How to start reading the Bible

If you have never read the Bible before, the worst place to start is probably the beginning!  The book of Genesis, which begins the Bible, has a fascinating opening.  It is a timeless story of how the world came into being – the kind of richly poetic tale that ancient people told around their camp fires.  However, many people who begin reading Genesis with enthusiasm give up when they get to lists of names and bewildering laws that are not as compelling to us as they were to their original readers.

Often people find that the best place to start reading the Bible is the New Testament, which begins three quarters of the way through the book.  This is where the life story of Jesus is told and you can read his claims and teaching in his own words.

If you begin at the Gospel of Matthew you will quickly get to the most interesting parts.  Matthew gives a version of the well-known story of Jesus’ birth, then leaps forward thirty years.  Very quickly you get to the Sermon on the Mount in which some of the most profound and provocative parts of Jesus’ teaching are gathered together (it begins, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit’).  As you continue reading you will discover accounts of Jesus healing, challenging the authorities, and telling parables (stories that clearly have a profound meaning, although we are left to work it out).  At the end of the Gospel comes an account of how Jesus came to be executed, his resurrection, and his challenge to his followers to take news of him throughout the world.

Those who have been intrigued by the life of Jesus might go on to read the letter to the Philippians.  This can be found by turning forward about a hundred pages.  It was written by one of the first great leaders of the Christian church, Paul.  It contains his advice to one of the churches he founded about how to live a fulfilling Christian life.  Although the words are about two thousand years old, most of them seem timeless and some of them could have been written yesterday.  They show how the very first Christians regarded Jesus, and then suggest how to live a life that is joyful, prayerful and makes life better for others.

A book from the Old Testament that new Bible readers often find compelling is Psalms.  This is exactly half way through.  It was the hymn book of the Jewish people, and became the hymn book of Christians.  Every imaginable emotion that a human might go though is found here.  It contains songs that praise God extravagantly.  But it also contains songs of doubt, curiosity, despair, love, hope and the desire for peace and justice.

Many find that reading such a large book is daunting and confusing.  A large number of books and magazines are available to allow people to encounter the Bible in short extracts.  They can be purchased through the websites of organisations such as Biblefresh or Scripture Union.

During 2011, the four hundredth anniversary of the Authorised Version of the Bible, the splendour of its ancient words was celebrated.  However, people who want to get to the heart of what Jesus said and did may prefer to read translations that use modern, understandable English (the extracts from the Bible given on this website come from the New International Version).

If you do not have a modern version of the Bible at hand, click ‘Please send me a free story of the life of Jesus’ (immediately below) and ask for a Gospel to be sent to you free of charge.

What the Bible says about it

An extract from the Bible:

The holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

Where to find it:

2 Timothy 3:15

About these words:

Paul, one of the first leaders of the Christian church, urges his protégé Timothy to find wisdom through a life-long study of the Bible.

And they said…

Denzel Washington, actor:

I read from the Bible every day, and I read my Daily Word [a magazine that helps people understand the Bible a bit at a time].

Mark Twain, 1835-1910, writer:

Most people are bothered by those passages of Scripture they do not understand, but the passages that bother me are those I do understand.

Cecil B deMille, 1881-1959, film director:

After sixty years of almost daily reading of the Bible, I never fail to find it always new and marvellously in tune with the changing needs of every day.

Geoffrey Fisher, Archbishop of Canterbury, to Queen Elizabeth II at her coronation in 1953:

We present you with this book, the most valuable thing the world affords.  Here is wisdom.  This is the royal law.  These are the lively oracles of God.