Dec 24, 2018
Hey, hi! So YOU want to study the Bible!
Great! Fabulous idea! So where are you going to start?
I’m Phil Fields, and I have a quite a few years of experience in this topic, so I hope what I share now will be helpful to you.
In the title of this podcast, I included the words, ‘for beginners’. I realize that what I will say now may seem totally obvious, but I feel we must begin here: What most beginning students of the Bible need most is to READ the Bible. I can hear someone saying, “Well, duh!”
Now really! Before you delve deeply into the study of one part, you really need the background of having read all of the Bible. I suggest you concentrate on reading the whole Bible about 3-7 times before you get too engrossed in the study of narrower topics. If you already have read the Bible more than seven times, then I suggest you stop playing this podcast and look for another podcast on advanced Bible study materials. You might start by considering the resources and books I have listed for you in the episode notes.
But for those still with me, let me introduce you to this big, complicated book called the Bible. For the best results in your reading, you want to start with a good idea of what the important divisions in that big book are. It is not like a fat novel, which the author expects you to read starting at the beginning and going right through. The Bible is an ancient book that was written by around 40 authors spanning a period of around 1500 years.
The Bible has these major divisions:
1a. The first five books are called the Pentateuch— Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. The rest of the Bible attributes these books to Moses. These books give the foundational stories of the beginning of mankind, the beginning of the chosen people starting with Abraham, through several generations to the giving of the Mosaic Law, and the stories of how the people of Israel started worshipping God according to the way God instructed Moses, including their initial failures. The first five books of the Old Testament tell us about the important promises God made, and tell of how God started fulfilling them.
1b. Those first five books are part of the Historical Books of the Bible. The story continues after the death of Moses with Joshua leading the people of Israel into the promised land, and with many further failures of the Jewish people once in the promised land. The book of Judges deals with the leaders of Israel before they appointed a king. Then four books tell the story of the kings of Israel, then of civil war resulting in two kingdoms— Northern and Southern, called Israel and Judah. Finally, there is the history of the exile of God’s people to other nations, and the time when God fulfilled his promise to bring them back to their own land.
2. The next section of the Bible is the Poetry section. There are two main types of poetry here: There is Wisdom Literature, with books like Job and Proverbs. Then the book of Psalms has 150 chapters of poetry. Many of these poems express praise to God, but the psalms include quite a range of other themes as well. The major writer was King David, and he was a prophet also. So some of the Psalms are Messianic Psalms which are fulfilled by Jesus in the New Testament.
3. The final section of the Old Testament is the Prophetic Books. These start with the four Major Prophetic writers, followed by 12 more. Many prophetic writers conveyed their messages in poetry. Many of the prophecies in these books were fulfilled in the Old Testament, many were fulfilled in the New Testament, and some are yet to be fulfilled.
4. The New Testament starts with five historical books. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, tell the story of Jesus fulfilling all the prophecies about a Messiah, and those books chronicle his teachings. Then the book of Acts tells the story of the early church.
5. Thirteen of the letters of the New Testament were penned by Paul. Eight other letters were by five other writers. Jesus specifically told his disciples that He could not teach them everything, but that the Holy Spirit would teach them after He was no longer with them, reminding them of His teachings and guiding them into new truths. (John 14:25-26; 16:12) We see the way that worked out in the stories in Acts, and then in the letters. The last letter, Revelation, is more than a letter. It is addressed as a letter to seven churches, but it really is a letter to everyone in any church anywhere giving in symbolic form the events in the future. The prophecies in Revelation close the New Testament in a way that matches the prophecies closing the Old Testament. Hundreds of Old Testament prophecies are alluded to in Revelation. People say that it is a hard book to understand, but really, the main point is absolutely clear: Jesus wins. Be ready to meet Him.
That’s the amazing book you want to study! And I love this book. I have finished reading it every year since I was 20, and have given more than half my life to translating it into two languages. So here’s my basic advice: Follow a daily reading plan or make up a new one that gives you a varied menu of readings every day, including one portion from the New Testament per day. Don’t let yourself get bogged down by following a plan where you will read chapter after chapter of detailed Old Testament Laws or chapters full of names, without enjoying some daily time reading in the New Testament. The same is true for poetry. Since poetry is harder for me to digest, I make sure that my daily Bible reading plan doesn’t schedule too many chapters of the same type of poetry in a row. If you are considering a plan that says it is Chronological, that sounds like a good idea. But take a closer look. Rigidly Chronological plans will have you stuck in the Old Testament for two-thirds of the year before you get to the New Testament.
