The Bible is a library of sixty-six books written over a period of over a 1000 years by men who were inspired by God. The first section consisting of thirty-nine books were written prior to the birth of Christ and are collectively known as The Hebrew Bible. The Jews regarded these books as their holy scriptures. To this collection of divinely inspired writings were added twenty-seven books written after the birth of Christ, in the first century AD. This latter set of books is known as the New Testament.
Get your own copy
The easiest way to access a Bible is to install a Bible app on your mobile device. The YouVersion Bible app is a popular choice. There are other apps such the Olive Tree app and the Logos Bible Study app or even the Bible.is audio Bible app.
Although there are online electronic copies of the Bible that may be accessed using a computer or a mobile device, it is certainly useful to acquire a hard copy of the Bible if you can afford it. Of course, Bibles don't come cheap. However, you may be able to find a good discount at a local Christian book shop during, for instance, the Christmas season. Good leather bound volumes may be available at a throwaway price because of an unnoticeable manufacturing defect.
Stick to one version and to a single edition for your regular reading so that you will be able to memorise Bible verses and develop a ‘photographic memory’ of the pages. To ensure that your copy lasts a very long time, make a good investment and get a good, leather bound edition with a reasonably large print. You could also buy a cheaper hardbound Bible and get it leather-bound.
There are several Bible versions available today in the English language. Even a single version is published in two different ways, to address different grammar and spelling preferences of the British and the American people! For a beginner, all these versions can be a little confusing.
Why do we have various versions? It’s because different preferences when it comes to the style and usage of language. At a deeper level, the philosophy of the translators of these version differ. Some translators prefer a very strict word-for-word translation. Others prefer meaning-for-meaning translation. They capture the meaning of a word or phrase and express it in today’s idiom. Some go even further and take their liberty to produce a paraphrased edition.
For instance, compare how the various English versions render Proverbs 6:6 (that is, the book of Proverbs, chapter 6, verse 6):
- Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. — the King James Version (KJV) of AD 1611, also known as Authorised Version. Notice the old English of 17th century. This version is still revered because of its faithful, word-for-word translation.
- Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. — the English Standard Version (ESV) of 2001, a modern translation that remains fairly faithful to the original.
- Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! — the popular New International Version (NIV), first published in 1973, takes a little liberty at times. Notice the change of ‘her’ to ‘its’, probably to avoid gender bias.
- Take a lesson from the ants, you lazy fellow. Learn from their ways and be wise! — the Living Bible (TLB), a complete paraphrase.
Another example from the New Testament, from 2 Corinthians 13:12 (read as Second Letter to Corinthians, chapter 13, verse 12:
- Greet one another with an holy kiss. — the King James Version (KJV) of AD 1611
- Greet one another with a holy kiss. — the English Standard Version (ESV) of 2001, a modern translation that remains fairly faithful to the original.
- A handshake all round, please! All the Christians here send greeting. — J. B. Phillips version, a complete paraphrase, tries to make it sound culturally appropriate for the Western world.
Our advice is that you choose a modern version such as the English Standard Version (ESV) or the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) or the New King James version (NKJV) for your daily reading. Different versions may be consultued online if you wish to gain further clarity or a different perspective.
The Bible and divine inspiration
Christians regard the Bible, in its original languages of Hebrew and Greek, as the infallible Word of God. God did not dictate the words of the Bible to those who penned it. Instead, the writers were inspired by God’s Spirit to write what they wrote. Therefore, each writer used his own language, grammar and vocabulary to write what God wanted him to write.
There are several reasons why Christians regard the Bible as divinely inspired literature. A few of these are given below.
- The Bible testifies about its divine origin. For example, the epistle to Timothy says that, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God.” Similarly, the epistle of Peter says, “No prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” The prophets who wrote down their prophecies claimed to have heard from God. Self-attestation, alongside other evidence, is valuable!
- Jesus and his apostles regarded the books of the Bible to be the inspired Word of God that should govern our beliefs and actions. Jesus cited from all sections of the Hebrew Bible—the Law, the Psalms and the Prophets. He referred to the first five books of the Hebrew Bible as the “Word of God.” (Mark 7:13) The apostles and writers of the New Testament books made extensive references to hundreds of passages in the Hebrew Bible.
