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Getting started with the Bible

Author: Paula Gooder, 18 April 2017

You’ve decided that you’d like to read the Bible, but where do you begin?

Sometimes finding a Bible to read is the easiest part. The Bible contains over 750, 000 words. Most printed Bibles are over 1000 pages long.  Faced with the sheer size of the book you are looking at you would be forgiven for feeling overwhelmed, putting it back down again and walking away. There are, however, a few facts, hints and tips that will help you as you begin to read the Bible. Here are three things to bear in mind...

1. The Bible isn’t a single book

It is a collection of 66 books (all Christians share the same 66 books of the Bible, though some traditions include more books within their Bibles) and probably the most important thing to remember when you begin reading the Bible is that it is not one book but lots of books. These books were written at different times by different people, and are often very different from each other. In the Bible you will find all sorts of different types of writing: laws, stories, history, poetry, short sayings and proverbs, letters, visions, hymns and prayers, to name but a few.

Knowing what kind of book we are reading changes how we read.

One of the most important things to do when you start reading a book of the Bible is to ask yourself what kind of writing you think it is. This will help you to understand what you are reading. We don’t read the Highway Code like we read a novel; or an instruction manual like a blogpost.  Knowing what kind of book we are reading changes how we read, the same is true in the Bible

The Bible isn't just one book. It's actually a bit of a library...

2. The Bible isn’t in chronological order

It is also important to remember that the Bible is not organised according to when the books were written or when the events in them are set. The books of the Bible are ordered according to what type of book they are. So the books that contain laws are grouped together; the books that tell the history of Israel are in one place; the Gospels are found next to each other, and so are the letters.

The books of the Bible are ordered according to what type of book they are.

3. The Bible was written a long time ago

This can be confusing because when you read through the Bible, the time jumps around. One minute you can be reading a book set in the 700s BC and the next, one set two hundred years later; one minute a book will be looking forward to a terrible disaster, the next looking back at it. It is worth remembering that this is because they are ordered by subject, not by historical date.

On one level this is a very obvious thing to say, on another worth saying regularly. The world of the Bible is a very different world to the one we live in: the houses looked different; travelling was complex (though they seemed to do a lot of it); slavery was widely accepted; armies fought with swords not guns; people often died much younger than now; the laws were different and so on…

The context of the Bible was very different from ours.

Remembering that the context of the Bible was very different from ours is very important when you read the Bible. It doesn’t explain everything but it can help to make sense of some of the more confusing parts.

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