This past week has been an interesting one. I am teaching an eight week New Testament survey at Flatland. For the first week, we discussed why study the New Testament. I had also been asked to substitute teach a class on Wednesday night at Flatland and the topic was “Why should I read the Bible and How?” Both really spoke to me, reminding me once again how important it is to read the Bible. But maybe more importantly, how precious the Bible is.
Now, this is not to say I have neglected to read my Bible. I am in it continually. But it is one thing to read the Bible, even study it intensely, and another to consider what you have read as something to treasure and live out. We can approach the Bible with clinical eyes, study every jot and tittle, and still not have it impact our lives.
The Bible is God speaking to us. Paul tells Timothy that “All Scripture is God-breathed” (2 Tim 3:16 – NIV). Some Bible versions translate this “inspired by God.” This to me, while a reliable translation, does not impart the full meaning of what Paul was saying. “God-breathed” is a very literal translation of the Greek and really speaks to me that God didn’t just turn on a light bulb in the Biblical writers head, i.e., inspired them to be creative. Rather, Scripture is what God wanted written. God’s breath is all over the Scripture (2 Peter 1:20-21).
As such, reading the Bible is to touch God. It is listening to God, sitting at His feet to learn, be convicted, to be strengthened, to be equipped to do God’s work (see 2 Tim 3:16-17). Reading the Bible should be treasured, desired greatly, and considered vital in our lives, as vital as eating and drinking is.
Now, when I said the Bible is precious, I wasn’t talking about the physical paper and ink. I remember when I was a kid, to put the Bible on the floor was verboten. I made the mistake once of taking the phrase, “stand on God’s Word” literally and stood on my Bible. I got into sooo much trouble. The concept was that the Bible was holy and should be treated with respect. Not a bad thing per se but it could obscure the real truth. What God says to us in the Bible is what is precious, holy, and to be treated with respect. The physical paper and ink hold no holiness. Carrying around a Bible as a magical talisman is not effectual. But when we read God’s Word and let it breath on us and change us, it truly is powerful.
God’s Word is precious. The psalmist got it right when he said, “I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” (Psalm 119:11 NLT). Psalm 119 is all about how wonderful God’s Word is, how it impacts our lives, and how by studying God’s Word and living by it we will live lives holy and acceptable to God. Not that our salvation is ever dependent upon what we do, for that comes solely by faith and even that is from God. Rather, it helps us build a close relationship with God so that we can walk daily with Him without shame or fear. God’s Word is precious because it helps strengthen our relationship with God.
There are many “How tos” for reading the Bible. Mine is rather simple.
- Find a good translation that is easy for you to read.
- Make reading a daily habit.
- Don’t feel any pressure as if it is a duty. It should become a great desire.
The New Internation Version (NIV), New Living Translation (NLT), Contemporary English Version (CEV) are all good translations as well as many others. You will note that when you click the “show” link after a scripture reference on this blog, it uses the English Standard Version (ESV), another good translation. The ESV people provide a great service to allow for this feature! Click on the Scripture reference link itself and it takes you to biblegateway.com to display the NIV version.
The NIV and ESV are suited better for study (and the New American Standard Bible, NASB, is by some considered to be the gold standard for Bible study). The NLT and CEV are easier to read – the CEV was originally written for children. The differences between translations comes down to a word for word translation (literal equivalent) versus a thought for thought translation (dynamic equivalent). The ESV sits solidly in the word for word camp although they strive to be as readable as possible. The NIV sits more in the middle, leaning towards a word for word translation, still have readability but not as readable as a pure thought for thought translation such as the CEV or NLT.
I personally really like the NLT for readability, especially for devotional reading. I still use the NIV and NASB primarily for study. I have been intrigued by a new translation called the International Standard Version that isn’t quite done but another attempt at being somewhere in the middle of the word for word versus thought for thought camps. The whole New Testament and most of the Old are available as free downloads from their website.
Quite frankly, it doesn’t really matter too much which version you use as long as you read it and allow God to impact your life. Even still, it is good to have multiple versions to prevent any one version’s theological bias to overwhelm God’s bias – and yes, they all have their bias, some less than others. The thought for thought versions will have more bias than the literal translations, which is why some object strenuously to them. BUT again I say, find one that you are comfortable with and will read on a regular basis. Then read it.
Be sure to set aside time – make it a regularly scheduled event – where you can get alone and read without too many distractions (turn off that cell phone 🙂 ) Part of this time is for reading, part of it is to meditate on it allowing God to speak to you, and part of it needs to be for prayer.
Do not feel pressure to read too much or for too long. It is better to read only a little each day than to read a lot one day and give up. I was raised and still feel that reading the Bible through each year is extremely beneficial. I have a “Read the Bible through in a year plan” linked to in the menus of this blog which can guide you. But for some, that can be too much. Maybe for you, planning on just to read the Gospels in a year will be a great goal. As long as you take time daily to read, allow God to speak to you and you speak to Him, that is what is important.
I also recommend that you supplement your reading by using some of the newer tech tools out there such as the Bible on mp3 or CDs. You can listen to God’s Word as you drive, work out, or fold clothes. There is now even a podcast at podbible.org that plays the Bible through in a year using the CEV. It is not a professional reading, it is read by normal people and their mistakes are there for us to hear – also, it is from down under so have an accent to us Americans. Even still, it is wonderful for such a service be available to us. For some of us, the Bible really becomes alive as we hear it.
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