If you’ve stumbled upon this piece, I assure you first and foremost that this is not by chance! Whether you’re already a believer, looking to begin studying the Bible (potentially starting anew), or you’re intrigued as to where this book has originated from and where is a good place to begin reading it, or you’re just lost on the internet. All these reasons, however, being a good reason to stick around and read on. Regardless of where you lie on the spectrum of faith, common questions arise to many believers and non-believers alike:
- Who wrote the Bible and where did it come from?
- Which of the books in the Bible do I begin with? Can I read them in order?
- Do I need to memorize the whole Bible?
And so on and so forth, the list goes on. Early on in my Christian days I often found myself playing the proverbial ‘Bible roulette’, simply flicking to a random page and deeming that this must be what God wants me to read today! The Bible seemed to be this super dense, aged text that had little relevance to life today and because of this I rarely found myself diving into this life-changing book. I now find myself more assured in my daily life, holding on to the truth of the Bible to guide me through any situation life has to throw at me. It gives me joy when there’s sadness, peace during the chaos, reaffirms my identity when insecurities arise, and provides hope amongst despair. I cannot put into words how much I love the Bible and how much God has used His word to change my life and the lives of so many others around me. It is my prayer that you too would share in this unspeakable transformation.
While this short piece may not answer all of your questions in depth, it is our hope that it would provide some useful background information into the Bible, and great places to begin reading and studying. The word of God has the ability to teach, guide, heal, encourage, educate and so much more, and this isn’t something reserved for a special few, but a life changing experience accessible to all. I’ve included a range of references to scripture in brackets to aid your reading around anything mentioned in this piece.
“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you” – Psalm 32:8 (NIV)
For starters, the Bible is made up of 66 books, written by various human authors; but one ultimate author working through these individuals, the Holy Spirit. It spans many different contexts and points in time. The key split in the Christian Bible comes in the form of “The Old Testament” (before Christ) and “The New Testament” (after Christ). When taken together, we see a beautiful story from Genesis 1 to Revelations 22 of God’s intention for creation, where we as humans have gone astray, the goodness of God and His saving grace through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and the coming glory to be revealed in us upon the second coming of Christ.
Now this can be a lot to take in at first glance, littered amongst these pages are some of the stories we’ve come to know and love as children; Adam and Eve (Genesis 1-3), Noah’s Ark (Genesis 6-9), David and Goliath (1 Samuel 17), the tale of Jesus’ birth (Matthew 1). But they can very quickly become just that, stories we’re told as kids with no relevance and standing in today’s society. So where can we start to gain a deeper appreciation and paint a clearer picture of the teaching behind these stories…
Gospel, a common word that many of us would have heard before, both in Christian and secular contexts. Derived from the Greek word ‘Euangelion’ (εὐαγγέλιον). A compound word with “Eu” translating to ‘good’ and ‘angelion’ to ‘announcement’ or ‘news’. Therefore, we see the gospel translated to ‘good news’. What is this good news we speak of? Well, the good news of Jesus Christ and God’s kingdom foretold explicitly in the New Testament and woven into the fabric of the entire Bible’s metanarrative.
‘The Gospels’ consist of the first four books of the New Testament – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – and give accounts of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Each book serves a unique purpose in detailing Jesus’ life through either the author’s reason for writing the book and what message he is trying to convey about Jesus, or who the author’s intended audience was and how the gospel of Jesus Christ would impact their lives going forward (i.e. Jews and Gentiles). For example in John we see an eye witness account from ‘The Disciple Jesus Loved’ (not that he didn’t love them all, see John 13:23), addressed to the Jews at the time to inspire them to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, and that through faith they may receive life in his name (John 20:31). On the flip side, in Matthew, we see one of the earliest accounts of Jesus’ life, including his lineage through the entire Old Testament, his birth and a great deal of his teachings. The Bible contains amazing and diverse literary structures including letters, parables, poems and more, none of which are missing from the four books of the gospel.
