The Bible: Where Do I Start?
The Bible. That sure is one thick book! Actually, it’s 66 books written by around 40 different authors over a period of about 1600 years. The books are grouped into two sections, the Old and New Testaments. In his second letter to Timothy, Paul tells us that “All scripture is God-breathed…” (2Tim 3:16), and in Romans 15:4, “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”
But where do I start? Should I start from page 1 and just keep reading? Do I have to read all of it? Why should I read the Old Testament given that there’s a New one and it’s shorter?! There are some strange things in the Bible! How does it all fit together? Do I need a reading plan, and if so, what are my options? How much do I have to read? And what does the Bible have to do with fishing? Or treasure hunting, or open heart surgery?
Answers to these questions and more, as well as hot tips and helpful links are currently being added to THIS page! Please read on.
A Good Place to Start If you’ve never read the Bible before, I’d suggest starting by simply reading a gospel such as the Gospel of Mark to introduce yourself to Jesus and his teachings. You can look it up in the index.
The E100 Bible Reading Challenge Whether you’re new to the Bible, or are just in the mood for a fresh start, E100 is an excellent way to read the Bible “cover to cover” without actually reading the whole Bible cover to cover. Instead, it provides 100 “essential” readings, 50 from the old testament and 50 from the new, which together give a really good overview of the Bible.
The E100 reading plan comes in the form of a fold-up card which includes 100 punch-out numbers so you can track your progress. It also comes as a phone app. You could read in order from 1 to 100, but I’d recommend getting a taste of both testaments at once by alternating one reading from the old testament with one from the new. ie 1,51, 2, 52, 3, 53, etc.
I’d recommend using SOAP with your readings. Although an additional study guide for the E100 readings can be purchased separately, learning to use SOAP as you do E100 will help you develop a strong and effectiive Bible reading habit, and get you used to “listening” to the Holy Spirit as you read. He is the best teacher you can have, and with his help, you will discover increasing intimacy with God in your Bible reading time.
Learn more about the E100 Bible Reading Challenge here: http://e100nz.org.nz The E100 Personal Quick-start Planner can be ordered from the same site for only $2. It’s also available as an app for mobile devices such as iPhone and iPad (Check out the App Store). If money is tight, you can download a PDF version from here: http://www.e100challenge.org.uk/ .
Bible Reading for Life! Once you’ve read through a gospel and had a good overview of the Bible, you’ll be wanting to get into a Bible reading rhythm that enables you to enjoy the whole Bible, whilst keeping things fresh and not locking you into an impossible reading plan. If you try to read the whole Bible in order from Genesis to Revelation, you’ll probably get bogged down somewhere and give up. Yet the whole Bible is inspired by God, and the more you read it, the more treasure you’ll discover with in it, sometimes in the most unexpected places.
Think of the Bible as containing a balanced and complete diet. You wouldn’t spend a month eating potatoes, followed by a fortnight of cabbage, and a week each of steak and icecream. So why read the Bible like that? A more interesting and enjoyable meal plan is to fill each week with a feast of all the Bible has to offer.
Here is a simple but excellent plan for reading the Bible, recommended by John Fergusson (from his excellent Rainbow Bible Guide). You can use this plan for life, and you’ll never be scratching your head thinking, “What shall I read next?” I have been using a variation of this plan for some time and have found it brilliant. Why is it so good?
- You can read as much or as little as you are able.
- Readings alternate from Old to New Testament.
- You’ll be reading the whole Bible systematically without ever getting stuck for weeks in one place. Even if you find yourself in a “dry” patch one day, you’ll be reading somewhere else tomorrow.
- You can use SOAP with this plan to help you unwrap something each time you read.
- You’ll find that God will sometimes speak to you on consecutive days about the same thing from completely different parts of the Bible!
- Best of all, instead of living only on second hand thoughts from someone else’s Bible notes, you’ll be dealing directly with the best Teacher of all, the Holy Spirit.
Think about your Bible reading as a 7 day cycle. On each day of the cycle you will read from one of the following sections:
- Day 1: Genesis to Deuteronomy (History and Law)
- Day 2: Matthew to Luke (Gospels)
- Day 3: Joshua to Esther (History)
- Day 4: Romans to Jude (Letters)
- Day 5: Isaiah to Malachi (Prophets)
- Day 6: John, Acts and Revelation (Writings)
- Day 7: Job to Song of Songs (Poetry)
So, on Day 1, you’ll initially be reading from Genesis, on Day 2 from Matthew, on Day 3 from Joshua, and so on. After Day 7, you’ll go back to Day 1 and pick up where you left off in Genesis, then Day 2 and pick up where you left off in Matthew, etc When you eventually reach the end of any one section, simply go back and start that section again. You’re effectively working through seven consecutive loops.
So how often should I read? And what do bread and cows have to do with it? Let’s start with cows…
You can learn a lot from a cow
Cows eat a lot. In New Zealand where I live, cows eat grass. But cows don’t absorb all the goodness in that grass when they first eat it. So after they have eaten for a while, they pause, and take some time to ruminate or chew their cud.
To ‘ruminate’ can also mean to ‘think deeply about something’. I’m not sure how deeply a cow thinks, but in the Bible, God suggests we think deeply about what we read in his written Word. I think this is especially true about those things that the Holy Spirit draws to our attention as we read. As we chew these things over in our minds, the goodness they contain seems to make its way right through us. Lies are replaced by truth. Fears are replaced by peace. Selfishness is replaced by thankfulness.
So then, what are we waiting for? Let’s ruminate! Here are some ideas to try:
- “Make room”. Don’t rush your time with God. If necessary, sneak off…
- Use SOAP to really unwrap something from God’s Word when you read.
- Keep a journal to record your thoughts.
- Memorise the verses you love!
- Open your heart to worship God in prayer and song. God is good!
And bread? Sorry, that bit is still baking. Please check again soon.