How To Read The Bible (And Why You Should)
So the Bible is not a book in itself. But rather, a collection of books, split into two main sections, the Old Testament and the New Testament, written by over 40 people. So if it's written by that many people from so many different walks of life over so many centuries, is the Bible reliable? And why do Christians say that the Bible is God's Word?
Now St. Paul's Cathedral in London was built by Sir Christopher Wren, the greatest English architect of his time, most people would say. He started at the age of 43 in 1675. And for 36 years, the cathedral was built under that one architect. It was completed in 1711 when Christopher Wren was 79 years old. So Christopher Wren built St. Paul's Cathedral, but actually, he didn't lay a single stone. There were stone masons and carpenters and builders, and many people were involved over a long period of time. But Sir Christopher Wren was the inspiration behind St. Paul's Cathedral.
So it is with the Bible, right? There are many different writers, but there's one architect, one inspiration behind it all. And that's God Himself. In fact, that's what the Bible actually says of itself. The apostle Paul wrote this to his mentor, or his mentoree, should I say, Timothy, he said this.
All Scripture is inspired by God.
Yeah, that's awesome. Now the Queen of England at her coronation was handed a copy of the Bible. With these words written in it,
"We present you this book, the most valuable thing which this world affords".
Why? Why is it the most valuable thing that this world affords? Well, Jesus said this in Matthew's Gospel, he said,
Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes out from the mouth of God.
In other words, Jesus says this, material things alone don't satisfy. Even the best human relationships don't ultimately satisfy. There's always this, well what you might call a spiritual hunger, which can only be satisfied by something spiritual. And Jesus said, that is the words that come out of God's mouth. That is the word of God. And the primary way in which God communicates with us is through his book, God has spoken, it is His revelation. That's the Bible.
So why should I read the Bible? This is a great question, isn't it? Well, the Bible really is inspired of God. Right? And if it is, if Jesus thought that God's word was important to sustaining life, then that's a pretty good reason right there isn't it? That's probably one of the best reasons for reading it.
Now, Pope Francis, in the first official document that he produced as Pope in the Evangelii Gaudium, forgive my pronunciation, translated, means the joy of the Gospel, says this about the Bible,
"We do not blindly seek God or wait for him to speak to us first, for God has already spoken and there is nothing further that we need to know which has not been revealed to us. Let us receive the sublime treasure of the revealed word."
Love that. So we should read the Bible because God speaks to us through the pages of Scripture. And what does he predominantly speak about in the Bible? Well, the answer is Jesus. Jesus, in fact, said this in John's Gospel, you search the Scriptures, or the Bible, because you think they give you eternal life. But the scriptures point to me.
So the whole point of the Bible, the whole point of this book, is so that you and I can learn about Jesus, so that we can get to know Jesus and become friends of Jesus. That's the point of the Bible. It is Jesus. He is the point of it.
Now, we should read it then because in the Bible, we learn about Jesus in those pages. And what Rick Warren who wrote the insanely popular book, Purpose Driven Life said this,
"Reading the Bible generates life. It produces change, it heals hurts, it builds character, it transforms the circumstances, it imparts joy, it overcomes adversity, it defeats temptation, it infuses hope, it releases power, and it cleanses the mind."
And if I'm honest, that is my story. As a new Christian, I started to read the Bible, and over the last 30 years, I have learned about Jesus on those pages. And I have read and understood more about him. And as I have done that it has generated life in me, it has changed me, healed my hurts and built my character. It has infused hope in me, and I am captivated by him, especially on the pages of this book.
Why should you read the Bible? You hear God speak, you learn about Jesus, your life is transformed, and your hurts are healed.
That's, I mean, that's pretty awesome. Right there, isn't it? And if I'm honest with you, that's just the beginning. Right?
Now, one former prime minister Stanley Baldwin, who dominated the UK Government, between the two great wars, said,
"The Bible is a high explosive, but it works in strange ways. And no living man can tell or know how that book in its journey through the world has startled the individual soul in 10,000 different places into a new life, a new world, a new belief, a new conception, a new faith."
I love that. I just love it. I am one of those souls, reading the Bible, and its explosive power has had a profound effect, almost immeasurable effect on my life.
The Apostle john, who wrote one of the Gospels put it this way. He said,
These things are written, that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and by believing you may have life.
