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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Get a Leg Up on Bible Study: How to Read The Bible for the First Time, Part 1

When I was little, I had to use a footstool to reach the cabinet above my bathroom sink. I can also remember times when I couldn't find the stepstool/didn't want to take the time, so I struggled to lift myself on one arm while reaching for the dental floss with the free hand. It's all a part of having short legs while living in a tall world. But there's another angle to that story. While I still needed help, I didn't want to stay dependent on others my whole life, so I was willing to do almost anything to gain the independence I craved.

So, today I want to share some information that could help new Bible readers "reach it for themselves" without outside help. I've already covered using Bible study tools (see What Does God Require Concerning Bible Study?). This time, I want to answer a question I've been asked often about reading the Bible: Where should I start?

The first time someone asked me that, I panicked, because I realized I had no recollection of where and how my knowledge of the Bible really began. I was in Sunday school before I could read, and I was learning Bible stories, even then. It seems as if the knowledge has always been there. What kind of advice would be best?

I'll do my best to try to suggest the easiest route through the Bible, but I can't promise that my advice is the best. There are tough passages that can throw the most knowledgeable Bible scholar through a loop, and there are a lot of passages that only make perfect sense when the reader has read other passages first.

Start at the Middle: The Gospels of the New Testament

The Bible is divided into two sections: the Old Testament (the history of the world, and specifically of Israel, leading up to the time of Christ), and the New Testament (Christ's life, the start of Christianity, the beliefs of the Christian faith, and the prophesied future of the world and of the church). These are big, general labels. All in all, the entire Bible can be read through, carefully, in about a year.

I've generally heard you should start studying the Bible by reading the first section of the New Testament called the Gospels, which are named after their authors: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. These are all accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. If they seem repetitive, you should note that they were each written from different perspectives, to different audiences. John is the easiest to read, since it doesn't make as many references to the writings and prophecies of the Old Testament. Luke explains the situation from a historian's perspective to a non-Jewish, Greek audience. Matthew and Mark, which had a more Jewish audience, quote prophecies and predictions that were written down in the Old Testament thousands of years before they were fulfilled in Jesus' life.

What New Bible Scholars Should Understand at This Point

The most central part of the Christian faith is the concept that Christ is God, who came to earth in the form of a man, to teach the world that He is the only way to reach Heaven and escape eternal death in Hell. Any other actions or beliefs, other than following Jesus Christ, will not get us into heaven.

The Gospels present us with a key decision to make: either believe that Jesus was a lying maniac and dismiss everything He said, or believe that what He said was true, and live according to that belief. They systematically show how Jesus was not just an ordinary teacher, how the events of His life had been predicted centuries before, and how His life embodied what we understand of God and His requirements for us. These accounts were mostly told by men who were not well-educated. They were written over the course of several years, and yet they line up. Most importantly, though, their message has God-given power and the ring of truth, which can only come from people who are led by God.

There is much more to be said about the order in which to read the books of the Bible, but I've talked a long time, today. I'll be adding more to this discussion next week. In the meantime, after some delays and crossed-wires, we're finally going to read that guest post I talked about last time. Don't forget to come back!

To start a discussion on here, I'll leave you with a question: After the Gospels, what do you think new Bible readers should tackle next, and why?
I'm anxious to hear what you have to say!


Anonymous said...

Once a person has accepted the general truths of Christianity, he will probably need some more specific instructions for daily life. The Apostle Paul's writings are a great resource for that, although they can get a little "deep." Ephesians might be the right next step, followed by a good strong dose of James.