we know John’s Gospel was written last and mainly to help people realize that Jesus’ actions illustrated and proved his claims to be the Son of God.

7- Paul’s letter to the Romans

Because this letter systematically explains the main differences between Judaism and Christianity.

 8- Book of Exodus

Because this book describes what most Jewish people considered to be the most important event in their history.

9- Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians

Because this letter deals with Christian behaviour and has some sections which are best understood after reading Exodus.

10. For “snacks” and “dessert” read in Psalms and Proverbs

Because they don’t have to be read in any particular order and are suitable for reading when only a few minutes are available.

Finish the above prescription (this may take 6 to 12 months); then pray to God for guidance as to which book to read next.

A Prayer Before Bible Reading:

O God our Father, by your Holy Spirit open my eyes to see your ways, open my ears to hear your voice, and stir my heart to do your will, through Jesus our Saviour.

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