We have now almost come to the end of our journey of exploration into the Bible. Yet, in another sense we have only just begun! For if, as a result of Examining the Bible's Testimony and Experiencing the Bible's Power, you have developed a greater measure of Confidence in the Word we are sure you will want to start to read the Bible regularly - if possible, every day from now on. The purpose of this page is to help you to achieve that aim!
Two Cardinal Rules
At the outset, allow us to offer you two cardinal rules to bear in mind as you begin to read the Bible regularly:
- 1. Don't attempt to read more than you can absorb.
- It is far better to read just one verse of Scripture and digest it thoroughly than to scan a whole book and retain nothing of it!
- 2. Don't attempt to read at a greater rate than you can sustain.
- In your initial enthusiasm for the Word of God you may be tempted to start by reading several chapters the first day, only to find that after two or three days your enthusiasm begins to wear off. It is much better to 'start small', and later increase the amount you read each day, than the other way around!
Where to Begin
As we observed in offering guidance about Finding Your Way Around the Bible, the Bible is a big book. However, as we also sought to show, the Bible is also a very carefully arranged book. This makes it possible to read it in a logical way.
Many recommend starting with a book, incident, or a type of writing with which you are already familiar; for instance, the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), the birth of Our Lord (Luke 2:1-20), or a well-known Psalm (eg Psalm 23). Others suggest starting with one of the Gospels (possibly Mark, as it is the shortest), following this with Acts, in order to gain an appreciation of the historical background of the entire New Testament. The possibilities are almost endless! Many simply like to 'start at the very beginning' and read the whole Bible from Genesis to Revelation.
The important thing is actually to make a start at some point in the Scriptures, and to work from there.
Should I Use Bible Reading Notes?
Many people who read the Bible every day do so with the help of one of the many series of Bible reading notes that are available. For a discussion on the merits and use of these, please proceed to our subsidiary page Bible Reading Resources.
There are five principal ways in which we may read the Bible:
- This involves reading a complete book at a time from beginning to end, possibly over a period of several days or weeks. This enables you to read the book as the Writer penned it, and thus benefit not only from its individual sections, but also gain an overall appreciation of its message.
This way of reading Scripture may be extended to the complete Bible. Some Christians make a point of reading through the entire Bible each year, while others prefer to read it over a longer period of two, three or more years. Some like to read both Old and New Testaments concurrently, by reading a portion from each every day. Others prefer to divide their reading into two sessions, one in the morning and the other at midday or in the evening.
Whatever pattern of reading they use, many testify to how God has spoken to them in a completely new way as they have read his entire Word. Others testify as to how God has used their reading to bring a verse or passage they have read earlier in the day (or even some days before) back into their mind at a crucial moment.
Reading the whole Bible in a year is by no means as impossible a task as it might seem. The Bible (Old and New Testaments) consists of 1,189 chapters. Spread over a year, this works out at just over 3¼ chapters a day, or approximately 4 a day if Sundays are not included. For most people this will require between 20 and 30 minutes reading each day.
A scheme for reading the entire Bible in any period of 52 weeks may be found on the Daily Bible Study website,Another somewhat similar scheme is offered by the publishers of the New Living Translation.
A somewhat less ambitious, but nevertheless extremely helpful, reading scheme is the Year of the Bible, which offers a programme of 5 minute daily readings to take the reader through the entire New Testament in a year. We particularly recommend this if you are just stating to read the Bible regularly.
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- This way of reading the Bible involves taking a theme, or even a single word, and tracing it through the Scriptures. This can give many fresh insights into the magnificence of God's revelation. One example of such a theme which runs throughout the Scriptures is that of God's Covenant with his people, of which we offer a brief outline in The Unity of Scripture.
If you wish to use the thematic method of Bible reading you will need a study or chain reference Bible, or a comprehensive concordance. Please refer to our subsidiary page, Bible Reading Resources, for information on these and other Bible reading aids.
3. By Character
- The Bible is a veritable portrait gallery of men and woman, boys and girls from all walks of life: kings, shepherds, servants, soldiers, priests and prophets rub shoulders in a way rarely found in any other work of literature. We can gain so much from reflecting on not only the lives of the great heroes such as David, but also on those of the lesser characters scattered throughout the pages of the Bible.
For instance, what a lesson the young captive maid, who told Namaan's wife about the prophet who could heal her husband, has to teach those who are in oppressive situations (2 Kings 5:1-5).
(Our Bible Focus on Barnabas offers an example of this method of reading God's Word.)
A particular feature of the Bible is its almost brutal honesty in its portrayal of its characters. It presents us not only with their admirable qualities but also with their very human shortcomings, as for example in the incident of David's adultery with Bathsheba and its lamentable outcome (2 Samuel 11:1-27).