All the creatively done visuals in the presentation are taken from the videos created by thebibleproject.com. I don’t think they’ll mind, because I am going to suggest that you include their videos in your Bible study plans for this year. Each time you start a new book in the Bible, view the short introductory video for that book. Please see the episode notes attached to this podcast to find more about how to access the fantastic videos in thebibleproject.com.
Next, let me share from my background as a Bible translator: Make a wise choice in the Bible translations that you will choose to use for your first three years of Bible reading (assuming that you will read the Bible each year, as I suggest). I suggest that you use several translations that are easy to understand while you are building a foundation for deeper Bible study. My top three recommendations are the NLT (New Living Translation), GNT (Good News Translation), and the NIV (New International Version). If you really are a beginner to Bible reading, let me be so bold as to suggest that you read each of those three translations completely and in that order: NLT, GNT, and NIV. It is quite likely that your church will use a different translation in their meetings, as pastors like to use translations that are more literal translations of the ancient original texts, but those translations require a good foundation before you will enjoy reading them devotionally. Translations like the ESV, NASB, or KJV are good for detailed study later. If you are interested in more information about Bible translations and how they are different, please see the episode notes for a helpful link.
In closing, I want to bring together the various things I have said and make daily Bible reading easy for you. I have constructed a 365 day Bible-reading plan called Digging Deeper Daily. This plan is a modified Chronological plan, which always includes three different types of Bible readings per day: an Old Testament reading, then an Old Testament poetry reading, and a New Testament reading. The Digging Deeper Daily plan will help you be successful in your commitment to read the whole Bible in a year. The unique order of the readings— together with my brief devotional notes, will help you see the various threads that unify the message of the Old and the New Testaments. And I hope that my daily devotional comments will help you remember what you have read the day before, and hint at the deep and incredibly rich treasures in God’s Word. If this sounds interesting to you, head over to dailybiblereading.info and read the ReadMe PDF file linked at the top of the page.
In that ReadMe PDF file, you will find complete instructions for reading the Digging Deeper Daily plan in a regular printed Bible, or in a Bible reading app, or for listening to 365 podcasts that cover the whole Digging Deeper Daily reading plan. You can listen to the Daily Bible Reading Podcasts using our website, or a plethora of podcast aggregator apps, plus streaming services like Alexa, Spotify, Stitcher, iHeartRadio, GooglePodcasts, iTunes and Apple podcasts, Facebook, YouTube, and soon Pandora.
Our Facebook group is now replaced by our forum at http://biblereaders.info.
I suggest following up this podcast with visiting the site thebibleproject.com and viewing the first three videos in the How to read the Bible series which is linked in the episode notes. If you choose to use one of the methods for following the Digging Deeper Daily Bible reading plan this year, I invite you to join our Digging Deeper Facebook group (linked in the episode notes). I will be posting thebibleproject.com’s videos there at strategic times during the year, and this group will link you to others who are following the Digging Deeper reading plan. You can join in sharing insights with the group, or asking questions.
Our Facebook group is now replaced by our forum at http://biblereaders.info.
The Bible is not just an ordinary book. As Hebrews 4:13 says, “the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.” The Holy Spirit will be actively working in you as you read the Word which He authored. And that is the reason why reading the whole Bible is always a life-transforming journey. Do it! Read all of it this year!
The three videos I recommended viewing above are found on this page: https://thebibleproject.com/explore/how-to-read-the-bible/
About the videos made by thebibleproject.com: A convenient way to access these videos on your cell phone or tablet is to install the ReadScripture app from the App Store or Play Store. This gives you their videos referenced by topic, without having the distractions of YouTube. But notice, the reading plan they have put in this app is a Chronological one, which will have you reading exclusively in the Old Testament only for 2/3rds of the year, unless you purposefully skip around inside the plan. Also their version choice is the very literal ESV, which is not a user-friendly translation for newbies to Bible reading and study. You won’t understand books like Isaiah if you read them in the ESV!
For a wonderful Bible panorama video, see thehopeproject.com. The HOPE is an epic 80-minute dramatic motion picture overview of the story of God's promise for all people as revealed in the Bible.
For those who want to study more deeply, see the Suggested Reading List at the the bottom of this page: https://thebibleproject.com/explore/how-to-read-the-bible/
To that list I add one
What the Bible is All About, Bible Handbook, by Dr. Henrietta C. Mears
recommended by Billy Graham
What’s the difference in Bible translations? See my blog post entitled More about Bible Translations.