Reading the Bible (pt. 1)

So, let’s say that my first, second, and third posts on reading the Bible have made you, a biblically illiterate person, interested in reading the Bible.  However, you say to me, the Bible is a large, unruly beast, very big and full of all sorts of things.  Indeed, to the newcomer, various things could be seen as deterrents:

-Genealogies

-Long, complicated laws governing the ceremonial, civil, and personal lives of ancient Hebrews

-Lists of people who did stuff

-Trippy visions and prophecies that are hard to understand

-Psalms of a repetitive nature

-Prophecies of a repetitive nature

-Etc.

I’m sure there are other things that would dissuade many a newcomer from getting far into the Bible.  But let’s say you’re willing to surmount these obstacles and start reading the Bible.  Where do you begin?  What do you do?  I would like to recommend three things today:

1. Don’t begin by grabbing books about how to read the Bible (books about reading it as literature or as reading it as history or books that demythologise it or books about how to read it for all its worth or whatever).  These books may have value, but my experience is that if you start with a book about the book you want to read, the task will seem just way to daunting and you may never actually get around to any substantial reading in the book at hand.

Once you’ve started reading the Bible and have read portions of it, having such a book at hand may be very helpful.  But do not read a book like that at the start.  On the other hand, I think a good study Bible that has footnotes explaining tricky passages may be very helpful to the first-time reader.

2.  Don’t read it straight through from Genesis to Revelation.  The genealogies will get the genealogophobes down before Genesis is through, the laws will cut out the antinomians towards the end of Exodus, and so forth.  Although I don’t  recommend large books to help you get through a large book, I do recommend guides that give you outlines for getting through it.  These are best short and brief.  Like: “Day One:  Genesis 1; Day Two: Genesis 2”.

As well, if you wish to become acquainted with the Bible, don’t imagine that you have to read the whole thing in a brief span of time.  You can try.  People have done it.  But since it is so large and so varied, take a guide that gives you day-by-day, bit-by-bit readings or that gives you a general direction and then read manageable portions of the Bible on a regular basis.

3.  Finally, you need a Bible. No translation is perfect.  Scholars today like the NRSV (it has study Bible editions in the New Oxford Annotated Bible and the Cambridge Annotated Study Bible), although sometimes its gender-neutral translations leave much to be desired, especially in prophetic passages wherein “he” becomes “they”.  I grew up with the NIV (it has its own NIV Study Bible), and I’m generally okay with it, although it apparently has some troubles translating Paul.  If you’re used to reading Jacobean English, the KJV is also a good option, and ties in well with reason to read the Bible #1.  I’m sure someone has a study Bible based on it, too.  And if you know ancient Greek and Hebrew, you’re laughing!

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