I know this is a dangerous admission for someone in my field, but there really are plenty of good reasons not to read the Bible.
The Bible’s format is imposing, and usually the text is too small. Many of the words are hard to pronounce. It’s often boring, repetitive, violent, nationalistic, full of imperfect characters, often offensive. There are so many different versions of the Bible, how is one supposed to know which is the best? And, where do you start? Actually looking up passages in the Bible is a mystery to a lot of people . . . even people I know to be good people of faith sometimes sheepishly admit that their Bibles gather more dust than they should.
We talked about this on Wednesday night at our small group here at church. I tried to make the case for why reading the Bible is good discipline for us all, but I don’t think I did it nearly as well as Frederick Buechner does in his book Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC: “[The Bible] is a book about the sublime and the unspeakable, it is also about life the way it really is. It is a book about people who at one and the same time can be both believing and unbelieving, innocent and guilty, crusaders and crooks, full of hope and full of despair. In other words, it is a book about us. And it is also a book about God. If it is not about the God we believe in, then it is about the God we do not believe in. One way or another, the story we find in the Bible is our own story.” p. 9
Also with Fred’s help, I compiled a list of how one might attempt to begin the task of reading one’s Bible. Add your own tips in the comments!
Tips for Reading the BibleMost Suggested by Frederick Buechner
- Don’t start at the beginning and read all the way through. Read the high points first. Ask people you know who love the Bible which parts are their favorites. Read some of the juicy stuff, like 2 Samuel, or a good story, like Esther. Try the end of Genesis, or one of the Gospels, like John, to start out. Google a list of favorite Psalms and read one every morning. It’s like keeping a list of movies you mean to see . . . there’s no special virtue in reading the entire thing straight through in order. Some parts are really boring.
- Pick up a Bible commentary if you want more background, or go onto a good website like www.textweek.com to find background about what you’re reading. You guys are smart—you know how to research something! Just make sure you stick with reputable websites your pastor recommends to you.
- Try reading the Bible in a foreign language, if you know one. The Bible has been done to death for some of us. It’s so familiar that we tune it out and can’t hear the meaning behind the words. Sometimes reading it in another language can provide perspective and insight into the meaning behind the words. If you don’t know another language, then you should probably learn one anyway.
- Try a new version of the Bible that might be easier to read than the King James Version you got at your confirmation 40 years ago. The New Revised Standard Version is a good, solid translation. The New International Version is a little easier to read. A great paraphrase can be good, too, like Eugene Peterson’s The Message
- Close your eyes, open your Bible, and point to a place to begin reading. You know you’ve done it before, don’t lie.
- Listen to the Bible. In your car, or on your ipod or something. Really, it’s worth a try.
- Don’t be scared. It won’t bite you.