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Reading and Understanding the Bible Bible

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What is the Bible?

The Bible is a “library of books” divided into two sections: the “Old Testament” and the “New Testament.” The Old Testament is a collection of 39 “books” written primarily in Hebrew, with a few sections in Aramaic. The New Testament is 27 “books” and “letters” first written in Greek. Since few of us read any of these languages well, most of us rely on a translation written in our language. Some translations were done long ago. For example the English King James Version, also known as the Authorized Version, was translated in 1611. Anyone who has read Shakespeare (who worked on his last major play Henry VIII in 1613) understands that the English language has changed. For that reason, a number of translations have been written since the King James Version appeared. Each has merit, and each is a Bible. Some are more accurate and some are easier to read. Usually, there is a compromise somewhere along the way, because we are translating writings from more than 1,900 years ago, written in another culture and another language. The version we recommend as having the best combination of reading ease and accuracy (with an emphasis on accuracy) is the New King James Version (NKJV). This version can be found in most major bookstores and in all Christian bookstores. For those of you who are interested in getting the easiest Bible to read that there is (in the English language), we recommend the Living Bible. It is a little harder to find than other versions, but it is the one to get if you want a text that is as easy to read as possible.

A good Bible should include a reference section in the back with some maps and a special index called a “concordance.” The concordance is handy if you want to find something you have read, but you can not remember where it was. Some Bibles have a “cross reference column” on each page, pointing to similar ideas or happenings in other parts of the Bible. Some Bibles print these “cross references” as footnotes, and add information regarding any variations in the Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek text thought to exist by scholars. (This is a handy feature to have later, even if you do not know what to do with it now.) Incidentally, most Bible translations are available on audio cassette.

One Option to Consider—the Study Bible

You may wish to consider getting a “study Bible” (rather than a “regular Bible”). A study Bible adds notes to the text of a regular Bible (usually at the bottom of each page) that should help you understand the Bible even better. The “Bible part” of a regular Bible and a study Bible is the same. The only change is the study Bible’s added notes (and its increased size). There are many different “brands” of study Bibles, each with its own name, such as The Nelson Study Bible, the Word in Life Study Bible, or the Life Application Study Bible: New King James Version. The Bible’s cover or title page will state the Bible version used, such as the King James Version, New King James Version, New International Version, and so forth. We suggest taking the time to personally look through several different study Bibles, to see if the notes help. (In some, like the Word in Life Study Bible, there are so many notes that you may have trouble finding the Bible text!) If the notes do not help (or if you do not want to spend the extra money) just get a regular Bible. In some ways, choosing a Bible is a little like choosing a car. They all perform the same function, but each person wants different features on the one they have.

One unique printing of the New Living Translation that resembles a study Bible is called The Rock. It is written for teens from ages 12 to 16, but we believe this Bible could be enjoyed by people of any age because it has hundreds of added notes that explain the character of God and why people in the Bible made the choices they did.

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So, Where Do I Start?

Once you decide on a Bible, the question you should ask is “where do I start?” Most people try to read the Bible like any other book, starting at the beginning. Yet, when you are reading what amounts to a library, this is not always the best approach.

Click here for some good ideas about reading the Bible Click here for some good ideas about reading the Bible.

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Copyright © 1998, 1999 by Clarifying Christianity (SM).
Printed copies of this article may be circulated if it is reproduced in its entirety, along with this copyright notice. You may not charge for, request a donation for, or seek reimbursement from anyone for such copies. Links are OK. All rights reserved.

All information contained in Clarifying Christianity is a resource for questions dealing with Christian issues. It is not to be taken as Christian counseling. Seek a qualified Christian counselor for help with all such issues. If you choose to work with a Christian counselor, it is your responsibility to ask pertinent questions before you begin, to assure yourself of their qualities and abilities.