- The prophecies in the Bible accurately predicted events and even the names of people who were yet to be born. Minute details about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ were predicted as early as 700 years before His birth! Numerous prophecies about the nation of Israel were fulfilled. These include predictions about the destruction of their land and holy city Jerusalem in AD 70.
- The Bible alone upholds the highest standards of morality and holiness. The gold standard of morality—The Ten Commandments and related moral teachings—form the bedrock of all legal systems in the world. The Bible makes no concessions to excuse the sinful behaviour of either men or women. Such teachings could not have originated in a human mind. Which human will risk condemnation to eternal hellfire by prescribing a stringent moral code as the standard against which he should be held accountable?
- The Bible is not a work of fiction. Whatever information you find in its pages is grounded in history. The Bible is not a textbook of science. But whatever it says about the universe around us and about our own origin has never been disproved. Numerous scholars have tried to identify mistakes and apparent contradictions in the Bible. No book in history has been subjected to so much scrutiny as the Bible. Yet, it continues to thrive and exert its positive influence on generation after generation.
Millions of Christians worldwide experience the power of the Bible in their lives because God’s power is actively at work to prove His word. This is why the Bible is not a dead book. It is alive and animated by God’s power. Click the traingular PLAY button on the audio player below this paragraph to hear the testimony of a man who was healed of an incurable throat condition even as he read the Bible aloud! He was a preacher. He was not able to preach because of his disease. He was so dejected once that he put a gun to his head to kill himself. Soon after that, a church invited him to preach. He started speaking in an almost inaudible, difficult-to-comprehend manner, until he read Psalm 103 verse 5. Listen to his 20-minute testimony to hear what happened to his voice!
Now, it is for you to read and discover for yourself that the Bible indeed is God’s holy Word. Read it prayerfully and allow God to speak to you.
Read, Meditate, Memorise
“Stop being hateful! Quit trying to fool people, and start being sincere. Don’t be jealous or say cruel things about others. Be like newborn babies who are thirsty for the pure spiritual milk that will help you grow and be saved.” The ‘pure spiritual milk’ St Peter refers to is the Holy Bible. A Christian needs to feed on this vital milk to grow spiritually. The Bible is also like a mirror that shows us our faults. The more we read it, the more we get purified if we take deliberate steps to cleanse our life from all known sins.
We feed on the holy Scriptures by either reading it ourselves or by listening to it. In the ancient times, not everyone could afford to own a copy of all the sacred scrolls. Even today, people who belong to oral cultures find it easier to listen than to read. Further down this web page, you will find links to audio versions of the Bible. Whether you read or listen to the Scriptures, it is vital to develop a daily habit of reading the Bible in a systematic way.
Why should we read the Bible systematically and regularly? It is to help us think about it through the day and night. If it goes out of sight, it goes out of mind! If the word of God will rule our thoughts, we will be careful to obey God constantly. God told Joshua, a newly appointed leader of His people, “Yes, keep this book of the Torah on your lips, and meditate on it day and night, so that you will take care to act according to everything written in it. Then your undertakings will prosper, and you will succeed.” Joshua 1:8 CJB
The Bible has books of history, poetry, prophecy, letters, and a special kind of books called the Gospels. If you are new to the Bible, you could start reading from the beginning—Genesis, the book of beginnings. Or, you could start reading one of the four Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke or John—in the New Testament. You could also browse through the book of Proverbs, a collection of wise sayings that require no prior knowledge of any other biblical book. Or, you could go through the Psalms, a collection of 150 sacred hymns, prayers, and songs of adoration and use those as your own prayers.