I don't know about you, that sounds fantastic. So that's all very well and good, Matt. So how do I read the Bible? Right? Brilliant, isn't it? Do I just start at the beginning like a normal book and go page by page through it? All great questions. And it depends for me whereabouts you are on your faith journey. Now, if you are just starting out, and you've never really read the Bible before, I would start, if I'm honest, not at the beginning in the book of Genesis, but I would start at the start of the New Testament, with one of the Gospels, probably Mark or John, because in there, you will learn about Jesus and the whole Bible is about Jesus. That's the point of the Bible. The New Testament talks about Jesus all of the time. And the Old Testament, when you look at it through the lens of Jesus, basically points to Jesus and His coming, right. So I would start with the Gospels. Now, if you head on over to our website, you will notice that we have gone through the Gospel of Mark in quite a bit of detail. And you could follow along with that study, read it in the Bible, follow along with the crowds, the talk that we did on CROWD.
Or you could try the gospel of John. I mean, John had some real insight into Jesus, that's definitely worth reading about. Okay, so start with one of the Gospels.
Now, what Bible version should you read, because there are different versions of the Bible that throw different language and maybe slightly different interpretations to the original language, okay. So my advice is, find one that works for you, okay?
You can use something like the Bible app, which you can download to your phone, it is totally free. And it has different versions of the Bible, and you can try different ones out, I would suggest looking for versions, like the New International Version, or the NIV, as it is called, amongst Christians, because we like to abbreviate everything like most people, it's an easy to read version. And actually, it's probably the go to for many people. One version I particularly read and like is The Message. Now The Message is an interpretation rather than a direct translation. But it's still great to read, especially alongside something like the NIV, it gives you some great insight into what's going on.
Now, if yeah, and it doesn't matter if you're starting out or if you're, if you've been a Christian for a while, and you're reading the Bible. You know, it doesn't matter where you are on the faith journey, one thing that you are all going to have to do, that all of us have to do is give time to reading the Bible. Okay? It doesn't just, osmosis doesn't work with the Bible. Part of me wishes it did, you know, where you could just put it down beside your bed at night, and just suck all of the knowledge out of it. Yep, that doesn't work.
So time is something that we have to give. And time, of course, is our most valuable possession, we can always get more money, but we can never get more time. So may I suggest setting aside something that is most precious to you, to learn about something that is more precious than gold, the Bible says of itself. God's word is more precious than gold, or diamonds or rubies, maybe even just 15 minutes a day.
Okay, so set aside some time get into a regular habit of reading the Bible. And I would suggest you might want to do this in a specific place. When we read the story of Jesus. If you've been following along with us, as we went through Mark, you'll you'll remember that Jesus will often go to a sort of a private place or a solitary place. And I reckon you could probably do that when it comes to reading the Bible. I go to a particular room that we will not mention the name of and I go there expecting that God is going to speak to me, it's the one room in the house, which is quiet and I don't get disturbed. You know where I'm talking about right? For you, it could be on the bus, it could be on a train, or maybe a specific coffee shop, it doesn't matter. Find a place that works for you. And get into a pattern, into a habit of reading the Bible. Okay, start getting into it.
If you really want to get into the Bible, then try the Bible in one year. Again, this is an app that you can download. It's from Alpha. And again, it's free. And it takes you through the entire Bible each and every day. So in 365 days, you've read the entirety of the Bible. And if you've never read the whole Bible, like that, I would suggest that you do it. We've done it as a family, it's brilliant. Even get Nicky Gumbel explaining what you're reading. And he has one of the most soothing and lovely voices that God has ever placed on this earth. Let me tell you, so it's a great app. And it is definitely worth getting and reading through it like that is a great thing to do. So it's a big challenge from me to you. If you've not done it, have at it, have a go.
Now, if you're wanting to go deeper in your walk with God, then you're going to want to move from kind of reading the Bible to maybe studying the Bible. So how do I do that? How do I study the Bible?
Well, for me, there are many, many ways to do this. But by far, my two favourite ways are simply this right? Number one, I like to take a book in the Bible, like the Gospel of Mark, and work through it slowly verse by verse, I like to read those verses and read around it, read the context, dig into it, read commentaries on it, understand the background. And as I study, I like to write notes, you know, in my, I like to throw my pen around. In my book, or, actually, I use an app on my, on my iPad, got that little keyboard thing, which just brilliant for me. And that's what works for me, right? I gather documents, and I start to pull all this together. And I start to write down my own ideas, what do I think about it?
