word on the goGetting started

Getting started with Scripture isn’t as hard as you might think. With an easy-to-read translation, engaging with the Bible can be as simple as reflecting for just five minutes on one sentence or passage.

While the Bible can seem a bit daunting at first, there is as much within it for beginners as there is for experts.

Pope Gregory the Great (540-604) once described Scripture as a river – shallow enough for lambs to paddle in, but also deep enough for elephants to swim!

Pope Gregory the Great

The trick is to take things step by step. You don’t have to launch into the deep end straight away – it’s OK to just put your toe in the water first.

Jesus himself recognised that some people are beginners, while others are advanced learners. Sometimes, with biblical scholars, he took part in intellectual discussions about the exact meaning of certain verses. He knew, however, that this was a bit too advanced for many people. So he often told religious stories – parables - that were based on things that they could relate to, such as family arguments, unemployment or even dealing with nightmare tenants. As a result, the gospels contain both simple and complex material – so don’t feel bad if some of it goes over your head to begin with!

Of course, you can start out with the Bible that you already have at home. However, if you’re looking to buy one, modern translations such as The Christian Community Bible or The Good News Bible (Catholic edition) can be helpful for Catholics who are just starting out. This is because they tend to be written in more ‘down to earth’ language. As you become more familiar with the Bible, or want to study it more seriously, you can always buy another translation later, such as the New Revised Standard Version (large print version available) or The New Jerusalem Bible. If you would like to begin with the Gospels only get the Pocket Gospels with helpful introductory notes from Bible Society.  Or if you'd prefer a dyslexia-friendly version try these Gospel editions.

Case StudyKate’s commute with the Bible

We invited Kate Nowicki, who works in the public sector, to try reading the 100-Minute Bible – a summary version of Scripture - on her regular train journey to work.

Kate decided to give it a go to help her get more familiar with the Bible. She explained: ‘Although I go to church every week, my knowledge of Scripture has always been poor – and I’ve always felt really self-conscious about that.’ Being able to read small chunks of the Bible on the train was an easy way for her to get started.

So what did she make of reflecting on this biblical booklet? ‘It’s a really powerful way to inject little bits of Bible into your day’, she said. ‘It’s been about 24 years since I was a last at a Bible study, so it’s been a delight to dip my toes back into the water in a meaningful way.’

 

Start with a prayer

God of all times, peoples and places,
guide me today,
and every step of the way
as I read your Scriptures,
and reflect on your love.

Amen.

Like Kate, it’s OK to start small – even just a sentence, a verse, or a paragraph is enough to begin with. After all, the shortest verse in the Bible is made up of just four words - ‘Jesus began to weep’ (John 11.35). However, these words speak volumes about Jesus as a person – how he was not afraid to cry in public, the depth of his feelings for his dear friend Lazarus and how his reactions were human, just like ours.

At its heart, the Bible is a collection of people stories. Finding out as much as you can about just one character from within its pages is another potential ‘way in’. The biblical booklet God with Us, for example, looks at the challenges faced by people like the tough cookie Moses, the prayerful Virgin Mary, the musical king David or penniless Ruth. You could use this guide as a springboard into what the Bible has to say about these heroes and heroines.  Or try a focus on Jesus the Jew in his own context.

Some of the easiest books of the Bible to start with include the Gospels, the Psalms, Proverbs and the letters of St. John. These are generally easier to follow – and will prevent you from feeling lost or confused. Other parts of the Bible, such as some of St Paul’s letters, can be hard going for beginners so maybe delay trying these out until you’re more comfortable with some of the other books.

Since Catholics refer to it as ‘Sacred Scripture’, some people can be reluctant to make notes in their bibles. In actual fact, over the centuries there is a long tradition of monks scribbling notes in the margins of the Bible. Take a leaf out of their book and feel free to underline and make notes about texts that speak particularly to you. Doodle if it helps! Your scribblings will help you refer back to these texts later and to recall their particular significance to you.

As you get to grips with the Bible, following the Church’s existing Scripture reading plan is a good starting place. This is based around the Lectionary and will help you gradually read your way through the Bible. Check out resources such as the iBreviary app or the Magnificat guidebook for more information. This is also a great way for you to get to know your way around Scripture.

If you’re still a bit nervous about launching straight into Scripture, you may wish to get a helping hand. There are many ‘mini’ versions of the Bible available that provide some basic orientation on key themes and passages. Examples include The Bite-Sized Bible, The Espresso Bible, The 100 Minute Bible and The Pocket Gospels from Bible Society’s online shop.

Starting with passages that you may have heard before can be a good starting point. We suggest reading one famous passage a day for seven days. Suggestions include:

  1. The Ten Commandments (Deuteronomy 5.1-22);
  2. The Lord is my Shepherd (Psalm 23);
  3. The Beatitudes (Matthew 5.1-12);
  4. Love your Neighbour (Mark 12.28-34);
  5. The Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15.11-32);
  6. The Hymn to Love (1 Corinthians 13);
  7. The Fruits of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5.16-26).

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