What is the Bible?
The Bible is a collection of 66 books, written by over 40 different authors over a period of about 1,500 years. It is categorized into Old and New Testaments, the Old Testament being written in ancient Hebrew and the New Testament being written in ancient Greek and Aramaic. The Old Testament refers to the books written before the coming to Jesus to the earth in human form, and the New Testament refers to those written after this history-changing event.
There are many different genres included in the Bible, such as history, law, poetry, wisdom literature, songs, prophecy, and letters. These genres speak to different facets of the character of God: his justice and mercy, his righteousness and grace, his holiness and incarnation, his wisdom and law, his beauty and majesty, his faithfulness and patience, his order and purpose, his love and passion, his grandness and intimacy, and much more. If God is indeed a personal creator who is greater than all his creation, then it is to be expected that no one genre or writing style could embody completely who he is.
However, though the Bible is written by many authors and includes different genres of literature, there is an overarching narrative throughout the entirety of it: the God’s faithful patience, persistent rescue, and sacrificial redemption of his beloved humankind in spite of (and necessitated by) their rebellion and apathy. As a whole, the Bible is an account of the fall of man, the consequences of sin, the intervention of God in human history to redeem the brokenness, and the foretastes of the new life offered in Jesus.
Why should I read the Bible?
We believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God, meaning that, unlike typical literature regarding wisdom and morality, it is living and active, as if God were speaking to us and singing over us afresh each day. And though it is primarily about God and his glory, it also helps us to know how to live in the life that Jesus offers, and gives freely, to us. Paul, one of the apostles and writers of the Bible, wrote that the Bible is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). This means that the bible lets us know the way in which God would have us live, in relationship to him and to each other, and to be prepared for the work that he calls us to do.
Where should I start with?
If it is your first time reading the Bible, I would recommend that you start by reading the 4 Gospels, i.e. the four accounts of the life, ministry, and death of Jesus. These are the first four books of the New Testament – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. And if you had to choose which of the 4 Gospels to read first, I would recommend John, because I have found that John’s writing style, while it is often cryptic, lays out plainly Jesus’ divinity and what Jesus says about himself.
The word “gospel” means “good news,” that is the good news that Jesus came to save us from spiritual death and alienation from God by his perfect life and sacrifice in our place. The four gospels are each like short biographies that give us a glimpse into the life of history’s most influential person, Jesus. It tells of his interactions with people around him, his teachings, his miracles, his emotions, his humanity and divinity, his life and death. Because Jesus, the Son of God, is the primary protagonist of the entire bible and because all of Scripture points to him, the gospels (and then the rest of the New Testament) would be a great place to start your reading of the Bible.
How long does it take to read the whole bible? (And how do you read it?)
It depends. Because the Bible is unlike any other book, reading through it will also be different. It will also depend on whether you want to have a cursory or in-depth reading, both of which have their benefits: a cursory reading will give you a broad understanding of God’s work throughout history for the benefit of his people and a basic timeline of God’s plan for redemption, while an in-depth reading will give you a better understanding of the details and implications of that work. Because the Bible is such a rich book with so many relevant topics and truths, having both a cursory and an in-depth reading of the Bible would probably be valuable.
However you decide to read the Bible, it would be best to spend some reflecting and meditating on what is being told or taught. Some things that you can ponder while reading are: “Why does the author say this?”; “What does this say about God’s character?”’; “How does this fit into the bible narrative of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration?”; “What implications does this have for my life?” Such introspective and contemplative questions can give you a deeper and richer understanding of, and desire for, the word of God.
If you would like some structure to your reading, there are also reading plans available that you may follow: