Getting to Know the Bible
I’ve never actually read the Bible before. Where should I start?
The Bible is a huge document that can be incredibly intimidating. Most people find that starting with one of the Gospels is a nice entryway into the Bible. Here is an example of reading through the Gospel of Luke.
The Gospel of Luke
The Gospel of Luke is a great introduction to the Bible, and to Jesus. Luke focuses on themes like Jesus’ care for all people—even people normally considered “not good enough.” Luke also has a special emphasis on the Holy Spirit—miracles happen because of the Holy Spirit, and many people are moved to preach through the power of the Holy Spirit. Each day’s reading is about 5-7 Bible pages long, and intended to take around 20 minutes to read.
- Day one: read Luke, chapters 1-2
These chapters allow you to read through the familiar nativity scene with Jesus being born in a barn, and angels coming to shepherds to announce the good news.
- Day two: read Luke, chapters 3-4
These chapters introduce John the Baptist and Jesus as adults, instead of babies. Jesus is baptized by John, and begins preaching and healing sick people.
- Day three: read Luke, chapters 5-7
These chapters show Jesus calling several of the 12 disciples, as well as preaching to the multitudes (the “sermon on the plains”). They also show Jesus healing more people, people often overlooked by those in power.
- Day four: read Luke, chapters 8-9
These chapters show many women following Jesus, and introduce some of Jesus’ parables. Jesus also heals more people, including raising up a little girl who has died. They end with Jesus preaching on his upcoming crucifixion, and the cost of discipleship.
- Day five: read Luke 10-12
These chapters include the parable of the Good Samaritan, one of Luke’s most famous parables, and Luke’s shorter version of the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus also argues with the religious leaders of the time.
- Day 6: read Luke 12-14
These chapters show Jesus healing even more people, telling even more parables, and arguing with the religious leaders.
- Day 7: Luke 15-17
Chapter 15 especially is a series of Luke’s parables that includes the Prodigal Son – another of his most famous parables. The other chapters have even more parables and healings, as well as preaching on the Kingdom of God.
- Day 8: Luke 18-20
More parables, healings, and preaching on the Kingdom, with a tender scene where Jesus insists that children are welcome in his kingdom, and even models of how to accept the kingdom.
- Day 9: Luke 21-22
Jesus preaches on future events that will come with strife, and urges vigilant watching. Jesus has made himself so unpopular that in chapter 22, the religious leaders plot to have him executed. Jesus has his Last Supper with his disciples.
- Day 10: Luke 23-24
Jesus is tried and executed on the cross. In chapter 24 Jesus comes back to life, and greets and comforts many of his followers.
I enjoyed reading Luke, but I’d like a scholar’s opinion. Any suggestions?
N.T. Wright has a series on the New Testament entitled The New Testament for Everyone. Here is some information on his book on Luke:
Amazon’s Description: Tom Wright’s guide to Luke, which includes a wealth of information and background detail, provides real insights for our understanding of the story of Jesus and its implications for the reader. His clear style is accessible for new readers of the Bible, as well as to those who are further on. His exciting new translation of the biblical text brings to life, passage by passage, the immediacy and drama of Luke’s Gospel.”
Buy it (and others in the series) on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Luke-Everyone-New-Testament/dp/0664227848/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1539812549&sr=1-1&keywords=Luke+for+everyone+n.t.+wright
Buy it (and others in the series) on Better World Books: https://www.betterworldbooks.com/product/detail/Luke-for-Everyone-9780664227845
I want to dig deeper into more books of the Bible. How should I do that?
Most people find that reading the Bible “cover to cover” ends in failure: while the first couple books of the Bible are full of familiar and thrilling stories, many people are overwhelmed by the following books of the Jewish Law—a beautiful and comprehensive system of laws covering everything from what to eat to what to plant your fields with, to laws of ethics and worship. Important and beautiful as the Law books are, it is a LOT of detail. Often, a more successful approach is to break daily or weekly readings up into smaller passages from the Old and New Testament alike.
The Presbyterian church uses something called a “Lectionary.” A lectionary is a collection of Bible passages, organized into daily or weekly readings. This allows the entire Presbyterian church to have a sense of community—many of the congregations and individual members will be reading the same Bible passages on the same days. There are two forms of the lectionary: one meant for daily devotion, and one meant for Sunday worship. The “Daily Devotion” lectionary is broken into 2 years, allowing a person, following the daily readings, to read the Old Testament once and the New Testament twice.
Here is a link to the PC-USA’s website, where it explains the two forms of the lectionary:
There are also books out there meant to help guide a person through reading the Bible. Christian Piatt, for instance, every year sells an updated version of Surviving the Bible. Information on the book is directly below.