Christians who are serious about reading the Bible usually read the Bible cover to cover every year. Some manage to read the Good Book twice or even thrice. While some prefer to read the Bible, using a Bible Reading Plan that follows the order of the books, those who are aware of the chronology of the events tend to follow the chronological order of the books. Therefore, they may read the book of Job soon after they read the creation account in Genessis. Similarly, they may read the letter to the Thessalonian church before they read the letter to the Romans because the former was written before the latter. There are others who prefer to have a ‘balanced diet’ by including portions from the Hebrew Bible, the Psalms or Proverbs and from the New Testament in their daily reading menu. The book of Proverbs has 31 chapters and it makes an excellent reading every day of the month.
Here are three useful Bible Reading Plans. Please download and print it out.
- The Discipleship Journal Book-at-a-time Reading Plan
- The Discipleship Journal Four-Portions Reading Plan
- The Discipleship Journal 5x5x5x New Testament Reading Plan
If you are comfortable with the YouVersion Bible App or other electronic versions of the Bible, please note that these apps provide a wide variety of reading plans with reminders and helpful statistics about your reading habit.
Understanding the Bible
If you have read the sacred books of other religions, you will be surprised to note that the Bible, generally, is simple, clear and to-the-point. We refer to this as the perspicuity of the Bible. Anyone who has a reasonable knowledge of a language will be able to understand the essential message of the Bible.
However, you will need to go beyond the apparent simplicity of the biblical text in order to understand the message of each book. Here are a few tips for you:
- As far as possible, read every book of the Bible in the shortest possible time. If you are able to read a book in one sitting, that will help you understand the book better.
- Do not read between the lines. Carefully observe what the text says. Who are the people mentioned? What did they do or say? Observe words indicating time and place. Observe connecting words such as ‘But,’ ‘Therefore,’ ‘Although,’ et cetera. The rules of grammar apply to the biblical text too. Therefore, be prepared to accept the literal meaning of the text, governed by the rules of grammar, unless the passage should obviously be read in the figurative sense.
- Feel free to use a dictionary or a specialised ‘Bible Dictionary’ to understand new terms. For example, you may have come across the term ‘Philistine’ or ‘Pharisee’ in local newspapers; but modern meanings of the word may have nothing to do with what the word means in the Bible. The Easton’s Bible Dictionary is good resource.Use a physical map or an online map to locate cities or regions you read about. At times, you may have to search for a map of Palestine at the time of Jesus or that of ancient Roman empire.
- Several new believers treat the Bible like a medium through which God speaks directly to them, often ignoring the context of the verses they read. For example, they may close their eyes, open the Bible to some page and lay one of their fingers on some random verse! They then conclude that that verse is God’s message for them for the day! A man once did that and got the verse: ‘Judas went and hanged himself.’ He was disappointed. He repeated the exercise and got another verse: ‘You go and do likewise!’. Very distressed, he did it a third time and got this verse: ‘Go quickly and do what you have to do.’ In each case, he plucked a portion of a verse out-of-context and applied it directly to himself! Although this is just an extreme case, such cases are not isolated. A large number of Christians read the Bible without any regard to the context.
Please bear in mind the fact that each book was written by a certain author for the benefit of a certain person or a group of people, addressing one or several concerns. Your aim should be to understand what the author meant and how the original readers understood it initially. Otherwise, you may end up assigning your own meaning to the text. Only when you understand what the text meant at the time of writing, can you figure out what it means to us today.
- In order to understand the Bible better, it is important to pay special attention to the historical, social, political, religious, geographical and cultural context of the book. For example, why did Abraham ask his servant to lay his hand under his thigh while he entered into an oath with the master? Why does it say that Abraham went ‘down’ to Egypt? Why were Jesus’ disciples surprised to find their Master talking to a Samaritan woman? Why was the woman surprised that Jesus asked of her a drink of water? It is not possible to answer these questions until we understand the context. Context is king!
- There are several online and print resources that will help you understand the Bible. For example, the online IVP New Testament Commentary.
We hope that these tips will encourage you to read the Bible prayerfully. Even if you may not be able to understand everything in the best way, it is vital for you to read the Bible and get familiar with its contents. A fuller and better understanding awaits all of us. Therefore, instead of being rigid and dogmatic about anything, you should allow God to teach you more about everything. A willingness to learn and to submit to God’s authority in His Word are the most important marks of a humble Christian.