4. By Type of Writing
- The Bible is a whole library of different kinds of books - law, history, poetry, prophecy, biography and correspondence. By concentrating on the writing of a certain type as it occurs throughout the Scriptures you can build up a comprehensive picture of the revelation given through a particular aspect of God's Word. Because the method covers the whole Bible, it is somewhat similar to the chronological method of Bible reading.
An example of reading in this way would be to start with the Parables of Our Lord as they are recorded in the four Gospels, and then to extend this by reading parables found elsewhere in the Scriptures, for example, Jotham's parable of the trees in Judges 9:7-21. In the same way, you might wish to read of Jesus' miracles, and then go on to read about some of those performed by the Apostles, as in Acts 3:1-11, 5:12, 9:32-41, 14:8-10, 19:11-12, 28:1-10.
5. By Searching for Roots
- This method of reading the Bible involves taking an incident or statement and searching out its origin.
This especially helps us to see how the New Testament fulfils and completes the Old. A good example of this is how Jesus fulfilled the many Old Testament prophecies about him, as in the Gospel of Matthew which we show in our table in The Unity of Scripture.
However, this way of exploring the Bible need not be confined to comparing the Old and New Testaments. Consider, for example, how the closing chapters of the Kingdom period of Israel's history as recorded in 2 Kings 24:1-25:26 and 2 Chronicles 36:5-21 fulfil Moses' predictions of God's curses on his people for their disobedience in Deuteronomy 28:32-37 and 28:49-57.
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|However you choose to read the Bible, be assured that God will richly bless you as you do so, and so increase your personal Confidence in the Word day by day.|
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Whichever way we may use to read the Bible, the process involved to enable God to speak to us through his Word is the same. It is generally known as the inductive method of Bible reading. Its great merit lies in that it starts with the plain text of the Bible without imposing any doctrinal presuppositions or particular interpretations upon it. It is therefore particularly suitable for use when reading the Scriptures on your own.
Every day, before you start to read, ask the Holy Spirit to help you, for he alone is able to guide you into all truth (John 16:13-15).
The inductive method involves three stages:
- We must first seek to answer the question, What does the passage I have just read say?
Try to find out:
- Who is speaking.
- What is happening.
- Where it is taking place.
- When it happened.
Then read the passage again to see if any words or phrases are repeated, especially if it consists of a parable or parables. Can you see a pattern? Try as well to identify the main progression of thought or action in the passage. What is central to this and what is secondary? Does any single aspect stand out?
The Importance of Context
It has been said that a verse of Scripture taken out of context is a pretext! In reading the Bible, we need to take account not only of the words and actions recorded but also the situation in which they are spoken or carried out, as well as the general historical background against which they are set. For example, the full significance of Our Lord's prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:32-36) can only be appreciated in the context of his imminent crucifixion.
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- We now ask the question, What does this passage mean in its context?
Read the passage carefully a number of times to discover:
- What it tells you about God - his purposes, his people, his grace.
- What it tells you about humanity - its waywardness, its need for salvation, the conduct God requires of those he has redeemed.
- Why God moved the Writer to write the passage in the way he did - the perspective he has adopted, the way he has expressed it.
- Anything that is implied, but which is not actually stated by the Writer.
In the well-known story of Zacchaeus, it becomes clear he was unpopular, even though Luke does not say so in so many words (Luke 19:1-10).
Then try to think of any other Scriptures you know which bring out the same truths. If the passage refers back to an earlier person or event, look up the relevant passage to see how the Writer has used or interpreted it. This involves searching for the roots of a saying or event, as we explained above.
Finally, try to summarise briefly in your own words the main message the passage conveys within the context of the situation, or overall flow of the teaching in which it occurs.
- The final stage of Bible reading involves answering the all-important question, "What does this passage mean for me? What is God's Word for me, today?
As a result of your Bible reading there may be:
- A task to undertake.
- A sin to confess.
- An attitude to change.
- An error to correct.
- A temptation to avoid.
- A person to visit.
- A letter to write, a 'phone call to make, or an e-mail to send.
- A gift to give.
- A hope to embrace.
These are just a few of the virtually infinite possibilities that may arise from reading God's Word. In particular we need to consider how the lessons we have learned may affect our relationships with our fellow believers and enable us to be more effective witnesses for Our Lord.
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Hermeneutics & Exegesis
These are two words from Greek frequently used by preachers and authors in connection with understanding and applying the Bible.
Hermeneutics is quite simply the science and art of interpreting the Bible. It involves establishing the principles for our understanding any part of the Bible, and then interpreting it so its message is made clear to the reader or listener. Hermeneutics inevitably involves exegesis, which is the process of examining the actual biblical text as it came from the hand of its Writer to discover how he communicated God's truth.
(At this point you may find it helpful to refer to the Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics).
Our Lord himself demonstrated the eternal principles of hermeneutics by the way he interpreted and applied the Scriptures as he had them (see Jesus' Use of Scripture).