Amazon’s description: “A lot of us have tried to read the Bible. And we’ve failed. Christian Piatt has too. But now, using the annual lectionary as his guide, he has put together a devotional that allows us to read through major parts of the Old and New Testaments and finally understand them in plain English. Every week has several Scripture readings, explanations of confusing terms, a story, a deeper dive into interesting themes, and a closing prayer.
You can use it as a weekly study or browse a thematic list for something you’re curious about. It’s an ideal resource to use with a friend or small group, but it’s set up to be accessed by anyone who has enough curiosity, openness, and desire to grow.
Start anywhere. Set it down and come back to it. There’s no “wrong way” to use Surviving the Bible. Engage ancient texts in new ways that make sense, here and now, maybe for the first time. Any way you use it, it’s sure to challenge and inspire.”
Get it on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Surviving-Bible-Devotional-Church-Year/dp/1506420672/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1539798710&sr=1-1-fkmr0&keywords=Piatt+%E2%80%9C+Surviving+the+Bible+2018%E2%80%9D
Get it on Better World Books: https://www.betterworldbooks.com/product/detail/Surviving-the-Bible–A-Devotional-for-the-Church-Year-2019-9781506420677
I’m interested in knowing more about the Bible itself and how it was formed. Where can I look?
The process of “canonization,” or “choosing what counts as sacred scripture” took hundreds of years, both for the Old and New Testaments. However, certain books (the Torah, or first 5 books of the Old Testament, and the Gospels and some of Paul’s letters in the New Testament) were almost immediately adopted as sacred scripture by those reading them.
Two books, one on the Old Testament, and one on the New Testament, are great introductions to the material found in each, but also focus on what we know about the background of the time period, and how that influenced the writing of the books.
Old Testament background:
Dr. Zach Flanagin’s note: “Probably the best purely historical introduction to the Old Testament that exists. Collins largely ignores (both for good and for ill) the contemporary controversies over what liberal or conservative Christians or Jews want the Old Testament to mean in favor of a pretty masterful introduction to what it likely meant when it was first written. As such, Collins will reveal much about the ancient world but will not address modern relevance.”
Description on Amazon: A marvel of conciseness, John J. Collins’ A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible is quickly becoming one of the most popular introductory textbooks in colleges and universy classrooms. Here the erudition of Collins’ renowned Introduction to the Hebrew Bible is combined with even more student-friendly features, including charts, maps, photographs, chapter summaries, illuminating vignettes, and bibliographies for further reading. The second edition has been carefully revised to take the latest scholarly developments into account. A dedicated website includes test banks and classroom resources for the busy instructor.
Buy it on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Short-Introduction-Hebrew-Bible-Second/dp/1451472943/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1541105386&sr=1-2&keywords=John+Collins%2C+Introduction+to+the+Hebrew+Bible
Buy it on Better World Books: https://www.betterworldbooks.com/product/detail/A-Short-Introduction-to-the-Hebrew-Bible-9781451472943
Or, if you’re excited about the non-abridged version, find the 600+ page version here:
New Testament Background
Dr. Zach Flanagin’s note: “Probably the best general introduction to the entire New Testament, dealing with each of the 27 texts. Strongest in discussing the gospels and Paul. Combines thorough historical background with questions of contemporary relevance for the church.”
Description on Amazon: Since its publication in 1997, Raymond Brown’s Introduction to the New Testament has been widely embraced by modern readers seeking to understand the Christian Bible.
Abridged by Marion Soards, who worked with Brown on the original text, this new, concise version maintains the essence and centrist interpretation of the original without tampering with Brown’s perspective, insights, or conclusions. The biblical writings themselves remain the focus, but there are also chapters dealing with the nature, origin, and interpretation of the New Testament texts, as well as chapters concerning the political, social, religious, and philosophical world of antiquity. Furthermore, augmenting Brown’s commentary on the New Testament itself are topics such as the Gospels’ relationship to one another; the form and function of ancient letters; Paul’s thought and life, along with his motivation, legacy, and theology; a reflection on the historical Jesus; and a survey of relevant Jewish and Christian writings.
This comprehensive, reliable, and authoritative guidebook is now more accessible for novices, general readers, Bible study groups, ministers, scholars, and students alike.
or, if you’re excited about the non-abridged, find the nearly 1,000 page version here:
Are there any Bible apps that you could recommend?
The amazing part about the society we live in is that there are now apps for everything. There is a wide variety of Bible apps available. Here’s an example of a solidly good app that has a range of options from devotions to Bible translations:
Olive Tree Bible App
Bible by Olive Tree 4+
Bible Study & Daily Holy Bible
HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc.
