I am excited about CityLight NYC’s initiative to read through the Bible in one year. For some of you, this may be your first time reading through the complete Scripture. I hope to use this space to work through some selected passages. In my years of ministry, I have learned that many educated people do not understand the basics of Scripture and therefore have difficulty understanding what they are reading.
For instance, I had a conversation last year with my cousin who is a bright, successful, and educated woman. She went to school at Fordham University, a school run by the Jesuits. We were having a conversation about what I am doing with CityLight Church and she had some questions. In my attempt to answer simple questions about Christ and the Christian faith, I went back to the Old Testament to explain Jesus as the Messiah who would come. Even though she attended a Catholic school for four years, and did well enough to be recruited by one of the top investment banks in New York, she had no background concerning the Bible. After telling her the Old Testament comprises the Jewish Scriptures, a light went on in her head. She said, “Oh, that is why they had a Jewish rabbi teaching our Old Testament class; I always wondered why a Jewish rabbi would be teaching the Christian Bible.” In her defense, she did not grow up with the experience of Sunday school or even of attending church. She taught me something important about my culture: Don’t assume your friends and neighbors have even the most basic understanding of the Bible.
If you are not familiar at all with the Bible, the first thing I should bring to your attention is that the Bible is actually not a book; rather, it is a collection of books–66 books, in fact–under one cover. It is like having the Lord of the Rings trilogy with the Hobbit and the Silmarillion in a one volume edition. A key difference, though, is that the collection in the Bible has 40 different authors and the writing spans approximately 4,000 years. Yet, it is remarkable in its consistency of message. The Bible can be separated into two distinct testaments: the Old Testament covers the Jewish Scriptures before Jesus and the New Testament covers from Jesus onward.
The more I learn about the Bible the more I am amazed with it. I’ve been reading and studying the Bible my entire life and I still learn things that blow my mind. I hope you will say the same as we explore this topic more over the year.
Here are a few things that I believe will help you as you begin:
1) Find a readable translation – The King James Version of the Bible is unparalleled in its poetic structure. If you memorized any Scripture as a child there is a good chance it was a King James rendering. The main problem is the King James Version can be difficult to read. You may want to go with an easier translation such as New King James (NKJV), New American Standard (NASB), New International Version (NIV), or the English Standard Version (ESV).
2) Get a Bible that you feel comfortable writing in – You will want to take notes to get the most out of your Bible reading experience. Highlighting passages that stand out during my reading time has always helped me organize my thinking and focus my study. Write impressions and even questions in the margin. This may find help you find answers as you continue to read or notice patterns that you previously overlooked.
3) Never read a Bible verse – I borrow this idea from Greg Koukl of the apologetics ministry Stand to Reason. Too often we read Scripture verses out of context and even worse, we use them to support ideas that have no basis in Scripture. The Bible was not segmented into chapters and verses until only a few hundred years ago. Chapters and verses were only added to make locating a passage easier for the reader. Modern Christian culture takes many Scripture verses as stand-alone sayings which were not intended as such. Remember when reading to examine each verse in light of the passage above and below to determine context. This is especially true when you begin your next day reading in a new chapter. Ideas often carry forward from the previous chapter. During this year I can almost guarantee that you will find a Scripture that you thought meant one thing, only to realize it really means something entirely different.
-by Pastor Shawn Martin