The Bible is the written, inspired-by-God text for Christianity. The Bible is comprised of ‘books’ which you will find in the Contents section of any Bible. Each book is divided into chapters and verses. I clarify this because I hope that if you are from a culture outside of my own, or if you are very young and have never come across biblical references before, you will understand the basics. Most of the biblical books were written by different authors but sometimes one biblical author wrote more than one book, on separate occasions, or about different topics. There is a basic division in the Bible between the Old Testament and the New Testament. Christians value both testaments; Jews recognise only the Old Testament. There are 66 biblical books altogether that make up the Bible; 39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament. I use the word ‘Scripture’ sometimes to refer to the Bible unless I am obviously using the word in relation to the writings of other religions. The word ‘testament’, as in Old Testament/New Testament, means a covenant which is an “agreement held to be the basis of a relationship of commitment with God”.
The Bible is, among other things, a historical document so it is advisable to read it at least once from beginning to end, cover to cover. The Bible is an incredibly interesting document. It makes sense of the world we are living in at this time, the early 21st century, viewing biblical history and the contemporary world as a continuum. In order to start this journey of understanding, you will really benefit by stepping back from all the hype and chatter everywhere around us and looking at the Bible for yourself. Once you start, you will want to keep going because the story is so fascinating. Don’t be put off by difficult-to-understand passages. Read on. Certain passages of the Bible only become truly understandable after a few readings through and some careful study. The main thing is that you WILL learn something new about God, the world in biblical times and the world now even from your first reading. Everyone who studies the Bible has more to learn. This is a process that never stops, although of course people are at different points of understanding along a continuum. By daily reading the Bible, your mind and heart and spirit will open up to a new perspective, that of the faithful people of God who have presented history from God’s perspective. This perspective is what we need to study in order to have our hearts and minds re-shaped by God Himself. How does God view this or that event? The interpretation of events is what we do all the time. It is our duty and pleasure to find the truth of human history as expounded in the Bible.
I have been delighted at how relevant the Old Testament, in particular, is to our contemporary day and age. It explains like nothing else why the world is currently behaving as it is. And how is the world behaving? Well, if you’ve noticed on certain conservative news networks and through an array of writings of conservative bloggers, there is a huge divide in Western countries between the left and the right of politics. Everyone except die-hard leftists are becoming unsettled about the state of the world, mainly by Islamic-inspired attacks on the West. The left’s response is – ‘nothing to see here/nothing to worry about’. The right’s response is one of dismay at the left’s cover-up of Islamic attacks, from 9/11 up until the most recent attack; as of writing this, the August 2017 Barcelona terrorist attack which killed 14 people and injured many more.
Some Christians advocate reading through the Bible in a year – one year – 365 days! Why not read it in 380 days or 292? No, reading it through in a year is not your goal. Your goal is to have the Bible re-calibrate your mind to see events past and present as God sees them. In other words, the Bible will re-mould your thinking. To justify the need for this re-moulding of our minds, note this from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans:
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”Romans 12:2 Crossway Bibles.“ESV Study Bible.” Apple Books.
I find that reading one chapter of the Bible per day, starting at Genesis and reading it in consecutive biblical order through to Revelation, is very helpful. If you have any intellectual proclivity at all, a challenge will be thrown up at least once in every chapter of the Bible. I nearly always follow through with my questions by consulting the extremely generous website, biblehub.com as well as various study Bibles. The site, biblehub.com contains multiple Bible translations, commentaries, lexicons and more – all for free. I find very helpful the commentaries from Barnes, Clarke and others. It’s great to get commentary from another age although there are excellent contemporary commentaries too. Some of these are available through Study Bibles as mentioned in the ‘Bibles and Grammar’ tab. If you are starting the study of Scripture, you may find it most helpful to begin by reading the gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, with the help of a study Bible. I believe that Christians and anyone interested should read the Bible every day so that they develop a mind that is in tune with God’s. When we first approach Scripture, a lot in it seems unacceptable to our contemporary worldview. What must go is our contemporary worldview which has been almost completely moulded by the world in any specific age in which humans live. If we are to have any hope of developing an alternative worldview as espoused through the Scriptures, we have to hear its perspective and then steep ourselves in it. So we have the following Scripture passage:
17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. 25 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.Ephesians 4:17-25 (ESV)
One of the biggest problems leading to incorrect interpretation is that of taking passages of the Bible literally when they should be taken metaphorically and the reverse. There are other more complex reasons for choice of interpretation and even the experts continue to grapple with the more difficult texts. Grapple, though, they must because so many consequences flow from our understanding of God and human beings derived from our interpretation of this amazing Book, the Bible.