January 16, 2021

Bible Reading Ideas

This morning I asked you if you read the Bible on a regular basis. Your comments have been honest, frank and refreshing. They have also, to own the truth, been a bit discouraging. I believe reading Scripture is valuable as we walk darkly in this world. Perhaps it is a dark walk because our eyes are closed and Scripture is what will open them. In any case, many have said they don’t read the Bible because it is boring or hard to understand, and I wanted to offer some tips that might help. Take what you want from this list, or nothing at all. There will not be a quiz at the end. (Seriously. Bible reading is not a requirement for eternal life. All that is required, as Robert Capon would say, is your ability to die. And we will all become experts at that.)

Read this first.  A Conversation In God’s Kitchen is one of my favorite Michael Spencer essays. It will—or, at least, it should—change how you approach Scripture. No more “the Bible is the handbook of how to live your life” crazy talk. And no more arguing about whether or not the Bible is inspired. Read this post and you will learn what the Bible is for and what it is not for. Print this off and give it to your pastor. I did. His response after reading it? “This changes entirely how I approach reading my Bible.” That was my response as well.

Start with a few good books.  There are a lot of books to help you in reading The Book. Many are a complete waste of trees. I would avoid anything that calls you dumb, an idiot or a blockhead. I would avoid anything titled  ____’s Method Of Reading Scripture, especially if ____ is still alive. One really good book that is helpful is How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Fee and Stuart. And they have another book, How to Read the Bible Book by Book: A Guided Tour that is a great companion to Scripture. Neither of these books get in your way; they simply act as guides.

Another book is Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers by Christopher Hall. It’s a bit deeper, but gives you a really good idea just how differently the early followers of Christ approached Scripture compared with how we do today.

Get a good study Bible.  I collect Bibles like some people collect coffee cups. (If you have a nice leather Bible just sitting around you want to donate to my collection, I’ll be glad to take it off your hands!) But when it comes to study, I have only a few I refer to. My preferred reference Bible is the Thompson Chain. I have an older KJV and a recent NKJV. It is the best Bible reference tool I have used. Scripture links to Scripture. And there are study aids and helps in the back that are worth the price of admission alone. Easy to use and thorough. What more could you want?

The other study Bible I use is the The ESV Study Bible. I have a hardback edition that is rather bulky, but it is packed with useful information and good commentary. I have the NIV Archaeological Study Bible, and it has some very good helps as well, but for some reason this ends up staying on my shelf while the other two live on a table next to where I read.

Get a good leather Bible.  I love the feel of leather, especially really good leather. I keep a copy of the John Maxwell Leadership Bible that was given to me, not because I like John Maxwell or want to read his thoughts on leadership as I read the story of King David, but because it is a Nelson Signature Bible made of buttery-soft calfskin. A colleague once was given a calfskin Bible. He carried it with him everywhere he went for days. “This might make me want to start reading the Bible again,” he said. You might feel the same as he did.

Calfskin and goatskin are two of the best leathers you can get for a Bible. Avoid “bonded leather”—it is as much leather as particle board is wood. Nelson no longer makes their Signature Series Bibles, so you’ll have to look to Cambridge or Allan for really well-bound books now. You can check this blog for insight into how to choose a leather Bible.

(And if anyone has a red leather compact REB they want to send my way, or any nice leather Bible, let me know!)

Ok. There are a few tips. I would encourage you that if you have been away from the Bible for some time to give it another try. I think you might just be surprised to find God waiting for you on those pages.

Comments

  1. One of my favorite Rich Mullins interview answers: the interviewer asked him, “Do you read your Bible everyday?” His answer (in a mocking, thick southern accent), “Do you read your Bible everyday?!”

    I’m not sure why he answered that way, but I imagine he thought it was a judgmental, loaded question. You know, like most yes-or-no questions. They just genuinely aren’t helpful.

    Not that you’re being judgemental or unhelpful by calling people’s answers “discouraging.” It’s just that this question always makes me imagine Rich mocking it.

    • It is discouraging, Grant. Not that people are doing something wrong. But that they are letting past or current events keep them from an encounter with God in Scripture.

      • I agree. Honestly, reading “A Conversation In God’s Kitchen” awhile ago helped me a ton. But it has been a long process of being frustrated with the Bible, then excited, then bored, and back again. Currently I’m reading through the Daily Lectionary, and it has been great. I’m really starting to see the beauty of the Bible.

        As for experiencing God in the Bible, I’m sure I do at least some of the time–even if I don’t always recognize it. But it sure as hell isn’t every time. In that (my lack of experience of God) I greatly identify with some of the writers of Scripture (David and Solomon particularly). As for those who “experience” God constantly, I can’t say that I trust them even as far as I can throw them. I imagine their spirituality is incredibly shallow, that is, while it lasts…

        • If someone is “experiencing” God constantly, there is no need for faith. Just sayin’.

