How to Read the Bible for Beginners (and Everyone!) – My Top 10 Tips | The Overlap Life
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How to Read the Bible for Beginners (and Everyone!) – My Top 10 Tips

March 18, 2022

By Tim Barber

Reading the Bible is hard enough, but ESPECIALLY if you’re a beginner.

I have had a lot of believers pour into me over the years, and now it’s my turn to give back!

So, here are my top 10 tips for reading the Bible as a beginner!

1. Keep the ENTIRE story in mind.

This is my most important tip. There are 1,189 chapters in the Bible, and they go something like this. 2 chapters to describe the Creation, when Heaven & Earth were one, 1 chapter to describe the Fall, where they separated, 1,184 chapters for the long, incredible story of how God plans to unite Heaven and Earth again, and 2 chapters describing what it looks like when God unites them fully once again.

  • 99% of your Bible takes place in the part of the story where the job isn’t finished. But you need to know what the goal WAS in the beginning, and what the goal IS in the end, in order to understand what is happening in the meantime.
  • The re-unification of Heaven & Earth is what the Bible is all about. In Ephesians 1 Paul says that the plan of God for the fullness of times that He set forth from the beginning is to unify all things in Heaven and on Earth in Jesus.

2. Embrace the weird.

In the words of the great Dr. Michael Heiser, “if it’s weird, it’s probably important”. The Bible is the divinely inspired Word of God, and it is absolutely trustworthy and beautiful. It’s also REALLY, REALLY bizarre to modern sensibilities, so please go into it KNOWING that, and embracing the weird rather than running from it. There are a LOT of sex scandals, stories about slavery, vicious and brutal murder, etc.

  • Lots of “read the Bible in a year” plans get thrown off the rails when people get to Leviticus.

3. Context, Context, Context

“I can do all things”.

Nathaniel telling David “you are the man!”

“Wherever 2 or 3 are gathered in my name, there I am among them.”

4. Don’t do it alone.

Especially if you’re new, find some humble, open-minded Christian friends to talk to them about it. You can even start a conversation by saying “Guys, what do you think is going on in Ephesians 4?” If they’re smart, they’ll pull out their phone and look it up and start reading it. You’ve just started a conversation and gotten your friends reading with you at the same time. Win win.

  • Bonus — Find good YouTube channels and other resources. For a good variety of perspectives, I recommend The Bible Project, Mike Winger, and Allen Parr’s YouTube channels. I’ll put the links in the description. If you want to get REALLY intense, listen to the BibleProject Podcast or join the BibleProject Classroom, and start listening to N.T. Wright and Michael Heiser. They are unimpeachably brilliant Bible scholars and they have my full endorsement, because they don’t get embroiled in these weird theological debates. Bringing me to point #5.

5. Don’t get bogged down in “systems”

It’s easy to hear these debates about “dispensationalism vs covenant theology” or “calvinism vs arminianism”, or “rapture or no rapture” – stop. Your job is NOT to figure out which of today’s pastors is closest to correct. ALL of them get some things right and some things wrong. Your job is to figure out what the chapter, letter, or passage in front of you meant to its original audience. If you pick up a system, you will be using a colored lens that causes you to MISS at least some of what the author is doing in that section of the Scriptures. If you’re looking for a proof of dispensationalism or calvinism, you’re like that person who’s not really listening in a conversation, they’re just looking for the thing they’re going to piggyback off of to make their own point.

6. Don’t treat it like a devotional grab bag.

You can’t just rip the most emotional and beautiful-sounding verse out of its context and make it your “life verse” — the Bible wasn’t designed to be read that way.

7. Don’t ignore the Old Testament.

It’s the backstory of the whole Christian faith. Jesus only means what He means because He’s fulfilling Old Testament promises.

8. Get help with the original languages.

You’re probably not going to learn Hebrew or Greek right now, and that’s fine. Get in the habit of Googling “romans 8 interlinear” when you have a question.

9. Look for design patterns & repeat words.

While you’re in those original languages, look for repeated words. Repeated words are a very common Jewish and Greek way of emphasizing the importance of a concept or topic within a chapter. Most of us pick out the verse that “makes the most sense” to us as the verse that is the “most important” – but sometimes, that’s not the ultimate point the author is trying to make.

10. Just don’t stop!

You don’t have to load yourself up with this huge charge to read the Bible every day and make it this big scary thing. You want to learn to fall in love with this thing, not chain yourself to it.

  • It is for freedom that Christ has set you free. His yoke is easy and his burden is light. Don’t load yourself up with moral failure if you don’t read your Bible for a day. Just look at the Bible as the origin story of the Kingdom of God and your place in it, and stay curious about it. Read enough to get confused, then stop and check your resources. OR, check your resources first and start reading the Bible with them.

By the way, as you might be wondering… why was I eating the paper in the beginning? Psalm 1 says that “blessed is he who meditates on God’s law day and night” – that word for “meditates” is the Hebrew Word “haga”, which means, “to chew on” – so chew on God’s word if you really want to get the juice out of it. But you should use your brain to chew on it, not your mouth, like this weirdo.

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