When studied individually, we get an insight into Jesus’ ministry but when pieced together we gain a holistic view of Jesus’ lineage (Matthew 1). We learn how his life fulfilled Old Testament prophecy (Isaiah 7:14 amongst others), the purpose of God sending his son to Earth (John 3:16), Jesus’ many teachings (Matthew 5 amongst others), Jesus’ love for all of humanity (John 15:9-17), the numerous miracles performed by Jesus and his disciples (John 2:1-11 amongst others), the significance of his death on the cross (Matthew 20:28) and the good news of the Gospel in his resurrection (John 11:25-26). You’ll notice how some events are detailed across multiple gospels while some only appear once. But ultimately, through the four gospels, you’ll get an appreciation of the loving characteristics of Jesus Christ. A man both fully human and fully God (Philippians 2: 5-11), who walked this Earth blamelessly and died on the cross as a sacrifice for all mankind. You may have seen this played out in Mel Gibson’s ‘The Passion of the Christ,’ but there’s great satisfaction in coming to this revelation through study of scripture. The Gospel is told and exemplified in a number of different ways throughout the Bible and makes for great studying when comparing Old Testament symbolism with New Testament fulfilment. The Apostle Paul does an amazing job in describing the Gospel in his letters, for example in Ephesians 1 through 3.
This short synopsis doesn’t begin to touch upon the good news of the gospel, the hope for all in the resurrections and the boundless riches in Christ Jesus that are available to all of us as believers.
Right from the Genesis…
Now God’s nature is the same; yesterday, today and tomorrow. You may have heard of the Holy Trinity, depicting God in three: Father, Son and Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 13:14). This doesn’t mean that there are three gods by any means, there is very much just the one true God, however we have received access to God’s being in these three different ways. We see the distinct nature of God the Father in the Old Testament, God the Son in Jesus Christ in the New Testament and God the Holy Spirit after the departure of Jesus and in the world we live today.
Why is this important? Well, another great place to start out any study of scripture is right at the beginning of the Bible. The very first book, Genesis, a Greek word meaning ‘origin’ or ‘beginning’. In the book of Genesis we see God lay out the foundation of the Earth and his wondrous plan for humanity. Chapter 1 starts out reading, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”. We see how God famously created light, day and night, sun and moon, sea and sky, and creatures of every kind. Interestingly, in Genesis 1:26 when God created man, we see Him say: “Let US make mankind in OUR own image, in OUR own likeness”. The pluralisation in this context refers to the Hebrew pluralistic name of God, ‘Elohim’. It is worth noting that God, who is not constricted by time, made us in His image as God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Jesus himself was present at the creation of the world!
Alongside creation, we see a pivotal part in history, the fall of man and the first sin (Genesis 3). Now this is an important part of scripture as we’re introduced to Satan for the first time as the snake that tricked Eve into eating from the ‘Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil’ (the word ‘Satan’ translates to ‘accuser’ or ‘adversary’). We quickly see this first sin lead to a number of other ‘firsts’ for humans:
- First experience of negative emotions in the world: shame and fear (Genesis 3:7-10)
- First instance of the ‘blame game’ and abdication of responsibility (Genesis 3:11-12)
- First notion of anger (Genesis 4:5-6)
- Leading to the first murder in the story of Cain and Abel (Genesis 4:8)
Alongside a whole host of other events in the 50 chapters of Genesis, this book does a great job of detailing how the days of old were, and more importantly, how those events have lead us to the world we live in today. We see how as humans, took a detour from God’s perfect plan for humanity and strayed from our God given identities. Never fear, however, because even in this book and for the rest of scripture we see God’s never-ending efforts to reconcile us back to Him. In Genesis, we gain an appreciation for those stories told as kids. We understand the wonder of creation, the significance of Noah’s ark, the example of Abraham’s faith, the trials of Joseph, and more! It is an important book (not that they’re not all-important) that provides great insight into the character of God and the foundation of the Bible at large, a great place to start studying.
Now this may sound like a lot, and trust me, I too am no Bible scholar. There are a wealth of other Biblical leaders that all play a key role in God’s beautiful plan for humanity, and scripture makes a very clear point of pointing out how flawed and human all of them were, just like you and me. Despite all of that, God still chose to use them for His great purpose (just as He can use you and I), and their names are marked down in scripture for eternity. Whether they knew it or not, these biblical leaders either directly or indirectly, point to the only infallible human character we see throughout scripture, Jesus Christ.
So how do we ACTUALLY begin?
Having said all of this, picking up the Bible for the first time and reading through scripture can be a challenging task alone. But never fear, as there is a wealth of tools available both online and offline at your disposal. Which one will work best for you? I can’t say for definite, but I am confident that each suggestion will help you in building a solid grounding in scripture and a relationship with the God of the universe that so dearly wants to meet with you.
