Before Opening Your BibleTips on How To Begin Reading Your Bible
Here’s the thing I believe is the downfall to most Bible reading.
People… JUST… START… READING.
And that works for the most part. Until you run into something that doesn’t make sense… or seems to contradict something else you read… or makes you question everything you thought you knew about our Creator.
The more I understand and study this crazy, intense and intentionally designed book, the more I’m blown away.
Here’s a couple of things that will set you up to be more interpretative of the text, rather than just taking it at face-value.
1- Start Fresh.
We don’t realize that when we sit down to read anything (even news articles or Facebook posts) we come PRELOADED with ideas, thoughts or past experiences that color the way we understand things. This is non-disputed science. In fact, our beliefs and how we perceive things are hardwired into our brains and are hard to change. If we cannot push aside these preconceived ideas, we will never see the text as it was intended to be read.
Try to focus on reading with fresh eyes. If you’ve heard about a scripture that’s been used over and over, you may think you understand the meaning- but, hold that thought. You may be surprised to find out that what you thought it meant, may not mean what the author intended the text to be understood as. Be willing to have your perspective shift when you open your Bible; don’t try and read Scripture to prove your point. Decide now to read Scripture to learn more about who your God is.
2- Find a Translation You Understand
I remember the first time I read another translation other than the NIV (New International Version.) My parents bought me a Student Bible as a teenage, and it was the NLT (New Living Translation). It was a GAME-CHANGER for me. Where once I had thought of the Bible as boring, was now talking to me in a slightly different way. Just enough to grab and hold my attention. Not only that, but it was full of notes in the margins and even sidenotes in the text filling in history, culture or parallel passages to help me fill in the blanks.
Okay… so, when you begin looking into different translations or versions of the Bible, you may become overwhelmed. (There are a TON out there…). Fret not! I can give you a couple of options that will help you determine the route to go.
Difference Between Translations and Versions
Here’s the first thing you must understand: the Bible was written in several languages (Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek). The first translation into English was by John Wycliff in 1382 (over 500 years before I was born!) Can you imagine that moment though? To read about the Savior in your own language? And this is still going on around the world today. (Check out Pioneer Bible Translators and Wycliff Bible Translators!)
When something is translated into another language, it can be generally translated “word for word” or “thought for thought”. On the arrow below… there are versions that are almost word for word what is in the original text… and translations that take what is the in the original text and try to match the thought, voice or emotion of the text.
I honestly prefer having several different versions/translations open when I’m intently studying a passage. But when I’m just wanting to lean into the words and allow them to speak to me? I choose a translation that has emotion and tone built into the words. It seems to bring them to life for me. One amazing resource is the YouVersion Bible app. You can jump between translations with just a click.
A couple of translations/versions that I recommend? If you’re leaning toward the “word for word” versions, pick up the NASB (New American Standard Bible) or the ESV (English Standard Version.) For the middle of the road? Definitely, the NIV (New International Version.). If you’re wanting to aim towards finding a translation that tries to capture the original author’s thought? Then reach for the NLT, (New Living Translation.) When I’m helping someone determine which version they prefer, the NLT is usually the one that they land on. It’s a very clean and understandable translation and reads in contemporary English.
Recently, a friend introduced me to a new translation that is still being written. It’s called The Passion Translation and according to their website, “is a new, heart-level translation, using Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic manuscripts, that expresses God’s fiery heart of love to this generation, merging the emotion and life-changing truth of God’s Word.” Right now, the New Testament, as well as Psalm, Proverbs, Isaiah and Genesis, are finished and you can purchase some of them together or separately.
What I love about this new translation is the fact that almost HALF of each page is FOOTNOTES. Being as I’m a huge nerd, the more notes, the better. Ha! The notes here are chock full of original language insight and cultural/historical insight. And it is full of emotion and poetry that I’ve never picked up in any other translation or version. Below is a graphic comparing several translations and versions of the same verse. Notice their differences and similarities!
Whatever version or translation you decide upon, get ready to have the lights come on in a way that you’ve never seen before. Imagery will come alive and stories will dance off the page.
3- Start a Little Digging.
Okay, now you’re thinking… wait- research? It’s a lot simpler than it sounds.
Before you begin reading, you need to understand what the author was trying to communicate. So, start by looking at the culture, time period, history of the area, and the people involved (author, audience and bystanders.) This kind of information is easily found sometimes in the Bible you’re holding (look in the footnotes or in the introduction section of each book of the Bible.) If your Bible doesn’t have these options, it may be wise to invest in one. I’ve bought several study Bibles from christianbook.com. Having these kinds of options can help you to immediately bring the story to life.
When you finally sit down to actually read the passage, try to imagine yourself as one of the original people that it was written to. How would they have felt to read the passage for the first time? Would they have known the author? Would they have met Jesus? Putting yourself in their “sandals” will more than likely help you to determine what the author of the book was trying to communicate in these exact passages.
If you can nail down what the audience would have felt, you’re more likely to begin to understand where the author was coming from. Was the author describing a historical timeline? Were they trying to guide the audience into knowing how to share about the Kingdom?
And now? You’re ready to open your Bible…
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