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We would stress that while these are purely man-made rules, they have nevertheless been honed on the anvil of Christian experience over many years. We offer just five such rules to guide you in your personal understanding of the Bible:
- Always read any portion of Scripture within its context - a verse in the context of its section or chapter; a chapter in the context of its book.
- The New Testament interprets and fulfils the Old, as for example with regard to the tabernacle, as we explained when we considered The Unity of Scripture.
- In the New Testament, the Letters interpret the Gospels, as for example when the apostle Paul points to the significance of the Last Supper as a witness to our faith (1 Corinthians 11:26).
- The general interprets the particular. For example, the passing references to salvation found in the apostles' preaching in Acts 4:12, 13:26, 13:47, 28:28 need to be understood in the light of the great systematic revelations of the finished work of Christ which we find in Romans and Galatians, and indeed within the entire biblical understanding of God's eternal purposes for humanity.
- The spiritual interprets the physical, and the doctrinal the historical. This is exemplified by the significance attached by the apostle Paul to circumcision, as in Romans 2:25-29 and Romans 4:6-12.
We may summarise the essence of what we have said about the process of Bible reading and the rules for interpreting Scripture using the acronym CATS.
- ... stands for context. We must always ask, "Where does this verse, passage, chapter or book fit into the larger picture? What comes before it? What comes after it?"
- ... stands for analysis. We need to explore how the verse, passage etc is structured in order to communicate eternal truth.
- ... stands for teaching. What does the Scripture we are reading say about God? What does it say about ourselves in relation to God?
- ... stands for significance. What does the Scripture we are reading say about our attitude to God, our lifestyle, our worship or our service?
Working it Out
To see how our acronym works out in practice, we invite you to read Genesis 37:1-36.
- The context is the fulfilment of God's covenant promise to Abraham, referring us back to Genesis 35:6-13.
- The analysis of the chapter falls into three main parts: Joseph's dreams (verses 1-11); his brothers' plot to kill him (verses 12-28); the aftermath of Joseph being sold into slavery (verses 29-36). In a way we would hardly expect, we see the beginning of the fulfilment of Genesis 15:13-14.
- The teaching we may apply to ourselves is possibly most clearly seen in the attitude of Reuben in taking a more conciliatory approach to the problem posed by Joseph (verses 21-22). We may also take a lesson from Joseph himself in his willingness to obey his father (verses 12-13), even though he must have been aware of his brothers' hostility.
- The overall significance of the chapter is that God is in control of all things, even when everything that happens to us appears to contradict this.
(This summary is based on part of a talk given by Philip Eveson (Principal of London Theological Seminary) at a Go Teach Writers' Conference in June 2001. To visit Go Teach Publications please proceed via our Links to Other Websites.)
Pope Benedict XV affirmed that:
"The responsibility of our Apostolic office impels us to ... promote the study of Holy Scripture in accordance with the teaching of our predecessors, Leo XIII and Pius X ... We shall never desist from urging the faithful to read daily the Gospels, the Acts and the Epistles, so as to gather thence food for their souls ... "
Benedict's affirmation brings to mind the manna God gave to his people as their daily food in the Wilderness. Except for the sixth day of the week, when two days' supply was given to enable the Sabbath to be kept as a day of rest (Exodus 16:22-26), the manna had to be gathered afresh each day. Any attempt to keep part of the previous day's collection overnight was frustrated (Exodus 16:19-20).
The spiritual lesson is this: the manna of God's Word has to be gathered afresh each day. Yesterday's word was for yesterday; we cannot live on it today. Neither can we live on today's word tomorrow: tomorrow we must make a new gathering - and the next day, and the next. Then, and only then, shall we know for ourselves what the prophet Isaiah meant when he said: The Sovereign Lord has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught (Isaiah 50:4 (NIV-UK)).
(Click here to see the above verse in a number of other versions)
In the same statement in which he made his affirmation about the need for all believers to read the Scriptures daily, Benedict also stated that, Ignorance of the Bible means ignorance of Christ.
Would you know the Lord Jesus Christ for yourself? Then, Let the words of Christ, in all their richness, dwell in your hearts and make you wise (Colossians 3:16) by regularly reading and reflecting on the Saviour's teachings, and those of his apostles and prophets.
Become a Revolutionary!Wouldn't it be wonderful if the gloomy statistics which prompted the compilation of this website (and which we summarise and interpret in Bible Reading Research) were reversed, so that 4 out of 5 - or even 90% or more - of regular churchgoers read their Bible every day, that what is at present a small minority became the vast majority, and what is now the exception became the rule? What a dramatic change there would be in our churches, our homes and our society!
With this in mind we now invite you to read, ponder and allow yourself to be challenged and encouraged by our last two main pages, Hearing & Receiving the Word and Challenge, Promise and Prayer. But first, if you have not already done so, do take a look at our subsidiary page which offers a summary of some of the major Bible Reading Resources available in the UK and other English speaking countries.
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