HOW TO READ THE BIBLE
Congratulations! You’ve purchased a new Bible. The next step is to read it!
If this is your first Bible the process of reading it through can be intimidating. The Bible is a big book. If you have just purchased another Bible, you may still be challenged by reading it end-to-end.
It helps if you understand how the Bible is constructed. The Bible is a collection of books. In the same way that a library is organized by type of literature, the Bible is organized by type of literature.
There are two main divisions in the Bible: The Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament speaks of God’s relationship with mankind before Jesus was born and in particular about his relationship with the nation of Israel. The New Testament is about Jesus and about how He changed God’s relationship with mankind.
Within the Old Testament there are three types of literature: History, Poetry and Prophecy
The History Books are in order from Genesis through Esther. They tell primarily about the history of the nations of Israel and Judah. The book of Genesis has the stories of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah and the flood, the tower of Babel. We are then introduced to the man Abraham and so begins the nation of Israel. From Israel’s history we have familiar stories of Moses and the exodus from Egypt, the battle of Jerico, Samson and Delilah and David and Goliath.
Some of the history books are difficult to read. There are some books that contain lists, and list of names (hard to pronounce names). But other books are absolutely thrilling. I can’t wait for you to read the story of Joseph, Abraham’s great grandson, at the end of Genesis. It’s a real page turner! And you’ll love the story of Esther, a real battle of wits where the bad guy gets what’s coming to him.
The Poetry Books follow the history books: Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon. You’ve no doubt heard about Job and his hardships. He was a real man and his encounter with God is breathtaking. The poetry books include Psalm 23, with the well-known first line “The Lord is my Shepherd.” Ecclesiastes chapter 3 starts with words you might recognize from a 60’s pop song.
The Prophecy Books round out the Old Testament from Isaiah to Malachi. Today we generally think of a prophet as someone who foretells the future. To some extend the same is true of these Bible books. For instance Isaiah chapter 53, written about 700 years before Jesus was born, gives a clear description of Jesus’ crucifixion. But mostly the prophecy books are a record of the men who spoke on God’s behalf to call the nations of Israel and Judah back to God from their sin.
Then we come to the New Testament books. Their structure is similar to the Old Testament. We start with history books, followed by letters (instead of poetry) and end with one prophecy book.
The New Testament starts with four history books about Jesus. They are called the four gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. And the first three are called the synoptic gospels because they are very synonymous, telling many of the same stories and teachings of Jesus. The fourth gospel is different. Most of the material in John is not found in the other gospels and for a reason. John was written much later than the other gospels and the author was intentionally trying to contribute additional information.
The final history book in the New Testament is the Book of Acts. It records how Jesus’ apostles and followers spread His teachings and started the Christian church. In it we meet a man named Paul, who traveled the known world making Christians and starting local churches.
The Letters follow the history books. These are letters written by the apostles and others to churches and individuals. These books range from the book of Romans through the book of Jude. They provide insight into how Christians should conduct themselves in the world and in the church. They make practical application of the teachings of Jesus.
The books from Romans to 2 Thessalonians were written by the apostle Paul to churches and are named for the local church he was writing to. The next four books (1 & 2 Timothy, Titus and Philemon) were written by Paul to individuals and are named for them.
The next letter is the book of Hebrews. It comes next because we aren’t really sure who wrote it. It might have been the Apostle Paul, it might not.
Seven letters follow the book of Hebrews and they are named for the person who wrote the book.
And finally the only Prophecy book in the New Testament, the book of Revelation. This records a vision given to the Apostle John of how this world will end and usher in the reign of Christ on earth and in heaven.
Knowing what kind of literature you are reading is essential to understanding the Bible. I hope this outline will simplify and enhance your enjoyment as you read.
Now it’s a matter of opening your new Bible and reading it. The Bible is a big book, so it’s best to read it in small chunks. And it’s best if you can read it daily. There are three bible reading schedules you can download from this link.