For long-term Bible readers, that thick, floppy-covered book is a familiar, comforting friend. They get along with the Bible like a favorite, well-worn pair o’ jeans.
But for your average Joe, let’s face it: the Bible is an unfamiliar mystery – whether he thinks of himself as a Christian or not. Average Joe has “Bible” mentally filed with “thee,” “thou”, “begat,” and that grainy, poorly-produced TV preacher show on channel 109. For average Joe, the Bible might as well be written in Greek (which is how part of it started out, btw).
If this describes you, I’d like to offer you a few tips on how to look the Bible in the eye and say, “You’re mine. I won’t pretend that everything in the Bible is easy to understand. But, if you’re willing to give it a shot this year, dust it off and crack it open for a looksie, here’s a few quick tips that’ll help remove much of the mystery for you.
1. Don’t have a Bible?
No sweat! Read it online or on your mobile phone. You can read any part of the Bible online at BibleGateway.com. Or, you can download the hugely popular, YouVersion app for your mobile or tablet.
2. Confused by translations?
Don’t know your KVJ from ESV from TLB? Not to worry. Translations of the Bible (and their abbreviations) abound, but they’re just that: translations of the original. They contain the same Bible content in slightly different wording, and most modern translations are super-easy to read. For newbies, I’d suggest trying the New International Version (NIV) whether online or in print. It’s written in everyday, common English.
3. Not sure where to start?
Hey, the Bible is one, big book. It contains 66 individual books grouped into two major sections: The Old Testament, and the New Testament. It’s all good, but if you’re looking for a part that’s easy to understand and relate to your life, I’d suggest starting with the first book of the New Testament: The Gospel according to Matthew (Matthew, for short). It tells the story of Jesus’ life from Matthew’s perspective (he’s the tax collector you’ll meet in chapter 9).
4. What’s with all those numbers?
Speaking of chapters, several hundred years ago, the Bible was conveniently divided into chapters and verses. This can help you remember where you left off, and even memorize a line or two. The format is cc:vv – where cc is the chapter number and vv is the verse number. The image below is a screenshot of YouVersion on my iPhone of Matthew 1:1 (chapter one, verse one). Yes – newbies can skim through the genealogy ;-)
5. Will it hurt?
So, does the thought of actually reading the Bible still seem painfully awkward to you? Trust me, it’s more like reading a novel than getting a shot. Just start at the title and read as long as you have time for, stopping at the end of a chapter, or at least the end of a paragraph. Conveniently enough, the NIV is organized into paragraphs as well as chapters so you have lots of places to stop and insert a bookmark. Think of Matthew as a very short novel. Stop when you need to at the end of a chapter or paragraph. Just make sure you get through all of Matthew before moving on to a different book. You want to hear the whole story, don’t you?
6. So, what’s the story about?
That reader, is the most important question, because the answer is both simple enough for Sunday School, and profound beyond our wildest hopes and dreams.
The simple answer is: It’s about Jesus.
Matthew is about Jesus. The rest of the New Testament is about Jesus. In fact, the whole Bible is about Jesus. But like a diamond, that simple answer has many, many facets to it. Let me offer a few facets of the story that a careful reader will see in Matthew:
- Fulfillment: Jesus is the Messiah, or Anointed One, whom the Old Testament promised would come to bring about God’s Kingdom.
- The Gospel: Jesus came announcing a message, the good news that God was offering His favor (e.g. forgiveness, friendship, grace, pardon) to mankind.
- The Kingdom of God: Jesus is the King of Kings who will judge the whole world.
- Redemption: Jesus is the Redeemer, who came to rescue guilty people from the just penalty due for their sins.
- Substitution: Jesus offered His perfect life to God on the cross to ransom the guilty.
Granted, there is a lot more to reading, studying, understanding and applying the Bible to your life. But I believe these tips will get you started. And my prayer is that a good taste of the Bible will make you hungry for more of the book God inspired for your eternal well-being.
As a new Bible-reader, the first verse I learned at age 16 was Matthew 6:33, what’s yours?
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