Perhaps you’ve done this. You’ve read something in the Bible but came away saying, “huh? I don’t get it.” The Bible can be a confusing book at times, especially for those picking it up for the first time. These tips are designed to help you navigate that Bible and see the overarching story contained in its pages.
The first thing to understand is that the Bible is compilation or gathering of many books. Those books were written over several thousand years by folks inspired by the Holy Spirit. The books are gathered into two collections. The Old Testament is the larger and contains Jewish histories, law, poetry, and prophecy from before the time of Jesus Christ. The New Testament books were written after Jesus’s death and resurrection. It has been said that the Old Testament looks forward to the Cross of Jesus while the New Testament looks back at that pivotal event in human history.
Navigating the Bible requires a basic understanding of where a given book, chapter, or passage fits into the grand story of God’s grace. While some passages speak directly to our condition, others simply reveal a truth about God and His plan.
The assumption of these tips is that you are new to reading the Bible and have perhaps found yourself confused at times. The Bible is God’s story revealed in history, law, poetry, prophecy, and letters. It is actually a library of books written over a large span of time by many different authors. So, unlike a modern textbook or novel, the best way to read if for the first time is not necessarily front to back. The library of Jewish books that we call the Old Testament look forward to the coming of the Messiah, a savior that would restore God’s rule that was lost in the Garden of Eden. The New Testament books contain the four Gospels written about Jesus and letters written to various believers to help them understand and walk in their newly discovered faith.
Start with the Gospels. There are four books that contain the teachings, activities, and events from when Jesus walked the earth. Those are Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The first three overlap in many ways, each containing many of the same stories but presented in a different way. John is different in that it contains more of what Jesus taught his disciples. Learning about Jesus is the key that unlocks the rest of the Bible.
Pray before you read. God is not trying to hide something from you. Neither is there some hidden meaning behind every passage. But we tend to see things from our vantage point. By praying, we are asking God to let us see things from His vantage point. The prayer can be as simple as, “Lord, show me yourself in what I’m about to read.” Or “Lord, reveal what I need to know today” or even “Lord, help me understand.”
Ask for help. Sometimes reading the Bible is like reading someone else’s mail. There are things understood at the time that we don’t know today. If something doesn’t make sense ask for help. That can be a person you know and trust. Or it can be a tool like a Bible Handbook or commentary. Don’t give up. Sometimes we need to store our questions for later. I call that putting them on a shelf. We’re not throwing them away, just putting them aside for the time being. Sometimes we need to learn other truths before a confusing one is understandable.
Pray. I know we already said that. After you’ve read something, pray again about how God intends for it to apply to your life. “Lord, is there anything I need to do with this passage?” Or “Lord, help me to be (or not be) like…” or “Lord, show me what I’m supposed to do with this.” The Bible really comes alive when we practice what we read.
The Bible is not meant to just provide information. This is where it is way different than almost anything you’ve read before. God intends for us to do something with the truths we learn in its pages. Jesus said, “Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.”” (Matthew 7:24–27, NLT) Reading or hearing God’s Word, taking it in, and doing something with it that is the cadence of walking with Jesus.