Are you wanting to start reading the Bible but aren’t sure how to begin?
When I started attending Bible college at age 19, even having grown up in a Christian home, I found it hard to know how to gain the most out of my time in the Word. I hadn’t made personal devotions a habit up until that point, although I’d learned plenty of verses in Sunday school and youth group, so it was a challenge to me at first.
I wondered if I was doing it “right”.
Should I just start reading through the book of Genesis?
Was there a particular version I should choose over another?
And what did all that Old Testament stuff about animal sacrifice really mean, anyway?
If you are like me, and didn’t have a personal devotional time growing up or just didn’t grow up in a Christian home, it can be intimidating to figure out where or how, exactly, you should start reading the Bible.
Now that many years have passed, I have learned much about the essentials of reading and learning Scripture, whether as a new believer or a long-time Christian who has not read the Bible much lately. I want to share with you five key practices to keep in mind as you seek to spend more time in God’s Word.
These practices will give you a process that you can follow at all times to give you confidence that you are reading the Bible according to the way it was written and in its proper context. Through reading the Bible, your heart and mind will be changed by the beautiful, life-giving Word of God!
The Best Way to Start Studying the Bible as New Believer
First, Get a Good Bible
There are many translations of the Bible. Translations such as the NASB and ESV, stick close to the original Hebrew and Greek wording, the original languages in which the Bible was written. These are incredibly accurate to the original text and are not hard to read. Translations such as The Message or NLT are paraphrases, designed for easy understanding.
I prefer the word for word translations, such as the NASB or ESV. Reading one of these, as opposed to a paraphrase, will give you a more accurate understanding of what God’s Word is actually saying.
The first Bible I used was a teen’s NIV Bible. I now use either my ESV Study Bible or my Ryrie NASB Study Bible. Both of these contain accurate commentaries as well as maps, charts and other tools to help you gain a deeper understanding of God’s Word.
A very important tip: Just start reading. You don’t need a fancy study Bible, and sometimes it’s actually better to not have one to begin with! You can purchase an inexpensive paperback NASB or ESV Bible without study notes. But if you get stuck or struggle with a hard passage, you can begin to include a study Bible such as those I mentioned in your devotional time.
Second, Start with a Book of the Bible such as John
Part of the reason I would recommend starting with the book of John, and not a book like Genesis, is that John gives you an overview of the story of salvation: the life, death and resurrection of Christ. Genesis, though an extremely important book in regards to creation and also salvation, can sometimes be overwhelming to a new believer because of the geneologies, Old Testament practices and other details interspersed throughout the 50 chapters.
All of God’s Word is inspired and without error, so certainly you will want to get to Genesis at some point! But starting with John, which is shorter and easier to understand if you do not have a background of reading the Bible (or haven’t read it for a very long time), will bring the rest of Scripture alive and give it deeper meaning as you continue to learn and see how all Scripture goes together to paint the beautiful story of God’s love for us!
Another great book to move on to after John is the book of James. It is practical, full of wisdom and able to be easily applied to your life.
Overwhelmed? Just read 5-10 verses each day. And then think on them for a couple of minutes and pray over what you’ve read!
Third, As You Read, Keep Context in Mind
Context is key, the saying goes. And that’s true for all situations including reading Scripture! Before you begin doing any type of Bible study, remember that all Scripture must be read in context.
Studying the Bible in context involves not just reading an isolated verse, but reading the verses around it as well. Another way to practice this is to learn the history behind the book of the Bible you are reading, find out who it is written to, and learn to see the verse as it relates to other verses in the Bible.
**If you are just starting out reading the Bible, don’t let this overwhelm you. The idea of studying in context is simply something to keep in mind as you read, because it keeps us from misunderstanding what God is saying.