          • Exactly. God doesn’t want us to have assurance as much as he wants us to have faith. Sometimes it makes me mad, and it’s not the way I’d do it, but that don’t change nothin’. And thank God I’m not God.

          • Can’t agree. You can experience God daily, but not trust him. Note all those Hebrews in the wilderness. Faith means you act upon your experiences.

          • If faith means you act upon your experience, then my faith is acting upon my experience of often not encountering God–encountering his silence, in fact.

            But then again, you just completely made up out of thin air what your version of faith means; so, pardon me if I don’t adopt it as my own.

          • That being said, I’m not sure what your disagreement with me is. Fragment sentences? Use sparingly.

  2. The book by Fee and Stuart should be required reading for all Christians. They really nail it.

  3. I just reread, “A conversation in God’s Kitchen.” Michael nails it for me. I start the day with coffee,, The Bible and The 1928 edition of the common book of prayer.

  4. “Listen to Jesus in Luke 24, quoted above. He tells the disciples that the scriptures are inspired….because they speak of Him. Without Jesus, the scriptures make no sense. They will have no message other than the question of how this God can possibly have a relationship with people who are unfit to know him and unwilling to embrace him? Without Jesus, God is a mystery. Contradictory. Without Jesus, the Bible is not inspired. It is an unfinished symphony. A tragedy without resolution. A romance whose lovers are never united.”

    I’m always nervous to post on here…but , here goes…Call me simple, but I didn’t know there was any other way to see scripture (although this quote says it much more eloquently). I mean if from the beginning the Word was with God and the Word was God, then it follows all the Word would be about Jesus since He is the Word made flesh. Great blog and I really enjoyed the essay-I’ll read it a few more times (lots to think about).

  5. I’d recommend a wide-margin Bible and some Bible marking pens (special ones designed for writing on thin Bible paper) so that you have room to write down thoughts and notes and so the ink won’t bleed through the pages.

    • Use a fine point mechanical pencil instead of ink or markers. Pencil doesn’t bleed through and it’s much easier to erase years later when you no longer agree with a particular notation. I began utilizing this strategy in the mid-70’s.

      Wide margins are a definite plus.

      Tom

  6. A couple of years ago I was at my Dad’s house – if you want to know anything about the Bible, in the Bible, or from the Bible – ask this guy. If you want to see it lived out, look away. But, I digress – he had a book he borrowed from someone and I found it sitting on the table amongst his dozens of others on the table (his library is probably in the thousands but that’s in the basement.) I opened the book, curious, and read it within 2 days. I was absolutely and profoundly dumbstruck……Me – this girl who thought the Bible was made up of a bunch of rules about how to wear your hair (if you’re a guy) and what to wear (if you’re a girl) and what kind of music to listen to (if you’re a human, ahem.) – Imagine my surprise, having given my life back to Christ, still struggling with all the junk (because running from junk doesn’t do anything, you still have to face it head on) of Christianity, God, Jesus, legalism, etc. to find the Thread being weaved through the whole lot of it was Jesus Christ – It STILL astounds me! The book? The Stranger on the Road to Emmaus – A clear and simple explanation of the world’s best seller. By John R. Cross. On the back it says: “The Stranger had a message – for the person who knows nothing about the world’s best seller – the Bible, and for those who want to know more.

  7. I used to love reading the bible and did so every day. but for the last year or so it’s become increasingly difficult for me as I try to leave legalism. whenever I read it now, all I can hear are conflicting commentaries from liberal an conservative sides that make my quiet time anything but internally “quiet”. instead I find myself thinking, “oh, these are the promises if we obey God. but wait, how true is that? because that kind of implies an easy life and that’s prosperity gospel which isn’t true.” that’s just one example but my entire time devoted to scripture reading is chock full of this inner conflict. any thoughts?

    • Only that your not alone . . . . and sometimes just knowing that can make a world of difference (please not the word ‘sometimes’)

    • Isaac (or possibly Obed) says

      Start approaching the text without thinking about any commentaries, any pre-thought notion of “this is what it says,” and just read it for itself. This might be hard to do initially, but as you try it again and again, it can become easier over time.

      One technique that helps with that is to read larger chunks per setting, just like you’d do with any other book. This is especially helpful when it comes to the Epistles. If you can read an entire Epistle in one or two settings, you get to see the what the writer is saying rather than what everyone says he’s saying. It’s a forest-for-the-trees kind of thing.

      Similarly, with the narrative/story sections, just read them as narratives and not as how-to stuff or as containing promises or as having specific theological agendas. Just let them be good narrative. Or with the poetic passages, read them for their imagery instead of for their theology.

