Where to Start When Reading the Bible (Not Just For Beginners!)
Recommended Reading: 2 Timothy 3:10-16
Note: This is part 2 of the “First Love” series. Check out part 1 here!
If you clicked on this post, you probably belong to one of two camps.
The first is a group of people that really want to start reading the Bible but have no idea where to start. This morning, out of curiosity, I Googled “Reading the Bible.” Two of the suggestions that came up were “where to start” and “for the first time.” Clearly there are a lot of people with a hunger for God’s Word, but a lot of us don’t know where to begin! Keep reading for helpful tips for starting out. At the end of the post I’ve included a section for where it is best to physically start within the Bible.
The second group is one of seasoned Christians who are knowledgeable about the Word of God but want to dive even deeper. If that’s you, I’m really glad you’re here and I’m praying that this post will be helpful for you, too!
Reading God’s Word is vital to our walk.
It’s made an insane difference in my own life. I am armed with knowledge of God like never before. When the enemy attacks me, I have a defense. When I come across any kind of obstacle, I am able to get through it because I have the Word stored up in my heart. It overflows into every part of my life.
It takes a long time to see that kind of change, so I won’t pretend it was an overnight thing. I love reading through my quiet time journals from before and after I started making it a priority, because the difference it made for me is so evident. It is evident in the kind of prayers I was writing down, in the things I wanted in life, and in what I believed about God.
I’ll get right to it today, since we have a lot to cover!
Where should we start when reading the Bible?
Start by seeking understanding.
They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading. – Nehemiah 8:8
Some translations say “with interpretation, passage by passage” where the ESV says “clearly.” They went through the Word (which in their day was just the writings of Moses) with all the people and slowly interpreted what it meant.
It seems that a lot of people blame modern culture for their lack of understanding the Bible. “It was written for a different culture” is something I’ve grown used to hearing, and because of that we seem to have given up trying to fully understand Scripture. But, what if the Bible is still relevant to every culture?
Does truth have an expiration date?
Think about it: if even people back in Nehemiah’s day needed some help with their understanding, how much more can we admit when we don’t understand it? Not all of us are tenured seminary professors and if we were, there would be no need for seminary professors!
If I’m being honest, I get bored and/or frustrated by things I don’t understand.
This will take some vulnerability to admit, but I was always one of those awful people who actually sort of enjoyed math…because I understood it. I inherited the Math Gene™ from my dad and had a lot of good teachers growing up, so I have zero animosity towards math.
For so many people, though, that isn’t the case. Lots of people hate math because it’s frustrating or hard to understand. It causes some people to give up entirely because they “just don’t get it,” and they never will.
Do we treat the Bible the same way? Do we start reading believing that if we don’t understand what the passage says then we never will?
I would encourage you not to underestimate the power of learning when it comes to Scripture. Here is a list of resources I’ve compiled that will help you do exactly that! These have all been incredibly helpful to me the course of my spiritual life.
- David Guzik’s study guides. He has a commentary for every single book in the Bible, and I use them quite often. He doesn’t use a lot of lofty language and does a great job of clearly laying out the meaning of each individual phrase.
- Blue Letter Bible. This is both a website and an app. It has an “Interlinear” feature, which allows you to choose a specific word and see what it specifically means in either Hebrew or Greek (depending on if you’re reading the Old or New Testament). It also lets you choose from lots of different audio and text commentaries, such as the one I listed above, all in one place.
- Bible Gateway. See every translation you can think of all in one place! If you don’t understand a passage in one translation, reading it in another may be helpful.
- Other believers. This is a central function of community: spurring one another on in faith! Don’t be afraid to ask around your small group or church and see what different people think about a passage. You can gain so many perspectives and insights that way. This goes beyond people you know in real life. Look for sermons on YouTube that focus on the passage in question. Listen to podcasts. Google it and see what different bloggers have gotten out of it over the years.
- The Holy Spirit. If you come across something that you don’t understand, it helps to go to the Author! He is the One who gives understanding and wisdom, and He can help you better understand the passages you read. Just pray and ask! For those interested in reading up on this topic, I wrote a post about wisdom that you can find here!
Start by increasing your hunger.
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. – 2 Timothy 3:16-17
It seems that everyone these days has the secret to the meaning of life and is willing to sell it to you for $9.99. Everywhere I look, people are desperate for my attention–makeup brands, weight loss experts, blogging gurus, the latest trendy author…everyone with a product, really.
The thing is, God doesn’t throw His flashy marketing campaign in my face. He doesn’t advertise on Facebook or send me His promotional inbox newsletter. He doesn’t need me to buy His product. On the contrary, I have an infinitely deep need for Him.
One danger of being flooded with information in this day and age is that we can forget our need for solid Truth. We take our hunger for God and fill it with cheap, useless things of the world that actually do provide feelings of satisfaction…for awhile. We go after whatever is interesting to us today and forget to leave time for what we truly need…or worse, we get so comfortable living in our information-flooded society that we start to believe that we don’t need it at all.
The truth is, we need something that is, as Paul puts it, breathed out by God. We cannot live a day in this world without God, and we shouldn’t try to live a day in this world without hearing what He has to say to us and about us. It is what makes us effective. Without it, we are incomplete and ill-equipped for the good works He has laid out for us to do each day.
Those are some of the holistic functions of the Bible, but Paul also lays out some practical and day-to-day functions of reading the Word in these two verses.
The first is for teaching. I don’t think any of us would claim to know everything, especially everything about God, but there is beauty in getting closer–in learning more. Every time I read Scripture I learn something new, even if it’s a passage I’ve read fifty times before. God teaches me new things all the time as I’m reading His Word. It has also been useful to me in teaching others. How can we be effective in sharing the Gospel if we don’t actually know it? How can we help other believers increase their knowledge of God if we only know the things we have heard secondhand?