Here’s an example of not reading in context (don’t do this!):
The story is told of a man who wanted to find out what God had for his future, so he closed his eyes, opened the Bible randomly, and stuck his finger on the page. He opened his eyes and read Matthew 27:5, “Judas . . . went away and hanged himself.” Not liking that answer, the man tried again. This time, his finger landed on Luke 10:37, “Go and do likewise.” Again, not liking that answer, the man tried again. This time his finger landed on John 13:27, “What you are about to do, do quickly.”
Obviously, what those verses seem to be saying aren’t what they are saying at all!
Here’s an example of how to read in context:
You find a verse in the book of John such as John 3:14. It says “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”
You wonder, “Who is this talking about? And what’s the deal with the snake?” As you read the verses surrounding that verse, you’ll find out that it is in the conversation Jesus has with a Jewish religious man name Nicodemus, who is wondering how he can be saved. And Jesus is referring to Himself as the “Son of Man”.
If you want to dig deeper and read a commentary in your study Bible, or ask a trusted Christian friend, you’ll learn that while the Israelites were wandering in the desert on their way to the Promised Land, Moses was instructed by God to lift up a bronze serpent on a pole so that the sinful Israelites, who had been bitten by snakes for their disobedience, could look up at the bronze statue and be saved.
Why? Because God was foreshadowing the way salvation would come, by the Son of Man being “lifted up” and by sinful people looking to Him to be saved.
***If you’re a very new Christian, don’t get hung up by this step! You’ll learn how to read in context the longer you simply spend time reading through the Scriptures.
Fourth, Be Cautious of Devotionals that are “About” the Bible
I don’t know how many times I’ve seen quotes from devotionals posted on social media that do not actually represent what Scripture is saying! They are sometimes complete lies, twisted to make the Bible passages say what the devotional writer wants them to say. They are devotionals “about” the Bible but not actually based on the Bible.
That is why I firmly believe it is SO incredibly important when you are a newer believer to read the Bible for yourself first with minimal commentaries. Using a reliable Bible translation with a simple commentary that helps you understand context, etc, is just fine.
When you know the Bible for yourself, and allow the Holy Spirit to instruct and teach you first, then you can begin to see which devotionals represent God’s Word in the right way and which are simply the ideas of others with a few verses thrown in for good measure.
I would also highly recommend doing a Bible study with a more mature Christian if at all possible. I would also recommend finding a resource that will give you a simple tool to write or read through Scripture verses without a lot of additional ideas so you can form a Spirit-led understanding of the Word.
Fifth, Remember that Scripture Has One Meaning, and Many Applications
Sometimes I hear the words, “this is what this Bible verses means to me.” However, that’s not an entirely accurate way to describe Scripture. Each verse we read means one thing. (This is why we want to read the Bible in context.) The beauty of the Bible is that these verses can apply to our individual circumstances in many ways.
A verse such as “delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4), does not mean “when I want something, I ask God for it and he’ll give it to me.” It means just what it says: when we draw closer to God and read His Word, He’ll show us what the true desires of our heart should be and give them to us! And then, since all of us have many different experiences and situations, we know that the verse can apply (is relevant) to our particular situation (a job we need, a marriage struggle, when we are having a tough time with our children, etc).
By understanding the principle of “one meaning, many applications”, it gives us comfort that God’s Word always means what it says, and is powerful and trustworthy, bring us comfort and encouragement at any stage of life!
I hope that these key truths of reading Scripture as a new believer have been helpful to you! Don’t allow yourself to get overwhelmed by the idea of starting to read the Bible, and don’t let Satan discourage you. God’s Word is available for anyone, and the Holy Spirit will teach you! Just ask Him for wisdom!
Looking for a Simple Bible Reading Plan to Get You Started?
I’ve created a Book of John Bible reading plan to help you get into God’s Word right away! Just read through each set of verses and after about a month’s time, you’ll be all the way through one book of the Bible!
I love to share resources for helping you understand and apply the Bible to your life with my readers, and so when you subscribe via email to my blog in the box at the end of the post, I’ll send you the Book of John Bible reading plan straight to your inbox!