      What you’ll find is that you eventually start forming a big picture of the Scriptures that has its own internal theology rather than something that has been imposed on you by commentaries. At that point, you’ll be able to start re-visiting some commentaries, but in such a way that you can enjoy their meat while spitting out their bones.

      Don’t know if that’ll be helpful, but that’s something that helped me

      • Isaac (or possibly Obed) says

        Oh, and as a background to that advise, it was something that I formed when dealing with my OT classes in my Masters.

        I remember my OT professor (I had the same guy for every OT class) would always drew a Venn diagram with three interlocking circles. He’d label one “Bible,” one “Me,” and one “Church” and talk about how we are all coming to the bible with preconceived notions due to what we’ve heard in church and what we’ve experienced, and how that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but that in his class we’re REALLY trying to get to what the bible itself says.

        He’d usually impose a rule that for most of the OT discussions, we weren’t allowed to bring in stuff that hadn’t yet occurred in the biblical timeline (e.g. no Isaiah-said-such-and-such when talking about King David, and no NT readings into the OT text). The reason for this was that he wanted us to really let the text speak for itself on a book-by-book basis so that we might be able to get an idea of what it might have looked like to the original audiences.

        To drive the point home, in the OT survey course, he’d always have as one of the first questions something to the effect of “According to Genesis, who tempted Eve to eat the forbidden fruit?” If you answered “Satan,” you’d get the question wrong, because Genesis calls the tempter the Serpent, and it’s not until we get to the NT that the Serpent is positively identified with the Devil.

        All of that meant I had to chuck a lot of the commentaries and assumptions I’d both been taught and had taught myself. For those of us who’d spent lots of time in the church, this could be hard. Ironically, for the un-churched the class was a lot easier. But, it taught me a lot about letting the bible speak for itself, and to this day, he’s probably my favorite professor I ever had because of this.

        • thanks so much, isaac. i’m going to try that and see if i can get back into scripture more consistently. i miss it, honestly, and i really want to grow continually closer to Christ. thank you!!

  8. I’m just not a good reader. I get sleepy after a few paragraphs.

    But I love to listen.

    Especially to stuff like this (from the Bible):

    http://theoldadam.com/2012/09/13/what-does-it-take-to-get-christ-to-cut-you-off-from-his-grace-and-mercy/

    It’s under 10 minutes long. But I think you’ll get a kick out of it.

  9. Isaac (or possibly Obed) says

    Riffing off of the “get a leather bible” thing, I also collect bibles like other folks collect coffee mugs. My two favorites are my favorites largely because of their look and feel. The ESV thinline is the TruTone imitation leather (which is a great alternative for those that can’t afford calfskin… though it’s synthetic it feels great) with an awesome Celtic cross design inlaid in it. That’s my normal bible. The other is a super-heavy, almost-gaudy KJV I got from Barnes and Noble for about $25 as part of their ubiquitous table-o’-inexpensive-hardback-classics. It’s got awesome illustrations (I think their old woodcarving prints) throughout that I find really neat in my devotions.

    I’ve got several bibles (and a Book of Common Prayer) that are with that synthetic imitation leather. It really is nice feeling, though it’s obviously not as good as calfskin. My favorite prayer book (a 1928 version of the BCP published by Oxford University Press) is one of the few bonded leather books that is actually good. I think that’s because it’s a bonded leather hardback, so you don’t get the less-cool feel of leather that’s bonded to paper.

    • Isaac (or possibly Obed)… Could you please take a look at the KJV Bible with the old woodcarving prints in it and then let me know what the ISBN for the book is? I would like to see if I can see some of those prints online somewhere. I love the look of woodcarving prints! Thanks if you can do that.

      • Isaac (or possibly Obed) says

        ISBN: 978-1-4351-2539-1

        Says that the illustrations are by Gustave Dore… Never heard of him before, but apparently he was a well-respected 19th-century artist, and he did the woodcarvings for some classic editions of Inferno, Paradise Lost, and Don Quixote. Apparently his illustrated version of the KJV was his defining work and was a classic of the mid-1800s. That’s from the intro in my bible.

    • Isaac…I also just did a quick internet search on TruTone imitation leather and a guy found out from the supplier in Italy how it is made. They write, “Our synthetic leathers are coagulated PU’s (polyurethane) on a non-woven support (made out of viscose). The advantages of this kind of products are the thermo effect, the smooth hand and feel, and the possibility of providing a large range of colours and finishings. Compared to regular leathers, PU’s are studied to perform with all kind of glues as well as stamping foils, and to be converted on both automatic and semi-automatic case makers. Additionally, PU’s are coagulated and produced under a set of very strict regulations in the European Union, so you can be sure that they do not contain or generate during production harmful emissions, plasticizers, PVC’s, lead (or any metals), cadmium, or azo dyes.”

      Whoo! All that to say that they are made well and have that nice feel that you mentioned, Isaac.

    • I know we are not supposed to include links and normally I abide by that, but enough of you like Gustave Dore that I wanted to be sure you saw that at http://www.gutenberg.org/dirs/8/7/1/8710/8710-h/8710-h.htm all 100 illustrations that he did for the Bible are viewable through that page. Wow! (I know most of us have moved on to the latest post, but for anyone still reading here, you are in for a treat.)

  10. I began reading the KJV at age 9 in 1963. My next bible I got for my birthday in 1968, if I ‘member rightly, and it was an ASV published by Nelson and had “Instant Indexing”–not only were the books tabed, but also the chapters. That was my book for the next 7 years, at which time I discovered Job in the NEB, which was a wonderful read.

    I don’t read the bible every day. I tend to be a binge reader.

    I find it useful to choose one translation, one more word-for-word, to use as a “base” for study. Then, read broadly in many other translations incorporating more of the “thought-for-thought” and paraphrases. This process helps me see more of the story, but at the same time I have one foot in the “technical” text, so to speak.

    Tom

  11. I think reading the Bible is a great thing and an endeavor that everyone should practice and master.

    However….For how many centuries did people come to faith WITHOUT Bibles?? (Or even being literate??)

    Maybe reading the Bible ain’t all it’s cracked-up to be (?)

    Tom

  12. A “great books” reading list is not the same as a canon (even though we speak of “the Western canon”). No one would claim that every book in Mortimer Adler’s series from Britannica is true or good, or that other works and authors are not equally worthy of inclusion. In fact, there has always been lively debate about such things, and this is as much a part of the “great books” tradition as the books themselves.

    Biblical literature can be approached in this way–certainly in the academy, and also in those churches and synagogues with liberal hermeneutical traditions (which tend to be well-represented in the academy). Evangelicals, not so much. For them the Bible remains a closed book, even when they open it. They set it apart from all other books–even those which are related to it and might help explain it–and close their collective ears to any but a few favored interpretations. Their Bible is an idol.

    • Gerald, I think you paint with too broad a brush, which is not uncommon here when referring to “Evangelicals”. I know many people who are members of evangelical churches, and I am one of them. I assure you that our Bibles are just as open as anyone’s. In fact, they are probably opened and read more than most, and I can assure you we are not closing our collective ears or minds. Our Bibles are not idols. Just because we don’t necessarily agree with the academy or liberal hermeneutical traditions, doesn’t mean we are wrong.

      • But you are part of a different, more doctrinaire conversation. I realize that there are open-minded Evangelicals, just as there are gay Republicans.

        • Okay, just so you know, your sarcasm is duly noted. I won’t say anything else. Just remember that being liberal and being liberal-minded are not the same thing.

  13. Great post. And thanks for pointing back to “iMonk Classic: A Conversation in God’s Kitchen” that is one I had not read.

  14. I read my computer bible daily. For some of us, technology definitely helps us keep reading. My big ol’ leather-bound study bibles are so limited in comparison. And heavier. And they don’t have a built-in Word Biblical Commentary, Textus Receptus, Little Kittel, etc. Not knocking print bibles; they’ll come in handy when the power goes out. Till it does, I’ll be on the laptop.

  15. I’ve got a question: In what is probably my own ignorance, I experience the Bible as a way of gaining knowledge about God and correcting my wandering from the truth; I experience prayer, on the other hand, as a way of growing closer to God. I suspect that many of you would say you combine Bible reading and prayer, which I think would be good. But can reading the Bible alone bring someone into a closer relationship with God?

    Recently I have given up the guilt trip about reading/not reading the Bible religiously and focused more on prayer. I find it fruitful. My goal soon is to do lectio divina as a way of combining scripture and prayer.

    • In some youtube video I saw of NT Wright he says he prays and studies simultaneously, but doesn’t know the difference. It’s all part of an organic whole. I like to envision God’s presence as I learn from Scripture, and that he kind of “unfolds” the text for me himself. Reading it should, I think, be a personal conversational interaction between the reader and God over its contents.

  16. I am reading Volume 2 of N.T. Wright’s commentaries on the Gospel according to John. (I read volume 1 first and also read his commentaries on the the Gospel according to Luke.) So, since he starts off with scripture and then talks about it, I am reading the Bible that way.

    I am LOVING Wright’s commentaries. He makes some things clear that were not clear before and he does it all in his engaging style.

    Thank God for libraries! I have read so many books this summer through the library. The only book I bought this summer was written by a Maine writer, Van Reid, and he writes novels about a funny group of people in Maine in the late 1800s.

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