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Thursday, November 5, 2009

How to Read the Bible for the First Time, Part 3

There are many ways to read the Bible, including a whole library of books out there. I can't claim to be the best person to give advice, as I've said before. My main reason for tackling the subject is my conviction that, of all the advice I can offer Christians for becoming "savvy sheep" in a predatory world, reading the Bible, well and often, is the most crucial. If you don't know your Bible, you might as well put a "Trick Me/Trip Me" sign on your back when you get up in the morning.

I got another anonymous comment on my last post in this series. This time, I know who left it, but since this individual chose to post anonymously, I'll leave it at that.

Anyway, "anonymous" pointed out some gaps in my teaching that I should have noticed, but hadn't :(. Mainly, that I had assumed that someone reading the Bible for the first time would check the index at the front of the Bible if he/she couldn't find the book I was recommending. However, some Bibles might not have a table of the books at the front. If it doesn't, go here and print out the list for reference, since these are listed in order and grouped into Old and New Testaments.

Also, I had been wondering how I was going to link the Old Testament to the New Testament. The simplest way, as pointed out in the comment, is to suggest that every time the New Testament says, "this was in fulfillment of prophecy," or the like, that new readers should stop there and go back to the referenced Old Testament passage (which should be listed in a footnote).

One thing the comment didn't mention is a basic Bible skill I ought to cover--that is, how to read a scripture reference. When you read something like,
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3: 16 NIV).
the part in the parenthesis should be read as "The book of John (New Testament Gospels), Chapter three (that big number three separating the text), verse sixteen (the tiny number sixteen in the text of chapter three), in the New International Version translation." For detractors out there who are rolling their eyes about this paragraph, just remember that there was a first time for learning every skill.

I apologize for throwing people in the pool without even giving them life vests! I needed the teacherly advice, "anonymous." Thanks!

Getting a Sense of History

Okay, so the next step is to really get a grounding in the history contained in Scripture. Since I'm assuming complete unfamiliarity with the Bible, I think you might wonder right about now how the promise of salvation in a Jewish religious book came to be offered to non-Jewish people. If you want to know that, you'll have to get busy reading a whole bunch of books.

The comment suggested reading the book of Acts next, and I think that is a good idea. In the book of Acts, we pick up right where the Gospels left off. In those pages, we read how Peter filled the role Jesus had prophesied, that "On this rock I will build my church," how the group of believers grew beyond the few followers of Christ and spread outside Jerusalem, how they discovered that Jesus wasn't just for Jewish people, and even how they first came to be called "Christians." We also are introduced to the teacher who carried the new Christian movement forward into the doctrine and principles that shape it, even today: the Apostle Paul.

After that, the comment suggested the book of Hebrews, but I'm going to amend that and say that Hebrews ought to be read alongside the Old Testament books of Genesis and Exodus. It's like a companion book, really, generalized and explaining concepts first introduced there, relating the themes in various historical figures' lives to the more general themes of God's plan of salvation for all peoples.

What You Should Know at This Point

Besides learning a lot of church and world history, you should know at this point about the origins of the basic doctrines you hear from pulpits. The basic teachings of the modern church weren't made up recently, by nineteenth-century men in starched shirt collars or twentieth-century men in silk ties, as so many modern teachers would have you believe. When something has been taught so many times that people are getting bored with it or have begun to call it cliche, it is always good to go back to the beginning and remember why the old teaching is still good and powerful.

One other thing I have to interject, since I've been talking about Jewish versus non-Jewish content in this post, is that antisemitism is shameful in a Christian context. For one very obvious thing, Jesus was Jewish! For another, through countless centuries, the Jewish people have recorded everything that Christians can now base their faith upon. They were at times the only people on the face of the earth who actually knew and believed in God and made any attempt at honoring Him. Gentile Christians shouldn't be hateful, they should be grateful! Yet, all too often, this is not the case, and I don't believe that reflects a loving, Christlike attitude for our fellow man.