The second is for reproof and correction. We can use it to correct other believers, yes, but are we ready to be corrected? These are things that can cause us to be defensive: How dare anyone try to tell us what to do? But the reality is, if we are acting contrary to the will of God, the Bible can point that out to us pretty quickly. The reason pride is so dangerous is because it blinds us to our need for this kind of correction…and we do need it, desperately. I don’t know about you, but if I were to veer off of the narrow path and onto the broad one that leads to destruction, I would want to know pretty fast. And the Bible, since it is God’s letter to us, will lovingly point it out and ask us to return to Him.
The third function of the Bible is training in righteousness. The natural next step after you discover the goodness and kindness of God is a desire to please Him. The Bible will tell you exactly how to do that. Within it are all of God’s expectations for humanity. The things He asks of us today (The things that make up His new covenant with us) are clearly laid out in the New Testament. This isn’t to say that He asks us to do certain things, and then we can be saved. On the contrary, after being saved it only makes sense to avoid the things you needed saving from in the first place, and the only way to do that is to take refuge in your Savior.
Imagine a life without any Bible at all. How would you know anything about God’s character? How would you know His expectations for you, or for the church? How would you know the Gospel? It is a deeply sad thought.
The thing is, lots of us are living like that is our reality! We aren’t taking advantage of the incredible privilege we have to read our Father’s letter to us. Sure, we know the concepts, but how consistent are we in reading it, or even desiring to read it? How consistent are we in memorizing it so that we have a defense against the attacks of the enemy?
If you desire to increase your hunger for the Word today, ask God! He absolutely wants your hunger for Him and the Bible to increase, and He will give you hunger without holding back. 1 Timothy 2:4 says that God wants all people to have knowledge of the truth, and if your lack of hunger is standing in the way, He’ll kick it out for you if you’ll let Him.
Start by making a commitment.
This one will take some heart examination.
Are you prepared to commit time every week–maybe every day–to reading the Word? Because, and I’ll let you in on a secret here, you won’t always feel like it.
There will be days you’ll wake up with zero desire to open up your Bible. None whatsoever. The fact that you clicked on this article tells me you’re excited to start, and I’m really glad for that! But some days you won’t feel that way.
Are you prepared to do it anyway?
Every relationship requires sacrifice, and our relationship with God is no different. We take out the trash and wash dishes for our family even when we don’t feel like it because we love them and we’re sick of looking at the dishes in the sink. We read the Bible when we don’t feel like it because we love God and we’re sick of being full of our sinful self.
This is kind of a harsh truth, but God has never allowed “I don’t feel like it” to be a legitimate excuse. He is the King of the world, and we have the binary choice to either follow Him or not.
I realized this truth very recently, and it was convicting–almost crushingly so, but…in a good way, if that makes sense. It freed my heart up from the lie that my life is mine. We are not our own–we are simply stewards. We are told in Scripture that some will hear “Well done, good and faithful servant” at the end of their lives (Matthew 25:23) and that others will have their work burned up. The second group will still be saved, but only as people who have barely escaped through fire (1 Corinthians 3:15 AMP).
That makes me a little nervous, to tell you the truth, and I for sure want to be part of the first group.
It makes me think twice about playing hooky with my commitment to God for the day.
You want to know something beautiful?
Even if you start your time reading the Bible not wanting to do it, God will work on your heart as you read, especially if you ask Him to. He will soften your heart towards Him and increase your desire for His truth. I’ve started many a quiet time with an awful attitude, only to reach a stopping point and realize I don’t want to stop.
It’s kind of like taking a shower.
You might feel sort of burdened by your need to take one beforehand, and then once you’re in there you realize showers are actually great and you don’t want to get back out into your icy bathroom.
It’s like that, but on a much greater scale, obviously.
Quit laughing at me. I’m serious.
So, here’s my tip to you: pick a specific time to read the Word. If you don’t (and you have a similar personality type as me) it will never happen. You might have every intention of getting to it, but life has a bad habit of getting in the way.
I’ve realized that I need to have my time in the Word first thing in the morning, before all of the obligations that I have somehow accrued, or else I just don’t get to it. Also, having that time in the morning is a really precious thing. It gives me strength for the day.
Once you have your specific time, fight for it. This is your meeting with your Father, with the One who can do anything. You’ll have to decide whether or not that is important to you.
Again, prayer works. If you find yourself lacking discipline and unable to become disciplined, ask God for help. If He can discipline my spirit, I guarantee you it is possible for you! Hebrews 12:6 says He disciplines those He loves, and discipline is not a bad thing, my friend.
Jenna, what if I don’t know where to actually start reading?
Well then, I’m so glad you’re still reading, because this section is for you!
Personally, I believe it is best to start with John. This is for 2 reasons:
- Jesus is the point of everything, so starting out by reading the life of Jesus just makes a lot of sense
- The book of John seems to be specifically written for people who have not yet heard the story of Jesus. Because of that, it is useful both for brand new believers and more mature believers who want to be encouraged!
- While the other three Gospels are very similar, John contains some stories and writings that do not appear in the others. Because of this, reading John will help you learn the most about Jesus right away.
I want to re-emphasize my first point about seeking understanding. If you don’t quite understand a phrase, it could still be a very important one for your life, so I would encourage you to use one of the tools I listed to help you out! Increasing your understanding will help you see the relevance of Scripture and deepen your love for God.
After John, I highly recommend praying and asking God what He wants you to read. He will definitely give you the answer, and I’ve prayed that you would hear His voice clearly and know what that answer is. Once He told me “Haggai,” which seemed weird, but it ended up being eerily relevant to my life and this post came out of it.
So, go forth and read!
You will not regret a second you spent reading the Word of God.
Until next time,