To understand Christianity, you have to understand Christ. The best way to understand Christ is to read the accounts of his life, death and resurrection in the Bible.
Some people rely on other people to tell them what to believe about Christ. They learn about Him through their pastors and Bible teachers and draw conclusions based upon what they hear. I'm not knocking pastors or Bible teachers. They can certainly help you understand Christianity. But it’s a mistake to avoid the source document itself, the Bible. Relying solely on the opinions of others to come to your own conclusions about Christianity is like a jury relying on hearsay evidence to determine the guilt or innocence of a defendant.
The Bible can be an intimidating document. This is why a lot of Christians avoid it. It was written a long time ago, in an unfamiliar language. At approximately 1000 pages, it is imposing. A lot of people don't even know where to begin. The read it rarely, and when they do read it, they read only parts of it.
But what a lot of people don't understand is that the Author is more than willing to help you interpret His work. And once you begin to navigate the Bible, you will realize that the Bible is an incredibly well-organized book designed to serve a number of purposes. You can begin to read the Bible today. The Author of your faith will help you to understand it. If you understand the basic structure of the Bible, the intimidation factor will begin to dissolve. And if you will allow Him to do so, the Holy Spirit will guide you through it.
Most books are read once and then quickly forgotten. The Bible, on the other hand, is a lifetime read. You can read a scripture verse as a child and gain something meaningful out of it. As an adult, you can read the same verse and discern something completely different but equally meaningful from it. Can you think of any book that can satisfy the spiritual, physical, and intellectual needs of approximately two billion people? The Bible is spiritual “milk” for new Christians, but also spiritual nutrition for people who have been Christians for decades.
The Bible can also be read simply as narrative, cover to cover. It describes the story of God’s relationship with mankind. And it can be read as a daily devotional, with scriptural guidance on how we should live. The Bible is a book that remains absolutely constant. But in practice it seems as if the Bible was designed to be flexible, in terms of meeting the needs of a person at any point in time. And the Holy Spirit helps to get what we need out of the Bible when we need it.
Organization of the Bible
The Bible contains 66 “books”, which function a lot like chapters do in other literature. The New Testament has 27 books and the Old Testament has 39 books. The following is a grouping of these books and brief overviews, which will provide you with an overview of the basic layout of the Bible.
The Old Testament
The Old Testament describes the events that ultimately led to Jesus’ birth.
Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy: These books describe the creation of the world and mankind, the temptation and original sin in the Garden of Eden, God’s covenant with mankind, the development of the nation of Israel and its freedom from Egyptian slavery, the Ten Commandments and other rules of cleanliness and obedience, and God’s deliverance of the Israelites into the “Promised Land”.
Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, Second Kings, 1 Chronicles, 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job: These books describe the lives and acts of the early nation of Israel and the ongoing principles of mankind’s cyclical rebellion, repentance and obedience to God, and God’s continuing forgiveness.
Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon: These books contain principles and rules for man’s relationship with God and with each other.
Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi: These books are the stories of God’s prophets through the years, as well as their messages of the coming of the Messiah, who Christians believe is Jesus of Nazareth.
The New Testament
The New Testament describes Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, and the growth of the early Christian church.
Matthew, Mark, Luke, John: These Gospels describe life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus. The Gospels tell the “good news” of Jesus and provide the basis for the Christian faith.
Acts: This book describes the acts of the early Christian apostles, including Paul, who wrote much of the remainder of the New Testament.
Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews: This almost staggering volume of works was written by one man, the apostle Paul. Originally a persecutor of the early Christian church, he converted following a dramatic encounter with Jesus following his ascension into Heaven. These epistles are letters to the early Christian churches and describe some of the foundational principles followed by believers today.
James 1, James 2, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, Jude: These are the epistles written by original apostles of Christ, describing Christian principles and instruction.
Revelation: This book was written by the apostle John, this work is the final chapter of the Bible and describes in apocalyptic terms, the second coming of Jesus and the end times for Earth.
A Suggested Approach for Reading the Bible
To the uninitiated, the Bible can be pretty intimidating. But it doesn't have to be. All you need is a plan of attack. And that’s the purpose of the following section- to give you a methodology to use as part of your regular Bible study.
Read it Cover to Cover
Dedicate at least thirty minutes a day to Bible study, the length of a typcial television sitcom. Read the Bible as you would read any book. Consider reading it cover to cover. Begin with Genesis and read about the beginning of mankind. Read about the first sin and its consequences. You’ll find an incredible story. It’s incredible because it resonates so perfectly with what we know about how we act. The basic problem with mankind is the same today as it was then. God wants only the best for man, but man wants to do it his own way. This is important because the Old Testament describes man moving further and further away from God. And it becomes apparent that only something extraordinary can fix this problem.
Some people set a goal of reading the Bible through in one year, which works out to be between three and four chapters per day. Reading the Bible cover to cover will help you to understand its broad concepts and ideas. You will start in the Garden of Eden and trace the development of the relationship between man and God. You will begin to discern “themes” throughout the Old Testament, which ultimately center on mankind’s disobedience and redemption. As you read the New Testament, you will learn about Jesus. He was the fulfillment of God’s plan, once and for all, for mankind through the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus.
When I first read the Bible this way, I was amazed. I had previously thought it was a disjointed collection of materials. Instead, I realized it was a beautifully seamless and consistent book. In Jesus, God solved the sin problem once and for all. Man had proven time and time again that, despite God’s love, he would rebel. God had given mankind the power to choose, and mankind repeatedly made choices which were against God- we call it sin. In response, God could have done any of a number of things. He could have destroyed mankind. Or, He could have imposed His will. But there was a third way- through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
As you read through the Bible, consider also reading Psalm, a Proverb and a snippent from the writings of Paul (most of the epistles in the New Testament). This will help you to also gain daily nourishment, something critical to
After you have read the Bible cover to cover, then read it strategically. This means choosing sections to read based upon your spiritual needs at that time and based upon particular issues you may be faced with. The more familiar you become with the Bible, then the more often scripture will come to mind as you approach your life.
Reading the Bible sequentially will allow you to understand its big picture. But reading it strategically will also enable you to extract gems of wisdom. The Bible was designed to be a lifetime read. It is probably the only book ever written, which can be read in parts just as beneficially as reading the whole. Some people have favorite scripture that they refer to over and over again, in times of difficulty. I’ve found that no matter what I’m going through, my daily Bible study finds me in a particular passage that helps. It’s as if the Holy Spirit is always there in the background, guiding me. If we listen carefully to the Holy Spirit, He will guide us to scripture that fulfills our needs at any given time. Further, the Bible can be read in big or small pieces, or from cover to cover, depending upon the needs of the reader.
But the important thing is to incorporate Bible study into your daily routine. Set aside time each day to read it.
You won't be disappointed.