The Olive Tree Bible app is primarily a resource for reading the Bible. It has many translations available, has several translations of the Bible on audio, and has commentaries to go with the Bible readings. In addition, it has things like devotionals, daily reading plans, etc. The basic app is free, and doesn’t require wifi. However, popular translations like the NRSV (the standard version we use at LOPC) are purchase only, as are many of the audio/commentary/study bibles.
Finally, here is a list of books that are fairly comprehensive when it comes to the Bible. They come in a variety of styles and some are a bit more topical than others. Overall, if you’re craving extra reading, here’s a list of books you could try out!
Eugene Peterson, Eat This Book
From Amazon’s Description: “Eat This Book challenges us to read the Scriptures on their own terms, as God’s revelation, and to live them as we read them. With warmth and wisdom Peterson offers greatly needed, down-to-earth counsel on spiritual reading. In these pages he draws readers into a fascinating conversation on the nature of language, the ancient practice of lectio divina, and the role of Scripture translations; included here is the inside story behind Peterson’s own popular Bible translation, The Message.”
Renita Williams, Just a Sister Away
Description on Amazon: Writing with African American women in mind, Renita Weems probes beneath the surface to find out how women of Scripture felt about themselves by looking at how they treated other women. Believing a common thread of sacred female experiences continues to bind centuries of women, Weems offers hope that “we are just a sister away from our healing.”
In nine chapters, Weems examines the relationships of Hagar and Sarah, Naomi and Ruth, Martha and Mary, Jephthah’s Daughter and the mourning women, Miriam and her sister-in-law, the women who followed Jesus, Vashti and Esther, Elizabeth and Mary, and Lot’s Wife and her daughters. Each chapter includes study questions for group discussion.
Gary Wills, What the Gospels Meant
Amazon’s description: “In his New York Times bestsellers What Jesus Meant and What Paul Meant, Garry Wills offers tour-de-force interpretations of Jesus and the Apostle Paul. Here Wills turns his remarkable gift for biblical analysis to the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Wills examines the goals, methods, and styles of the evangelists and how these shaped the gospels’ messages. Wills guides readers through the maze of meanings within these foundational texts, revealing their essential Christian truths.
Get it on Better World Books: https://www.betterworldbooks.com/product/detail/What-the-Gospels-Meant-9780143115120
Katharine Doob Sakenfeld, Just Wives: Stories of Power and Survival in the Old Testament and Today
Amazon’s Description: “Giving astute attention to social worlds of women of both ancient and modern times, Katharine Sakenfeld explores the stories of eleven women in the Old Testament. In clear and engaging fashion, she reveals the complexity of these women’s lives, drawing out the issues they faced and relating their struggles to those women around the world face today. By encouraging women from across the world, in various cultures, to bring their own experiences to the biblical texts, and sharing the interpretation of some who already have, Sakenfeld allows her readers to see new possibilities for meaning in the Scriptures.
Issues discussed include violence, sexual allure, personal betrayal, marginalization, power, and economic survival. Includes study questions for group discussion.”
Peter Enns, The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It
The controversial Bible scholar recounts his transformative spiritual journey in which he discovered a new, more honest way to love and appreciate God’s Word.
Trained as an evangelical Bible scholar, Peter Enns loved the Scriptures and shared his devotion, teaching at Westminster Theological Seminary. But the further he studied the Bible, the more he found himself confronted by questions that could neither be answered within the rigid framework of his religious instruction or accepted among the conservative evangelical community.
The Bible Tells Me So chronicles Enns’s spiritual odyssey, how he came to see beyond restrictive doctrine and learned to embrace God’s Word as it is actually written. As he explores questions progressive evangelical readers of Scripture commonly face yet fear voicing, Enns reveals that they are the very questions that God wants us to consider—the essence of our spiritual study.
Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All it’s Worth
Amazon’s description: “Understanding the Bible isn’t for the few, the gifted, the scholarly. The Bible is accessible. It’s meant to be read and comprehended by everyone from armchair readers to seminary students. A few essential insights into the Bible can clear up a lot of misconceptions and help you grasp the meaning of Scripture and its application to your twenty-first-century life.
Covering everything from translational concerns to different genres of biblical writing, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth is used all around the world. In clear, simple language, it helps you accurately understand the different parts of the Bible―their meaning for ancient audiences and their implications for you today―so you can uncover the inexhaustible worth that is in God’s Word.
