How to Read the Bible

Download and print your personal Bible Reading Follow-Up chart

A chart of all the chapters in the Bible - put an x on every chapter you read

What is the Bible?

The Bible is a collection of books that God has given us through the inspiration of his Spirit.

Why is it important to read the Bible?

It is important to read the Bible in order to:

  • know the True God and his Messiah, Yeshua
  • to receive forgiveness of sin and be saved from eternal damnation - John 3:16,17 and 18
  • hear the Word of God – God speaks to us most through his Word
  • learn God’s will for our lives so that we can live in accordance with it
  • learn how to praise and worship God

What does the Bible tell us?

  • how God created the world
  • how the first human being sinned
  • how God planned salvation for humanity and started by calling one person (Abraham)
  • how God continued his plan by calling a people (the Jews) and gave them his Torah
  • how God sent them a Saviour (Yeshua the Messiah)
  • how Yeshua lived, taught, died and was resurrected
  • how the Gospel about Yeshua began spreading to all humanity through the first congregation of his followers
  • how Yeshua will return to earth to establish his kingdom
  • how Yeshua will judge the living and the dead
  • how God will create a new heaven and a new earth after the end of times

Understanding the Bible

The Bible is not a children’s book (but children should be introduced to it at an early age).

There are things in the Bible that are hard to understand, for young and old. You need to make an effort to understand the Bible better. Without effort you can’t learn how to read, write or count. Without effort you can’t learn to be a pilot, gardener, doctor or secretary. Why should the Bible be different?

There are helps – biblical glossaries to look up unclear words and expressions. Other books that teach us about the time of the Bible, the countries, culture and peoples. There are maps, concordances and books about plants and animals of the Bible. It is also helpful to have a Bible with cross-references to find similar passages or verses in other places in the Bible.

But don’t just read with your head – read with your heart! Pray that God will talk to you by his Holy Spirit while you read! It doesn’t matter if you are young or old. I was very young, back in 1921, when I asked our housekeeper in our Berlin home to read to me from the Bible. She read me the story of the crucifiction. Many think that that part is not suitable for children, but I thank God that that was the first thing I ever heard about Yeshua. I have never forgotten it.

A few tips

  • Read in prayer – when you ask for God’s guidance you will receive more knowledge and blessings through the reading.
  • Read often – it is best to read every day. If this is impossible, then read as often as possible. Take time to think and ponder what you have read.
  • How much should you read each time? – There are interesting stories that can be read straight through, but as a general rule it is best to read it chapter by chapter. There are also beautiful verses that you can learn by heart for yourself and so that you can share them with others. But you can’t live on small snippets from here and there. In short, don’t read too much and don’t read too little.
  • If there’s something I don’t understand? – Sometimes you need to give up and continue and ask God to clarify the difficult passages later, when you’ve grown more in faith.

Two parts – one Bible

The Old Testament was Yeshua’s Bible. He always refers to it as „the written”. His disciples also only had the Old Testament. Everything important about man’s relation to God and to each other is there. It includes prayers and worship songs that are suitable for every time and every situation. It gives wonderful promises about the future. The Old Testament was written, with only a few exceptions, in Hebrew.

The New Testament was written after Yeshua’ death and resurrection. In the introduction to the Gospel of Luke it says that „many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us”. The authors of the Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – collected, with God’s help, memories, words and writings of people that had met or heard Yeshua. Instead of giving a full detailed description of his life, they focused on what is important for us – his birth, his years as a wandering teacher, his teachings, his death and his resurrection. Before these Gospels were written, Paul had already written many of his letters. Paul’s letters, and those of other apostles, and a description of the history of the early congregation, are all gathered in the part of the Bible we know as the New Testament. It concludes with the book of John’s Revelation which describes what is to be in the future.

The New Testament is the continuation and fulfillment of the Old Testament. The New Testament on its own is not „the Bible”, becuase it is not self-sustaining. You can’t expect the New Testament to repeat the important things about God and his plan that are written in the Old Testament. In order to fully understand God’s salvation plan for humanity it is necessary to read both parts of the Bible!

With the exception of a few words, the New Testament was written in Greek. It is possible that parts of the stories that the Gospels rely on were originally written in Hebrew or Aramaic.

So where do I start?

In spite of the great importance of the Old Testament, I would recommend you to start with one of the Gospels in the New Testament. Maybe the shortest and easiest – Mark. Why? Because it is important to learn to know Yeshua more and more, from day to day. He says:

„And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Yeshua the Messiah whom thou hast sent.”
(John 17:3)

It is also important to learn to know his will for our life. Or, as someone said: „Yeshua didn’t come to get admirers, but to call followers”.

„For I have given you an example...”
(John 13:15)

In the Gospels Yeshua also tells us what he expects from his disciples:

“Not everyone that saith unto me ‘Lord, Lord’ shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.”
(Matthew 7:21)

“If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.”
(Luke 9:23)

Translations

It is a great privilege to be able to read the Bible in the original language, but most people in the world are forced to read a translation. There are many peoples that do not have the Bible at all, or that have only parts of it. Many have only one translation, often a very old one. In the Western world, and especially in English-speaking countries, there is a wide variety of translations.

There are word-by-word translations that try to translate “exactly what is written”. Others, on the other hand, are so “free” that they no longer reflect the original. A classic example of that is the so-called “Living Bible”, which is actually not a translation at all, but rather a paraphrase, or a retelling.

A good translation stays close to the original and the inner meaning of the Word, but still maintains a flowing modern language that is easy for the reader to understand.

Thank God for the Bible

In the past, Bibles were handwritten and they were very expensive. They were kept in temples, synagogues, churches and monasteries. Only priests rabbis, monks and influential rich people had access to them.

With the invention of the printing-press in the 15th century, mass-production of Bibles became possible. But these Bibles were still too expensive for regular people. There were no schools for commoners, so most common people didn’t know how to read and write. They had to be content with what they heard taught in church or saw in the Biblical stories depicted in murals on the church walls. It was widely believed in the church that only properly taught priests could read and explain the Bible. Therefore they didn’t want commoners to have Bibles. People that opposed this belief often had to pay with their lives.

Even today there are countries – such as communist countries or those under Islam’s sharia law – where owning or distributing Bibles is forbidden. Many people in these countries are being kept in prisons or camps for distributing the Word of God.

Thank God that you have a Bible.

Thank God for all the people who have dedicated their lives to the difficult task of translating the Bible.

Pray for the people that are risking their lives daily in order to distribute Bibles, and for the people sitting in prisons for distributing the Word of God.

Let’s start!

  • Start with a prayer.
  • Read a part of the Bible, not too long.
  • Look up words, phrases and other things that need clarification.
  • Who are the main characters in this text?
  • Do I understand the context?
  • Is there something here that I need to thank God for?
  • Is there a command here for me?
  • Is there something here that I need to avoid?
  • Is there something here that I need to ask forgiveness for, from God or from people?
  • Should I now:
    • Help someone?
    • Visit someone?
    • Call or write to someone?
    • Pray for someone?
  • What do I want to talk with God about right now?

Written by Heinrich Pollack