You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.
John 5:39-40 ESV
It is safe to assume that few people have much experience in reading ancient documents like the Bible; therefore, in concluding this series, I hope to provide some advice on how to read the Bible.
First, it is important to understand that the entire Bible has one great theme: Jesus Christ. Even though He is never mentioned by name in the Old Testament, Jesus is the center and purpose of all Scripture. In fact, He said so Himself: “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life (John 5:39-40).” In that context, only the Old Testament had been written; therefore, Christ explicitly stated that the Old Testament is entirely about Him.
Second, consider the genre. Though the Bible is a united book, it is also a library of books. Books like Genesis, Samuel, Matthew, and Acts are narratives. They tell history and should be read as such. Psalms and Proverbs are collections of poems and wisdom respectively, so they are unique from the other books of the Bible. Ecclesiastes is a philosophical treatise. Song of Solomon is an epic love poem. Romans and Hebrews are letters systematically explaining the gospel to western and eastern mindsets respectively.
Third, love it, memorize it, and meditate on it. If anything could be said about reading the Bible, fill your life with it. Psalm 119 is the longest chapter of the Bible, and it is dedicated to declaring the excellence of the Scriptures. As you read, pray that God would give you delight in His Word. Make an effort to store it in your heart by memorizing it. Do not read for a few minutes and go on with your day. After memorizing, meditate upon the Word. Roll its words around in your mind, thinking deeply upon God’s thoughts.
Because the Bible is God’s Word to humanity, we should strive to know and understand it more and more. From a human perspective, the Bible is gigantic, so it can be quite intimidating to begin reading the Bible. Here are some suggestions for how to begin your journey in the Scriptures.
First, resolve to read the Bible every day. Even if you find yourself not understanding much, continue to read it. The more time you spend with the Bible, the more you will learn.
Second, begin with the New Testament. The entire Bible is crucial for us as God’s people, but some books are easier to read than others. Start with the New Testament, reading the life of Jesus, the history of the church, and the letters of the apostles.
Third, ask questions about what you’ve read. Paul’s list of the profitability of Scripture from 2 Timothy 2:2 is a good guide. If the Bible helps us through teaching, reproving, correcting, and training in righteousness, ask those types of questions. What does this text teach me (about God, humanity, sin, etc.)? Does this passage reveal any sin or faults in my thinking? How might God use this text to correct me? How might He use it to train me toward righteousness?
Fourth, buy a good study Bible. There are many good study Bibles in book stores, but the best currently is the ESV Study Bible. Study Bibles provide comments, notes, articles, and other resources side-by-side the Bible to help you better understand what you are reading. Other study Bibles worth considering are: the NIV Zondervan Study Bible, the John MacArthur Study Bible, and the Reformation Heritage Study Bible.
Fifth, and most important, pray for God to help you understand His Word. This literally cannot be overemphasized. There is no commentary, study Bible, or sermon that will ever replace the heart transformation of prayerfully reading God’s Word for yourself.