Get it at Better World Books: https://www.betterworldbooks.com/product/detail/How-to-Read-the-Bible-for-All-Its-Worth–Fourth-Edition-9780310517825
Gale Yee, Poor Banished Children of Eve
Description on Amazon: What gave rise to symbolizing woman as evil in the biblical tradition and other ancient Near Eastern societies? Taking her title from a Roman Catholic prayer called “Hail Holy Queen,” Yee investigates the history of this hostile tradition of symbolization, including Eve in Genesis, Gomer in Hosea, Oholah and Oholibah in Ezekiel, and the “strange woman” of Proverbs. Employing a materialist literary criticism, ideological criticism, and the social sciences, she investigates how this negative imagery crops up in a variety of forms. Among her important conclusions is that gender conflicts in ancient Israel could be deflected forms of class conflict-the struggles between the king and peasants are deflected to men and women.
James Kugel, How to Read the Bible: A Guide to Scripture, Then and Now
As soon as it appeared, How to Read the Bible was recognized as a masterwork. Now in its tenth year of publication, the book remains the clearest, most inviting and readable guide to the Hebrew Bible around—and a profound meditation on the effect that modern biblical scholarship has had on traditional belief.
Moving chapter by chapter, Harvard professor James Kugel covers the Bible’s most significant stories—the Creation of the world, Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah and the flood, Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and his wives, Moses and the exodus, David’s mighty kingdom, plus the writings of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the other prophets, and on to the Babylonian conquest and the eventual return to Zion.
Throughout, Kugel contrasts the way modern scholars understand these events with the way Christians and Jews have traditionally understood them. The latter is not, Kugel shows, a naïve reading; rather, it is the product of a school of sophisticated interpreters who flourished toward the end of the biblical period. These highly ideological readers sought to put their own spin on texts that had been around for centuries, utterly transforming them in the process. Their interpretations became what the Bible meant for centuries and centuries—until modern scholarship came along. The question that this book ultimately asks is: What now? As one reviewer wrote, Kugel’s answer provides “a contemporary model of how to read Sacred Scripture amidst the oppositional pulls of modern scholarship and tradition.”
Get it on Better World Books: https://www.betterworldbooks.com/product/detail/How-to-Read-the-Bible–A-Guide-to-Scripture–Then-and-Now-9780743235877
Marcus Borg, Reading the Bible Again For the First Time: Taking the Bible Seriously But Not Literally
Amazon’s Description: Many Christians mistakenly believe that their only choice is either to reconcile themselves to a fundamentalist reading of scripture (a “literal-factual” approach) or to simply reject the Bible as something that could bring meaning and value into their lives. In Reading the Bible Again for the First Time, Marcus Borg shows how instead we can freshly appreciate all the essential elements of the Old and New Testaments—from Genesis to Revelation—in a way that can open up a new world of intelligent faith.
In Reading the Bible Again for the First Time, Borg reveals how it is possible to reconcile a scientific and critical way of thinking with our deepest spiritual needs, leading to an insightful experience of ancient text. This unique book invites every reader—whatever his or her religious background—to engage the Bible, to wrestle with its meaning, to explore its mysteries, and to understand its relevance. Reading the Bible Again for the First Time shows us how to encounter the Bible in a fresh, new way that rejects the limits of simple literalism and opens up the rich possibility of living a life of authentic faith.
Rob Bell, What Is the Bible?: How an Ancient Library of Poems, Letters, and Stories Can Transform the Way You Think and Feel About Everything
Description on Amazon: Rob Bell, the beloved author of Love Wins and What We Talk About When We Talk About God, goes deep into the Bible to show how it is more revelatory, revolutionary, and relevant than we ever imagined—and offers a cogent argument for why we need to look at it in a fresh, new way.
Rob takes us deep into actual passages to reveal the humanity behind the Scriptures. You cannot get to the holy without going through the human, Rob tells us. When considering a passage, we shouldn’t ask “Why did God say . . .?” To get to the heart of the Bible’s meaning, we should be asking: “What’s the story that’s unfolding here and why did people find it important to tell it? What was it that moved them to record these words? What was happening in the world at that time? What does this passage/story/poem/verse/book tell us about how people understood who they were and who God was at that time?” In asking these questions, Rob goes beyond the one-dimensional question of “is it true?” to reveal the Bible’s authentic transformative power.
Rob addresses the concerns of all those who see the Bible as God’s Word but are troubled by the ethical dilemmas, errors, and inconsistencies in Scripture. With What Is the Bible?, he recaptures the Good Book’s magic and reaffirms its power and inspiration to shape and inspire our lives today.
Buy it on Better World Books: https://www.betterworldbooks.com/product/detail/What-Is-the-Bible—How-an-Ancient-Library-of-Poems–Letters–and-Stories-Can-Transform-the-Way-You-Think-and-Feel-About-Everything-9780062194268