And here's the important question, you've always got to ask, what is God saying to me?
Okay, so the most important question when you read the Bible, what is God saying to me here? Okay. And as I'm writing stuff down, I'm trying to answer that question. The second way that I like to study the Bible. So one way is to read a book, through that, you know, read one of the books in the Bible.
And the second way is to study an actual topic in the Bible. So let's take, for example, the topic of money. Pretty big topic. So ask yourself, what does the Bible say about money? Then use the search function on your Bible app, to find every single reference in the Bible to the word, money. read those verses, read around those verses and get the context, understand what's going on, understand the background, why this writer put this in? And then ask yourself, What is God saying to me through this? Write it down, learn about it, look at what others have said about those ideas and verses too. Then look for similar words to money. I don't know, words like wages, or income, or profit or giving or provision and so on, and so forth, right? And look at some of the maybe the wider topics or the similar topics surrounding it, and build up a picture.
What we never do, and please hear me on this, what we never do is take a single verse, and form a theology out of it.
I know, a lot of people have done this, including myself over the years. But one of the things that we learn as we grow older, is actually the Bible is pretty good at confirming itself. So we never just take one verse out of context and put a theology around it, that's just not helpful. But what we can do is we can start to dig in and get all of this information, all of this stuff that the Bible has to say, bring it together, and we understand Jesus and what Jesus is doing, we under understand the context of God's goodness and God's love. And then we go, what is God saying, here? What is he saying to me, not a single verse where with formula theology, we're forming a theology on the entirety of Scripture. Okay? So dig into it, dig into those topics.
And if you're wondering what to study in the Bible, well start with key topics like love, faith, and hope. Or you can look at one of my favourites, which is identity, who am I? What does God say about me? Who does he say that I am? These are great questions, right? What does God say about you? And you can also look at things like money and health and marriage and forgiveness or sex and all the big topics that we like to know about.
But what resonates with you right now? Okay. I would suggest if you're struggling, say with anxiety, find out what the Bible says about it. Not just what your pastor says about it, not just what a quick Bible study you've read on it says about it, not not just what someone's book says about it, not what the internet says about it, or what somebody on the BBC News said about it, dig into it for yourself, be responsible, and find out what the Bible says on it right. Determine to spend, I don't know the next few weeks or months looking at the topic and digging into it all the time answering the key question you need to be answering when study the Bible. What is God saying to me through this?
And here's the kicker, right? Here's, here's the genuine kicker in all of this, because I get excited when I read the Bible. It's all the stuff that comes out of it. What's God saying to me? And then if you really want to push yourself, ask yourself this. What am I going to do about it? Don't ever fall into the trap of just being one of those Christians that reads the Bible, but then doesn't do what it says. Just want to throw that out there.
You see sometimes the Bible is hard to read. It's hard to understand. It's hard to grasp. It can lead to a lot of questions that you have to kind of wrestle with, it's, I heard a great analogy actually from Nicky Gumbel, who did the Bible in one year app? He said
"The Bible is a bit like a crossword, you kind of have to look for clues, and maybe solve other parts of the puzzle, if you can't solve this bit, and then come back to it later. That's kind of what it is with the Bible."
Sometimes we don't get all the topics, sometimes we don't understand things. But we can solve this over here and come back to it. You see, if you go to YouTube, there are all kinds of videos about contradictions in the Bible. And then if you dig further, there are all kinds of videos contradicting the contradictions in the Bible. Some people love it, some people hate it. But that's the mystery of it. It's the mystery of God revealed on paper to us. It's the most popular book ever. Yet, it's one of the most contested books ever. And if you live in the West, I reckon it's probably had more of an impact on you than you can possibly imagine.
Here's what the Apostle Paul had to say about it. He said,
All Scripture is inspired by God, and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realise what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong, and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.
Now, sure, there are a lot of questions around it. The thing is, though, you have to get into it, you have to read it for yourself. You cannot outsource the Bible. Spend just 15 minutes a day getting into it, and see what a difference it makes in your life. "The Holy Scriptures",. " Augustine, of Hippo wrote, "are our letters from home".