Welcome all Rosary Lovers! Here at rosarylovers.com, we aren’t just about the Rosary. We are about ALL that the Catholic faith offers, and that obviously includes the Bible.
In this post we will look at how to read the Bible. I shall share some of my own (many!) experiences reading and studying Scripture over the years.
The Bible can be read in many different ways
There is no ‘right’ way to read the Bible, really. Different methods of reading it will suit different individuals.
Some like to plough straight through from cover to cover and never do anything different.
Some prefer to read a few sections of the Bible together.
Others like really chewing over a small section, bit by bit, and never look at the bigger picture.
All of these methods, and others not mentioned, are absolutely fine, and can be a great blessing.
The crucial thing is that we actually read the Bible, that we meditate on the Gospel in the Scriptures as often as possible.
To quote Dr. S. Lewis Johnson, one of my all-time favourite Bible teachers: ‘Reading the Bible is the best kind of Bible study you can do.’
Don’t fuss too much about what method to employ. Just get into the Bible, anyway which suits you best. Don’t let someone tell you, ‘O, you shouldn’t read the Bible like that.’
There is a lot said today about context, context, context. We hear a lot that verses shouldn’t be torn from their context. That’s true in one sense, but it is also far too simplistic.
The Bible is a living Book, a living word. It is, if you like, the ‘paper incarnation’ of the living Word, Jesus Christ. As such, many verses can and do indeed stand alone all by themselves and change lives without the need for their context.
For instance, we see the apostles and even Jesus quoting individual verses of the Old Testament all the time, sometimes with little or no regard for the original context.
The Bible is a spiritual book. These words are spirit and life.
With that said, let’s look at some of the ways you might like to read the Bible yourself.
Read the Gospels
If you have never really read the Bible before, the first place you ought to begin is undoubtedly the Gospels, and preferably Mark or Luke.
Read all the Gospels and get to know Christ in them. He comes alive in these Gospels. You can meet with him truly in them.
Some people never get beyond just reading the Gospels. There is nothing wrong with this, and perhaps it is to be commended with special consideration.
Some of the greatest saints ever read only the Gospels (or the Gospels more than anything else), such as St Francis of Assisi and St Therese of the Child Jesus.
St Therese said she was always seeing new things in the Gospels. And Franciscans to this day still have to read some of the Gospels daily.
The Catholic Church herself prioritises the Gospels above every other part of Scripture, because this is where we see and experience most directly in Scripture the incarnate God, Christ the living Word become flesh.
So it’s a good idea to do what the Church does and to always prioritise the Gospels.
Read the rest of the New Testament
There may come a time however that you wish to look at other sections of the Bible and that is of course perfectly fine. So, try out the rest of the New Testament.
Many people recommend becoming somewhat familiar with the New Testament before even touching the Old Testament. Reading the New Testament about 3 times seems fairly standard advice.
This will help you understand the Old Testament better when you come round to it, although the Psalms can always be read even by those with no experience of the Bible.
Reading the Bible from start to finish
Some people like to read the Bible like any other book, starting at the beginning and finishing at the end. In fact, it is to be feared that many, many people do this when first approaching the Bible.
This is fine as methods go, but it’s not a great method for a beginner. Unquestionably you will love Genesis and half of Exodus.
But soon you’ll be getting right into the thickness of the laws of Moses and Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. On and on it goes with law after law after law and instruction after instruction about how to construct the Tabernacle.
And there are no pictures. You have to try to keep up with it all without any visual aids. The beginner will get hopelessly lost and very bored.
Most people who begin to read the Bible this way are not likely to finish it.
Not to mention, many of us like variety. To spend hours and hours and days and weeks in the laws of Moses and the history of Israel will prove too much for most of us without spicing things up with a bit of variety.
Reading the Bible in a number of sections
Why not try reading the Bible in more than one place?
Sure, read the Bible from the beginning, if you want. But why not also put a bookmark in the first chapter of the New Testament, and begin from there too?
Heck, why not shove a bookmark into Job or the Psalms, and read from there also?
This way, you have 3 different bookmarks, and you just continually read the Scriptures from these three different sections, until you’ve read the entire Bible this way.
