A good study Bible is the single best investment you can make as a disciple of Jesus. Since the Biblical world can be strange to modern people, making some parts difficult to understand, it is often helpful to consult the experts, men and women who read Hebrew and Greek; understand the culture, economy, politics, and religious practices of the ancient world; and who dedicate their lives to studying and teaching the Bible.
A good study Bible will have introductions, explanatory notes, and articles that are written by experts and informed by the best of contemporary Biblical scholarship. Importantly, not all study Bibles meet this criterion but simply parrot premodern traditions that justify their own religious or denominational ideology. So be careful. The best way to find a good study Bible is to ask your Pastor or people who have formal training in Biblical studies for recommendations.
The New Interpreter’s Study Bible (Abingdon Press)
The Harper Collins Study Bible (HarperOne)
The Jewish Study Bible, 2nd Ed. (Oxford University Press)
An Introduction to the Bible
Since the Bible is not a single author text but a library of ancient books written by different people living in different times, it’s easy to lose the overarching story of God’s love that unites the writings. It is also hard to navigate the conflicting voices regarding the status of the Bible itself. For example, what do we mean when we say the Bible is inspired or that it’s the word of God? Different churches answer these questions in different ways. To whom do we listen? Furthermore, like any book, the Bible must be interpreted and applied to contemporary life. How do we faithfully do this? Finally, all the things we come to believe about the Bible before we seriously engage it as adults deeply affects how we interpret. Do these preconceived ideas help or hinder us as we seek to hear God's still small voice when reading scripture? A good introduction to the Bible can help us navigate these kinds of questions and read more faithfully.
Recommendation: Adam Hamilton, Making Sense of the Bible (HarperOne)
If you don’t know where to start reading the Bible or are having a difficult time applying it to your daily life, some kind of devotional guide may be helpful.
If you are new to the faith, or have never committed to reading the Bible daily, a baby step in the right direction may be a short devotional.
Examples are The Daily Bread, The Upper Room, or Sarah Young's Jesus Calling. These kinds of devotionals are typically a page long and very easy to read. The downside is that these devotionals will not take you very deep into scripture, only offering 1-2 verses per day. While this may be a good first step in helping you read the Bible every day, you will eventually need to read more of the Bible to mature in your faith.
The next step may be a devotional that offers more scripture readings and deeper reflections. We recommend A Guide to Prayer for All Who Seek God by Norman Shawchuck and Ruben P. Job. It offers a daily reading schedule grouped into helpful themes, as well as various prayers and short passages from spiritual classics.
There are also apps you can download on you phone, tablet, or computer that provide good devotional experiences. We recommend the Glorify. You may also consider a Catholic app called Divine Office. Both include scripture readings and prayers, and Glorify offers reflections on the selected Bible passage. You can read the content or have the apps read it to you.
If you want more advanced options, you can find good scholarly commentaries that will walk you through a particular book of the Bible. Not all Commentaries are the same; there are good ones and bad ones. But a good commentary will give you access to expert reflections on the Bible and help you see scripture in a new light. We recommend The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary.
You can also take advanced classes in your local church or college. One of the best courses offered in United Methodist Churches is Disciple Bible Study. This is a 34-week group study in which you read most of the Bible and are introduced to modern scholarship.
Finally, the company, Wondrium (formerly The Great Courses), offers college level audio and video classes on the Bible which you can purchase and use at home.
Not all of these resources will be helpful or interesting to you. The main idea is to be aware of the obstacles that hinder you from reading the Bible daily so you can select a devotional that is appropriate to your current level of commitment and will help remove those obstacles.
Methods for Reading the Bible
Instead of a devotional, some people prefer to learn a process for reading the Bible that can be applied to a reading schedule or book of the Bible. There are two such methods that we recommend.
The first way of reading is lectio divina, which is an ancient way of praying through the scriptures for the purpose of hearing God personally speak to you.
This method is structured by four steps. (1) Select a short passage of scripture and read it very slowly. When something jumps out at you, stirs your heart, or raises questions, stop reading and put a pencil mark where you left off. (2) Ask yourself, "What might God be trying to say to me?" Write this down. (3) After listening for what God might be saying, ask yourself, “What is God calling me to do today in response to what he is saying to me?" Write this down and commit to doing it. Finally, (4) Sit in silent meditation for at least 10 minutes as a way of being with God without an agenda.
The second way of reading is the S.O.A.P. method, which is a modern adaptation of lectio divina. It is also based on four steps. (1) After reading a series of passages, ask yourself, "What scripture verse jumps out at me?" Write out the verse. (2) As you think about this verse and how it connects to your present life, write down any relevant observations. (3) Ask yourself, "How can apply what I am hearing from God in my daily routines?" Write this commitment down. Finally, (4) write your own short prayer summarizing what you've heard.
This method was popularized in Wayne Cordeiro's Life Journal, which can be ordered online. You can also find S.O.A.P. worksheets that can be reproduced for free online.
Once you learn how to use one of these methods, you can apply it to a book of the Bible or a schedule of Bible readings like a one-year Bible plan, a four month walk through the New Testament, or the daily readings for the Revised Common Lectionary. All of these reading plans can be found online.
Don't Like to Read?
Some of you may be thinking, “Great, I don’t like to read,” or “I don’t have time to read." Consider various audio Bibles and books that you can listen to on your phone while you're walking the dog, in your car as you're driving to work, or on your tablet at home while you eat breakfast. You may want to checkout programs like Audible or Wondrium. Also, as was mentioned above, there are apps like Glorify or the Bible app that will read scripture to you, give a little commentary, and guide you in a prayer.
There is no shame in getting scripture in this way. It wasn’t until after 1454 when Gutenberg put his newly invented printing press to commercial use that people had personal books to read. For 1000s of years, the only access that Jews and Christians had to scripture was when someone else read it to them. While there is unique value in reading a print version of the Bible and writing down your reflections, God can speak to us in powerful ways when we listen to someone else read it to us. So download an audio version of your favorite Bible translation or download an app that will read scripture to you.
Need More Help?
If you need more help finding good resources, send us a message or join us on Sunday morning for worship!
You can also check out Pastor Mark's message, "Overcoming Obstacles to Reading the Bible" below. For the podcast, search "Pastor Mark Reynolds" on your preferred app and search the message title.