Saturday, February 8, 2014

Making Sense of the Bible

The title of my post is a little grandiose perhaps.  I don’t think I will actually be offering you a magic key to unlock all of the mysteries of the Bible.  Only God Himself and some really diligent reading and praying are likely to do that for you!  But I do have a couple more thoughts that I want to share as you continue your commitment to spend time each day in God’s Word.

I think many of us have sat down to re-enter Bible reading, only to open up the Book and find the words too unfamiliar, the sentences too complex, and the people and place names too strange to wade through.  Try to choose a translation of the Bible that makes enough sense to you to be worthwhile.  I have always used the New International Version.  I’ve heard plenty of criticism of that version, and lots of alternatives, but it is a translation that I am familiar and comfortable with.  You can talk to friends, family members, or a pastor to get their translation recommendations.  Check out different translations from the library to see what you are comfortable with.  For me, the King James Version is too difficult to understand, and The Message is too subjective and colloquial.  These are my personal opinions, and there are people who will read nothing but the King James Version, or who feel as though The Message has brought them back to God’s Word for the first time in years.  The decision ultimately lies with you, and I recommend spending time in prayer, asking God to help direct you to the translation through which He can most effectively communicate with you.
Though it’s definitely not necessary, you might consider reading a Bible that leads you through the whole text in a year.  (It doesn’t mean, by the way, that you have to make it through in one year.  You may miss some days, or decide to read at a slower pace.)  Some of these “Bibles-in-a-year” will give you a selection of passages each day—perhaps an Old Testament passage, a Psalm, a reading from the Gospels, and a passage from the New Testament letters.  I’ve tried this approach and found it to be too choppy for my taste.  Right now, I am reading The One Year Chronological Bible, published by Tyndale House, and it works great for me.  The selections are a good length, and allow me to read a chunk of text without jumping from place to place.  I am not left to determine how much of the Bible I “should” be reading each day; it’s like a homework assignment, which a bookworm, schoolmarm-type like me responds to positively.  As I will point out again and again, what works best for me may not work best for you, so it may take some trial and error to find out what suits your lifestyle and personality.  If you’re spending time with the Bible each day trying to figure out what works best for you, then that time of experimenting with book types and translations will not be a “waste of time,” and I firmly believe that God will bless your efforts.
I have found children’s Bibles to be a great resource for my own Bible study, too.  I gave my daughter the Adventure Bible for Early Readers (Zonderkidz) for her 6th birthday.  Its target audience is six- to nine-year olds.  As I struggled through the Book of Proverbs last month, I picked up her edition and found Solomon’s wisdom much more understandable when directed toward a younger reader.  During Sunday school last week, as my co-teacher did a lesson for fourth graders on the Beatitudes in the Book of Matthew, I found that the Adventures in Odyssey Bible (Focus on the Family) gave a very helpful translation of just exactly whom Jesus was blessing by his words.  (Haven’t you wondered?  Just who exactly are the “poor in spirit,” and why are they so blessed?  Pick up a children’s Bible to find out!)
And a final thought, which comes with a “Major Personal Opinion Alert”:  I would caution you against using daily devotion books to the exclusion of reading the Bible.  For example, if you read a page from Our Daily Bread or Jesus Calling or Encouragement for Today, but never open the Word of God itself, I think you are missing out on an important resource that God has given to His children.  These devotions usually present a single verse from the Bible, along with a story, commentary, and prayer that are related to it.  If you truly hold onto that Bible verse throughout the day, and apply it to your thinking and actions throughout, then I am certainly not suggesting that quantity trumps quality and you should try to read more, more, more.  But if you skim through the verse, and read through the text, and go on with your day without giving it a second thought, then I think you might be better served to read more of God’s Own Word, and less of men’s and women’s thoughts and commentary about God’s Word.  If you disagree, I am happy to hear your reasons (communicated respectfully, please!) so that no one who might be blessed by these sorts of devotional books is  pulled away from them by what I’ve said here.  I think they can be an inspiring supplement to your reading of the Bible, just not a substitute. 
If any of these suggestions work for you, if you have any questions, or if you have other advice or suggestions about making Bible reading and study an everyday part of your life, please let us know in the comments!

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