Fr. Bober: how to begin reading the Bible

Father Charles Bober

Faith Forum

I hear a lot of people talk about reading the Bible.  I would like to do that, but honestly, I am not sure how to begin.  It’s a big book.

Many people are beginning to read the Bible for the first time. Many feel unsure or even uncomfortable as they do so.  Here are a few thoughts that may be of help.

Many years ago, a teacher reminded me, “It is not so much that you get through the Bible, but rather that the Bible gets through to you.”  So, from the start, be realistic.  Begin to read the Bible carefully, not with the goal of finishing it as quickly as possible.  It also might be helpful to look at the Bible more as a library than a book.  It took at least two thousand years to complete it, so take your time as you read it.

The Bible of course was not written in English but mostly in Hebrew and Greek.  Therefore, every English Bible is a translation. There are many translations. The New American Bible Revised Edition is the translation used at Catholic Mass in the United States.  It might be best to become familiar with this translation as well as using its introductions and footnotes.

Now, where to begin.  This is a matter of personal judgment.  Some suggest beginning at Genesis and continuing to the end. I don’t agree. I would recommend starting with the Book of Exodus.  It is there that you will find the true formation of the Old Testament community of faith.

Then, continue through the Historical Books (i.e., Joshua, Judges, Kings, Chronicles, etc.).  While these books may be a times difficult to read, they provide a broad picture of the foundation and growth of the people of Israel. 

Next, I would suggest that you take up the Prophets, beginning with Amos, understanding that these men preached at various times over a period of more than 300 years.  Then, read Genesis as a rather sophisticated, theological reflection on creation, humanity and sin.  Conclude by reading the Psalms, Proverbs, and the remaining Books of Wisdom to savor the culmination of Israel’s recorded wisdom. 

As you begin the New Testament, note that the shortest and simplest account of the life of Jesus is the Gospel of Mark.  Begin there. As you read the accounts of Matthew, Luke and John, study the notes that explain the different audiences to whom they were written and notice the differences and similarities in style and nuance.

Then, read the Acts of the Apostles and The Letters.  These contain the account of the spread of the Gospel to the ends of the earth.  The Letters also contain practical advice and touch on everyday life.  As you read them you might ask why certain things would have been written, what questions they are answering and what needs are being met. 

Finally, read the Book of Revelations as a very carefully composed work of reflection on both history and the future, based on observations about the present.

Remember to take your time with Holy Scripture. Savor and reflect on it. After all, it is God speaking to you. 

Photo by Dena Koenig Photography