The Bible. Reputed to be the best-selling book of all time. And even year to year, it remains the top-selling book. Clearly, the Bible is a popular book. A book that most people, at least in the United States, have at least one copy of. Personally, I have several dozen copies in different translations and formats, both print and digital.
But I have to wonder how many of these Bibles sold each year are actually read. And, even more importantly, read in a way that would be beneficial to the reader. By no means am I an expert on reading the Bible. I do read it a lot. But that does not mean that I always read it effectively and am changed by it. But I do want to explore some thoughts on reading the Bible, and hopefully, they will be helpful.
How Not to Read the Bible
Before looking at some of the profitable ways of reading the Bible, I think it would be useful to look at some of the less effective ways that many use the Bible. Some seem to think that it is important to have a Bible, yet they never actually open it. They seem to think that what they need from it will magically move from the closed pages into their minds through osmosis. That would be great if it worked. But, sadly, it will not.
Some people seem to use the Bible as a quote factory. And there are indeed a great many quotable passages contained within its pages. But if your Bible reading is limited to the quotes you find on Facebook or other social media, you will miss out on most of what the Bible has to offer. And, if you read the Bible looking for inspirational verses, you will find them. But, again, the Bible is so much more than that.
I know others who take reading the Bible more seriously. But they seem mostly to be looking for support for some position that they are trying to defend. Or, on the other hand, ammunition to shoot down an opposing point of view. Too often, these people are reading their particular point of view into the Bible, rather than allowing the Bible to shape their perspective.
More Useful Ways to Read the Bible
In contrast to the above methods of Bible reading, there are some different ways the Bible might be profitably read. All of them are good. And the more of these methods that you use, the more you will get out of the Bible.
One very common way to read from the Bible is in conjunction with a devotional guide. There are a great number of guides. Some of them, like Open Windows, are an ongoing series of devotional readings. Others, like My Utmost For His Highest by Oswald Chambers, are classics that many have used over the years.
Devotional reading is good. But in itself, it is inadequate. Much of the Scripture never makes it into devotional booklets. So if your exposure to the Bible is solely through these guides, you will miss out on much of what the Bible has to offer.
Yet this is a good supplemental resource for your time spent in the Bible. The insight the devotional authors offer can be good and inspiring. And you might find that they often speak to current situations you find yourself in.
Reading the Bible Through
Reading through the whole Bible is a daunting task. Much of it is strange and sometimes incomprehensible. The seemingly endless list of genealogies found in some places can be tedious to read through. And the rules laid out in Exodus through Deuteronomy can seem strange to modern readers. Making it even more challenging is that the Bible is an ancient collection of writings produced by, and for, ancient cultures.
And yet, taking the time to read through the whole Bible can be a profitable experience. Find a good translation that you will read, and then read a few chapters a day. It is fairly easy to read through the whole Bible in a year, taking no more than 15 minutes or so a day. And there are a number of guides that will help with it. I find it most useful to read from both the Old Testament and the New Testament each day. My current favorite is M’Chenye’s guide. It has you reading from four different parts of the Bible each day. This makes it easier to get through some of the more challenging parts because they are paired with passages that are easier to understand.
But whether you just start at the beginning and plow straight through, or break it up like I do, reading the whole thing is profitable. And the more times you read it, the better. Once you have established the habit of reading it every day, it is easy to just continue through it again and again. This kind of comprehensive reading cannot be beaten for helping to understand the overall story of the Bible. All too often, we focus on specific passages and miss the forest for the trees. An annual reading of the whole Bible will help to keep the forest in view.
Studying a Passage
A third way to read the Bible is to invest time in a specific passage. Pull out a variety of translations, commentaries, dictionaries, and other study tools. Get out your notebook and pencil, or their digital equivalent, and take notes on what you read. The goal here is to dive deeper into God’s word. You want to try and discover what the text said to its original audience. And, from there, what it will have to say to you today.
The goal here is not intellectual knowledge, although that is certainly a beneficial byproduct. The real goal of this exercise is to gain a greater understanding of what God’s word has to say to you. You might be doing this to prepare for sharing with other people. But it needs first to connect with you personally. Then you can take what you have gained and share it with others.
There is much that is in God’s word that does not reveal itself to us via a cursory reading. The Bible has a depth to it that only a divinely inspired book could have. And it challenges us to dive deeply into it to grow in our understanding of who God is and his purpose for us. And as we do, to grow in intimacy with God himself.
My Favorite Tools
I hesitate to share the specific tools that I use. Not because there is anything wrong with them. But simply because there are so many good and useful tools to help us in our study. Mine are what I have found work for me. They may or may not meet your needs. And, if not, by all means, look for something else.
Olive Tree Bible App
I have a variety of commentaries and other Bible study tools in print versions. And I used to use them quite extensively. And they still get pulled off the shelf occasionally. But more and more, I find myself using digital tools. My primary tool is the Olive Tree Bible App. This comes as essentially an empty bookshelf, and you can add to it as you need. The application itself is free, and most of the Bible translations and many of the resources are pretty inexpensive.
One of my favorite features is that it syncs across multiple devices. I have it on my Kindle, which I use for my daily Bible reading. It is on my phone, so I always have my Bible with me. And it is on my laptop, where I do most of my study. All of the resources I have bought for Olive Tree are available on all devices. And notes and highlights that I make on one device will automatically sync to the other devices. So all of my notes, and I have lots of them, are available wherever I am. I find that I am much better at note-taking now than I was when using a paper notebook. And the notes are easier to copy into a blog post and edit as necessary.
Some of the Bible versions are linked to dictionaries, and that simplifies doing word searches and studies. I find I am much more inclined to look up the definitions of words in their original language when all I have to do is click on that word and select the dictionary I want to use.
There are other tools that will do similar things, but Olive Tree works well for me and is highly recommended.
The second most common tool I use is Bible Gateway. This is an online tool that has a vast array of translations in many languages. The basic use of Bible Gateway is free and does not require an account. You can search for specific passages or for words or phrases. It is fast and very functional. I use it frequently to look up where a word or phrase is used. And I use it to provide links to Scripture references in blog articles.
You can register for an account which will allow you to mark up passages and save the markups between visits to the site. And there is a premium version that includes a variety of study tools. I have an account but seldom log into it. I use Olive Tree to save anything I want to remember. And I have never explored the paid version, being content with what I have in Olive Tree. But if you do not have another good library of tools, I think that Bible Gateway would be a good place to start your look.
Thy Word Have I Hid in My Heart
This article has been about reading and studying the Bible. This is something that every follower of the Lord Jesus should do regularly. The importance of this practice cannot be overemphasized. But reading and studying the Bible is not the end goal. The Bible, even though written long ago to a culture foreign to me, is still very relevant to me today. It gives me guidance for life. And it gives me instruction in who God is and his purpose for my life.
But, more importantly, it helps me to have a biblically based worldview. The more time I spend in God’s word, the more I will find that my outlook on life, desires, and thoughts are all shaped by the Bible. Psalm 119:11 says, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” Hiding God’s word in our hearts means more than memorizing it, although that helps. It means that I have incorporated it into my life at the deepest level. I don’t just give lip service to the Bible. I don’t just make it an intellectual exercise like studying a science book. But I allow it to work on me, changing me into the image of Christ.
Psalm 1:1-3 expresses the blessedness of one “whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.” This “person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither — whatever they do prospers.” Spend time with God’s word. Meditate on it. Allow it to change you. And you will find that your roots will grow deep, and your walk with God will prosper.