Tips on Reading the Bible

I have heard from so many people that they struggle with reading the Bible, let alone with reading the entire Bible from beginning to end, that I thought about saying a word or two about that. First of all, my main tip is to NOT approach the Bible like any other book you try to “finish”  in a given period of time. Rather, read a little bit every single day until you finally die. Instead of making reading it something “special” you only do once a week but then immediately for some hours straight, it should be something you do regularly for shorter periods of time. Your motto should be slow but steady.

   Personally, I use a simple Excel spreadsheet next to my calendar where I tick off all the necessary things I have already done on any given day – like daily exercising, daily reading of a little bit of theology, Bible, memorizing a Psalm, etc. etc. Right now, I read through the Gospel according to John – and whenever I approach a book, I first skim it. (Almost a bit like with Freud’s technique of free association, where you’re not supposed to focus on anything, to search for anything or to censor anything, but, rather, simply see what kind of patterns and ideas will be revealed once you begin saying whatever is coming to your mind.) Sometimes, I read along while listening to an audio book version of it. Once I’ve skimmed the book a couple of times, I more carefully read the individual passages. Then, after that, I read it with pens in my hand, like everything regarding gender stuff I mark with pink, everything regarding God’s wrath I mark with red, everything regarding faith with turquoise and so on. Finally, I might read it with a commentary or while looking at the notes of a study Bible. Obviously, this can take some time – but why would you want to rush through the Bible? It’s not a detective novel or something. Statistically, you might live until you’re 80 or something so there should be some years left where you can read a little bit of Bible every single day until you finally pass into glory.

   Also, I like to read good works of theology, ideally systematic theology, on a daily basis. Again, just a few pages every day. Not much. For instance, I can highly recommend John Calvin’s Institutes (get the two-volume set from John T. McNeill, though) which is simply perfect for daily reading since it covers so many topics, is separated into mostly short subchapters and, especially combined with the footnotes in the McNeill-set, it covers ideas from Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, and many other thinkers. Likewise, Herman Bavinck’s “Reformed Dogmatics” is as excellent as it is expansive. I guess I like these kinds of systematic theologies because, while the Bible is magical, the Bible should not be approached like magic, not like some gypsy’s crystal ball, looking for obscure numbers (fascination with numbers is always a red flag) but with sobriety – one of Calvin’s favorite words, btw.

   On the other hand, the Bible should not be approached like the academic work of some college professor, either. We must not only read through but also pray through the Bible. So my suggestion is to always say a short prayer before you do your daily Bible reading, simply asking your creator to help you understand it, apply it and forgive you, if you don’t understand something, if you’re knuckleheaded, or if it’s sin preventing you from understanding it, etc. This is one of the reasons why I think that the “Reformation Heritage KJV Study Bible” is so excellent. I obviously like it for the fact that it is strictly Reformed but also that it’s not just a study Bible for the mind, but also a study Bible for the soul, since every single chapter closes with an idea for personal or family meditation. So, the notes do give you both, say, the historical context or point out that the Greek in John 1:5 can both mean that the darkness did not “overcome” and the darkness “comprehend” the light, as well as thoughts to meditate upon. For instance, they might ask you, “Why must churches be willing to challenge men’s worldliness, even if doing so may reduce their numbers?”, or “Why is the new birth absolutely necessary for salvation? Are you born again?”, or “If God can even use a traitor to provide salvation, how are you motivated to trust Him with your trials now?”)

   So, just do it! “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” – Samuel Beckett.

About Smultronstallet

"My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better." - Philippians 1:23
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