Here are a few useful tips to get you started:
- The Bible App – In today’s digital era, aside from going out and buying or borrowing a physical Bible this is a GREAT place to start, not to mention the easiest. The YouVersion Bible app is my favourite suggestion although I’m sure there are multiple on the app store. The Bible app was one of the first 200 apps first posted to the app store when it launched. It has been downloaded over 400 million times and translated into over 2000 versions and 1000 languages, so I’m sure you’ll find something for you. Aside from it’s easy accessibility, the Bible app has a wealth of biblical translations and bible plans to meet your needs whatever challenge in your life you may be facing; loss, hurt, addiction, fear, insecurities, stress, anger, unforgiveness, you name it and I’m sure there’ll be a short (or long) study plan for you. With its new prayer function and friendship feature, reading the Bible doesn’t have to be something you do alone. Not to sound like a salesmen but it really is a great addition to your iPhone/Android/cellular device!
- Buy a physical Bible – This might sound super intuitive, but there really is such plethora of options for you to choose the very best Bible for you. While we could talk forever debating the best study bible or red letter print, that initial investment in your first Bible will add tangibility to your pursuit of God through scripture. I once came across a video of Chinese Christians receiving their first ever bibles. In a country where Christians often face great prosecution for the exercising of their faith, many of them overcome with emotion began to break down in tears as they embraced, smelt and lauded over the books they now held in their hand. It was a stark reminder that the word of God is so precious, so sacred, so Holy, it is God’s very nature, His character, Himself breathed out for the edification of all humanity. What a blessing to so easily have access to this life-changing text.
- Join a local Church or Bible study – One of the best ways to study the Bible is with other people! Many churches and fellowships run small groups across the country and I’m confident there’s one around you to take advantage of whether you’re a student, self employed or work full time. And if not, why not start one? What a great way to get together a mix of individuals, some with similar levels of Bible knowledge, some more, some less and ponder through scripture together. If you want any advice on finding a local bible study or church for that matter, please do reach out or take a look in the resources section below!
Now, these are just a few key ones I think that anyone can take advantage of. But if you’d like to make use of more resources like a year long plan that takes you through the Bible in chronological order, friendly YouTube videos that break down the narrative of specific books in the Bible, or a great gospel music playlist on Spotify to get your bible studying juices flowing. Then check out the resources listed at the end of this piece.
Whether you believe it or not, you being in this exact moment, reading these words at the specific point of your life is not by accident. The Bible tells us that God knew exactly how your life would pan out before you were formed in your Mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13-18), before the foundations of the Earth were created He chose you (Ephesians 1:4). God’s thoughts for you outnumber the grains of sand and His love for you is unconditional. Whether Christian or not, if you’re reading this piece, it is our hope that you would give Jesus Christ a chance and let him blow you away with the beauty of the Gospel.
This isn’t bible reading 101, nor is this a be all and end all of how to study scripture. This isn’t something that you have to master overnight, but a lifelong journey. Nor is this something that is ever really perfected, and while you may not necessarily be called to become a bible scholar, study of scripture does have to be consistent and it does have to be intentional to enact real change in your life and the lives of those around you. The more you let the Bible teach, guide and uplift you, as you allow it to get down deep in your spirit, the more it begins to change your very life. Equipping you with the tools to fight every battle that this world may throw at you. Take heart, for you’ve been granted a helper in the Holy Spirit and the church worldwide to assist you on this journey. We hope this is a start onto a life-altering, world changing journey of your relationship with God. Remember, God loves you, Jesus Christ died to save you and you can never go too far for these two truths to not stand.
Hope it helps,
Peace and blessings!
“The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace” – Numbers 6: 24-26
- The Bible app – Apple: https://apps.apple.com/us/app/bible/id282935706, Android: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.sirma.mobile.bible.android&hl=en_GB
- NIV Life Application Study Bible – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Application-Study-Anglicised-International-Version/dp/1444792938/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=study+bible+niv&qid=1585700730&sr=8-1
- The Bible Recap, a year long bible study plan and daily podcast that takes you through the entire Bible chronologically – http://www.thebiblerecap.com/start
- The Bible Project, short informative videos that break down the narrative of each book in the bible or biblical terms – https://www.youtube.com/user/jointhebibleproject
- Spotify playlist of Christian and Gospel music – https://open.spotify.com/playlist/2jUwIxnhbmDauq6lBiw5qk?si=PZb4LBGiRmeAsEYmTJ7wwQ
- Our God Given Mission website for more informative articles, podcasts, videos and more! – https://www.ourgodgivenmission.com/
- UK Church directory to help you find a church near you – https://www.findachurch.co.uk/