Some go crazy with this sort of method and stick 10 bookmarks into 10 different parts of the Bible. One such method is this one by Dr Horner.
For Catholics, please be aware that this method doesn’t include the extra books of the Holy Scriptures. Still, the essential idea is fascinating and can be tweaked.
This is one of my favourite methods for reading Scripture. I use my Kindle and pick all the books of the Bible I fancy reading. I stick bookmarks in them all, and then when I lie down to read Scripture with my Kindle I just pick up at whichever bookmark I want to.
You can get through a lot of Scripture this way, especially if you use a very readable translation like the Good News Bible Catholic Edition.
Following a Bible reading plan
We’ve mentioned one plan, but there are many others.
My absolute favourite ever was this one. This is a Bible reading program which encourages you to pick a book of the Bible and live in it for a while.
A few years ago, I did this with almost all the books of the Bible. It was an incredible, life-changing experience, and I got to know the contents and themes of each of the Bible books very well. Many, many lessons were gleaned for my own life.
There are lots of Bible reading plans available. Just search the internet.
This one by Fr Mike Schmitz is the most popular Bible reading plan of recent times. Check it out here.
Reading random verses or passages of the Bible
We’ve touched on this, but again it’s worth mentioning that there is nothing wrong with picking up the Bible, opening it at random and reading a few verses or a chapter.
This method is good especially for those who are familiar with the Bible. For those who aren’t, try doing this only with the New Testament or the Psalms.
An edifying practice would be to read and re-read and re-re-read the passage you’ve chosen, to really ‘suck the juices’ out of it. Or do this with one verse.
Often, there is so much in one verse of Holy Scripture that to really meditate on its meaning will take a good while, leaving no time for another verse.
Paul would spend years preaching his Gospel, and yet we only have 14 of his letters, which is a short summary of his entire message that he passed onto churches.
It is worth remembering therefore that Paul’s letters and the Gospels themselves are summaries. If Paul were with us today, he would expound his letters bit by bit, taking ages to preach on many individual verses.
If St Peter were with us today, he would expound Mark’s gospel (which comes from Peter’s lips), but he would take years telling us in detail about every section.
There is a tremendous depth to Holy Scripture that few of us ever realise or begin to wade in.
It is certainly wonderful to read the Scriptures for sheer pleasure, and to gallop through and enjoy the stories and the external teachings. St Jerome said that even the surface meaning of Scripture is a pleasure.
But there comes a time when we may need some more depth.
Dr. J. I. Packer was once asked, after many years of training students in the Bible, what one piece of advice he would give to aspiring preachers. He said: ‘Learn to read deeply.’ That’s golden advice to bring to the Holy Scriptures.
Reading the Mass readings daily
Many Catholics choose to do something like this with selecting one or all of the Mass readings for the day. They pick one of these readings and slowly meditate on it.
This is called Lectio Divina – ‘Divine Reading’. It is called this, not because we use the Mass readings, but because the Mass readings give us a small passage of Scripture that we can read many times in the day and reflect upon carefully.
In essence, it means we don’t have to spend any time choosing a passage, since it is already chosen for us each day by the Church.
Alternatively, of course, we are free to choose our own passages of the Bible; we don’t have to follow the Mass readings.
Reading a book very slowly
I’ve recently come across another method, one which I am beginning to employ with wonderful blessings. It is that practiced by Cardinal Thomas Collins.
The Cardinal picks the Gospel of Mark, and reads it bit by bit very carefully and slowly and meditates upon it section by section. He claims it takes him and his church 3 years to go through Mark in this way!
I particularly love the idea of doing this with a Gospel or even with all the Gospels.
I’ve chosen Mark also, and have spent the last few days meditating on the opening few verses, sometimes only a verse or two at a time. I read and re-read them until I feel I’ve understood them, truly understood them, felt it, experienced it.
It’s early days yet, but I’m hoping this particular method will be one that will work for me in the long run.
What about you? How do you read the Bible? Please share in the comments below!
I hope you’ve found this post useful and if you have any questions, please get in touch.
God bless, through Christ the incarnate Word.