So, you bought your Bible. You have it in hand. It’s been placed next to your comfy chair. And, now, you are ready to enter into the reading of the Bible. Where to start? What to do? How? Below are some pointers on starting to read the Bible. PLEASE NOTE: This is just some advice from a young Catholic priest who is not an expert in anything. Cheers!
WHERE TO START
If you’ve never read the Bible outside of PSR, RCIA, or listening to the Scriptures during Mass, then you might feel intimidated. It’s a library of many books in one Book and so much of the Scriptures originate in times and places foreign to our time and place. God desires to speak to us in real and tangible ways, for example, through Jesus Christ. God also desires to have His word preserved for us, and so we have the Scriptures. Even though some spots are difficult, seem remote from our own life, it is inspired by the Holy Spirit and can pierce our lives with the living Word of God. Some people might want to go from Genesis to Revelation. And that isn’t a bad idea. But I would suggest taking another route: Start with the New Testament, the Gospels in particular. Remember, we’re not trying to “finish” reading the Bible. We are going to be making the Bible a part of our daily life. That means we do not need to “get through the Bible” from start to finish. There’s no “finish.” If you’ve not spent a lot of time with the Bible, start with the person who Saved you: the Gospels. Which one?
START WITH THE GOSPELS
Mark’s Gospel is the shortest of the Gospels. It packs a punch. Mark moved the story along with miracle after miracle, pepper in some solid teaching, then pump the breaks and join Jesus along his Way of the Cross, end with a quick Resurrection account and BAM go out and spread the Gospel by word and miracles. That’s a very quick and poor summary of Mark. I would suggest starting with Mark not only because it’s the shortest, but because Matthew and Luke followed Mark’s Gospel very closely when writing their own. Mark became the pattern of the Gospel as we have it written down today. Mark is considered the earliest of the Gospels, so we are also getting a very early account of Jesus Christ. Many scholars believe that Mark’s Gospel was read in the catacombs, at night, during the Easter Vigil, in its entirety, to those being baptized in Rome. Mark’s Gospel is, therefore, meant to be a powerful summary of the message of Jesus Christ. There you have it. Start with Mark and let it flow where you will from there.
Some people learned to speed read and find it hard to slow down. I would suggest trying to slow down, though, when it comes to the Scriptures. Every word matters. Every story is a wellspring of insight, revelation, and grace. When you’re reading the Bible, think in terms of encounter rather than in terms of memorizing for a test. When you encounter something that moves your heart in some way, like towards conversion, joy, peace, confusion, pondering, meditation, etc., don’t rush through that moment. If a particular story or verse or verses “strike” you deeply, then simmer with that for a while. Pray with the Scriptures as you study the Scriptures. God is speaking to you through your prayerful reading of the Scriptures.
One of the best ways to pray with Scripture is called Lectio Divina, which simply means Divine/Holy/Sacred Reading. Click on this link for a helpful guide to start Lectio Divina.
One helpful way to study is to first recognize that you have time to sit with and ponder the Scriptures. We aren’t in a rush to “figure out” God’s word, because we are seeking an encounter over a passing grade on a test. That being said, your Bible might have footnotes and references to different parts of Scripture that will help unpack passages. A first step in study is to familiarize yourself with the layout of your Bible and its own particular system for references and notes.
There are a myriad number of websites to go to and a ton of commentaries. So much can be helpful, but some can be misleading, especially if the authors have a particular “take” they’d prefer you to have on the passage. Be aware. Don’t be naïve. And pray through the study you do. A particular commentary I use is called The Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture. I find it to be a great resource and I suggest it for the Bible study at SS. Edward & Lucy for interested parties. Here’s a link to their website: Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture.
WRITE IN YOUR BIBLE
For some this will seem like a bad thing to do, but I use erasable pens while reading, praying with, and studying my Bible. I underline passages I like. I make my own notations. I draw out different connections I see. And, sometimes, I even write out different quotes or verses that move me in particular. The ink on the page is meant to draw us into the Word and writing in the Bible is a way of dialoguing with the text so that we can ultimately dialogue with the Word who personally inspired the text. If you are way to uncomfortable with writing in your Bible, perhaps having a notebook nearby will help, too. As I said, this is just Fr. Jacob’s rant about Bible reading.
The original context for the Bible is actually within the family, Temple, synagogue, and church. It’s interesting to note that there is a communal element to each of the books of the Bible. The Bible is meant to be read in community in a prayerful manner. Studying the Bible with others can be a beautiful way to enter more deeply into God’s word. Joining a Bible study can be helpful. But you do not need to join an official Bible study. If you have another person or a small group of people in your life who are willing to pray together and study the Bible together, then take advantage of that. You can help support one another, pray with one another, and get familiar with the Bible together.
Like anything, our heart-set will determine a lot when studying the Bible. If you study in order to argue, you’ll miss out on the finer notes of God’s word. If you pray with the Scriptures in order to pat yourself on the back and never change, then that’s what will happen. BUT, if you approach the word with a reverent and joyful heart, one docile to the move of the Holy Spirit, then the Word of God will console you, challenge you, draw you away from sin, change your outlook and worldview, and unite you with the Trinity and the Church in beautiful ways.
You. Can. Do. This.
Fr. Jacob Bearer is a Catholic priest. He's about 6' to 6'4'' tall depending on which Convenient Store he's exiting. Although he enjoys kidney beans in chili, Fr. Jacob does not like baked beans and counts this as one of the toughest blotches on his character. He's been the administrator of SS. Edward's and Lucy's since January of 2022. Thank God for the Hatchery...this is a place where the author can share thoughts and ideas that don't quite seem right for the bulletin and won't exactly make for a homily (except for the times when the homily is posted with a sound file or used for a blog post). God bless you...and the hatchery.