Question: I'm a new Christian, and I want to learn more from the Bible. I have an old Bible that belonged to my grandmother, and it's difficult to understand. Where do I begin? How can I get more out of reading the Bible?
Answer: It's great to hear about your desire to read God's Word. Many Christians long to know more about the Bible, but like you, they feel frustrated because of the strange words and unusual writing styles. If you're reading an older version, such as the King James Version, the Bible can feel particularly foreign to you. How can you begin to understand what you are reading?
The first step is to purchase a Bible that you can use at home and at church. You might ask your pastor what version he uses when he preaches. It's helpful to own a copy of the same version so that you can follow along during his sermon.
Many people want to know which Bible version Chuck Swindoll uses. He preaches from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) because he believes that this version represents the most accurate translation of the original text. The Bible was originally written in ancient Hebrew and Greek, with a few sections in Aramaic. Therefore, any English Bible is a translation, and as such, it reflects the translators' philosophy. Some Bibles present a nearly word-for-word translation, while other versions offer a looser, more contemporary translation.
The NASB translators determined to keep their version as literal in regard to the original text as possible. This is the genius of the NASB, but we must also recognize that for many people this is a drawback, since the literality may produce a rather wooden rendering. The NASB is not as smooth nor as idiomatic as other translations.
Although Chuck preaches from the NASB, he owns other versions and reads them occasionally. In recent years, he has come to highly regard the New International Version (NIV).
Every version has virtues and limitations. Some Bibles contain study notes to help you understand the text or articles to help you apply what you reading. To learn more about Bible versions, you might read The Complete Guide to Bible Versions, by Philip W. Comfort. This book provides a list of the various versions of the Bible along with a quick overview of the history and philosophy of the translation.
The Bible is not a typical book; rather it is a collection of 66 books written during various times and by different authors. With an ordinary book, you begin on page one and read to the end. But because the Bible is a collection of books, you may approach it differently. Here are a few approaches to reading the Bible:
Scheduled Bible Reading
Many people follow a Bible-reading schedule, such as one of the schedules listed on www.bibleplan.org. Imagine that Bible reading is like taking a bus tour of a large city. On a bus tour, you cover a lot of ground without spending too much time in any one place, and that's what scheduled reading should be. The idea is to become familiar with the major themes, stories, and chronology of Scripture. Then, if you want to study a particular passage, you can “get off the bus” and spend focused time in that specific place.
Think of the Bible as a long banquet table full of delicious entrees. You may step up to any section and select a morsel of truth. Christian devotional books take this approach. Each day the book includes a meditation on a verse or two to guide your reading.
However, be careful not to use the Bible like a crystal ball. Some Christians try to find a message from God by closing their eyes, flipping open their Bibles, and pointing their fingers at a verse. The flip-and-point method often leads to frustration, because the verse might not mean much to you. Or worse, it leads to error, because you may take the verse out of context and interpret it to mean something that the author never intended.
If you wish to read what the Bible says on certain topics like discouragement, hope, or eternal life, you can purchase a topical index, such as A Topical Bible Guide by Bob Phillips. This small book is worth its weight in gold! It contains verses on one hundred topics of interest, and you can pick a few verses to read as a devotional study for the day. Write down the verses on cards to carry with you, or look up and underline the verses in your Bible. You'll be able to remember the verses more clearly when you know where they are found in your Bible.
You can also select a certain book of the Bible to study. If you've never read the Bible before, you may want to look in the table of contents and find the book of Mark. Mark is a fast-moving account of Jesus' life and is perhaps the easiest of the four gospels to understand. As you read a selection every day, ask yourself, “What is the author trying to tell me about Jesus in this passage?” Dig for the timeless principles that the Bible is teaching, and apply those principles to your life. For example, in Mark 1:21-28 when Jesus is casting out the evil spirit, He demonstrates His authority over demons. The author is teaching the truth that Jesus is the greatest authority in the physical and the spiritual realms, and you can feel confident in His power.
You may want to jot down the Biblical principles you discover in a notebook or prayer journal. As you examine the verses, ask yourself a few application-type questions.
Are there any promises that I can claim in these verses?
Is there a command that I need to obey?
Are there any sins that I need to avoid?
Is there an example to follow?
What encouragement or comfort may I gain?
What new perspective is God showing me?
God has given us His Word to nourish us through every stage of our Christian development. It is “pure milk” for newborn believers (1 Peter 2:2) and “solid food” for the mature (Hebrews 5:14). You can feed on the Scripture every day for the rest of your life and never exhaust its storehouse of nourishment. May God richly bless your study of His Word.