6 things I wish I knew when I started reading the Bible
When I got my first Bible I honestly had no idea what I was in for. I didn't grow up reading, let alone studying, the Bible and did not pick out my first Bible until I was in my twenties. I remember looking through so many options of Bibles and I was incredibly unsure of what the translations meant, why anyone would ever need a study Bible, and how or where I should even begin. I finally built up the courage to pick out and purchase my first Bible and would sit in bed late at night after my daughter was asleep and read it. As someone with a terrible memory, I naturally began taking notes, marking up words and phrases that confused or intrigued me, and the stress I had felt when building up to that point melted away as I learned to spend time with God for the first time in my life.
Everyone starts somewhere, at some point in time. How I started likely looks a lot different than your own journey, and that's part of the beauty of it. Reading God's Word is your quality time with your Heavenly Father and is unique to your personal relationship with Him. There are many things I wish I'd known when I began reading the Bible, and that's what I'd like to share with you. I had no Christians in my life and am grateful looking back that I didn't have someone to ask how to start reading my Bible, so this post likely isn't going to be what you're expecting.
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There's no "right" order to read the Bible
One of the first questions I hear from those who are new to reading scripture is where they should begin. Nearly every Christian has their idea of the perfect book, chapter or passage to begin with. Personally, I'm grateful I didn't have anyone to make suggestions to me. The guidance I always love to give is to pray over where God would have you begin.
For me, God led me two places; Job and 1 Peter. For me God knew this was exactly what I needed, but these are never on the lists of recommended passages to start with that I have heard. Remember, your relationship with the Lord is your own - let Him guide you from the very beginning. He knows what you need, and where you will find it.
Once you've gotten started, let Him continue to guide your reading and study. I definitely recommend eventually reading the entire Bible cover to cover, but how you do that, in what order, the depth and time you take to get there should all be unique to your needs in your time with God.
You're not going to learn everything the first time through
I can't even tell you how many times I've read certain books and passages in the Bible and every time I read them again I learn something new. God is continuously revealing to me what He knows I'm ready for in His timing. There is no such thing as reading any of scripture enough or too many times. We should be seeking to constantly learn and grow in our relationship with and knowledge of God through His Word, wherever He guides us to read and study. Always be ready and willing to learn from God's Word no matter how many or few times you've ready any given passages.
The translation does matter...but maybe not how you think
You'll hear all kinds of opinions about translations, and all kinds of reasoning behind these preferences. I've learned over several years in scripture and studying the backgrounds of many common translations that yet again this is something each believer should choose prayerfully. My first Bible was an ESV. I loved it! Over time I ended up using a variety of others, some I liked and some I didn't. What I've come down to is that when I learn the origins and purpose of a translation (who translated it and why), as well as the type of translation it is, I am able to better choose the translations I use, which ones I like to companion together, and which ones will help me with different types of studies. It also helps me understand why there are so many different translations and lead me to make a more educated decision about my primary translations.
I'm a firm believer that we should be diligent in researching the backgrounds of translations before choosing to use (or not use) any of them. I have loved studying a variety of translations and plan to study more as I discover them. We have a whole category devoted to studies on Bible translations if you'd like to use our studies as a launching point to help in your own investigation!
Study Bibles are not scary...but choose wisely
My first Bible was a cut and dry Bible. Nothing fancy, no commentary, no notes, just God's Word. It was enough, and it IS enough. You'll likely find people who are adamantly for or against Study Bibles (and Bible studies, for that matter). The thing about study Bibles is that we should always have discernment when choosing and using them. There are so many different kinds out there, but again choosing any Bible, as well as study Bibles, prayerfully is essential.
Study Bibles provide some additional insight about what you're reading. This can be extremely helpful for some, and can also be a stumbling block as well if we're not careful and prayerful. Remember that God's Word is enough - all things should be filtered through the Word of God and we must ensure any commentary were using in our studies line up and are Biblically accurate. We must also be careful not to put whoever's name is on the binding on a pedestal and let them, or their interpretations, become idols and stumbling blocks.
That said, when approached with appropriate discernment and prayer, study Bibles are incredible tools. I absolutely love having a variety of different study Bibles to help me in a multitude of study types and topics. We should be sure we're focusing on the Word of God itself first and foremost, and using the study notes to aid us in our study. Commentary is not scripture; it is like having a theological study buddy on hand to help you dive in deeper to the Word.
I have quite a few different study Bibles and you can check my top 5 favorites and why I love them so much here!
Marking in your Bible is perfectly okay, and totally optional
From the get-go I wrote in my Bible. It felt a little strange, but not all at the same time. I was embarrassed about it at first but I knew it was helping me and that I needed it. Writing in your Bible certainly isn't for everyone, but there's nothing wrong with doing so. For me, I see it as a way to more intimately connect with God while in His Word. This is my time to talk with Him and for Him to speak to me through His Word. Writing notes on the pages helps what God is revealing sink in, to remember it better, and to remind me when I come back to it again. It's amazing to get to go back to some of my old notes from years ago when I first started reading scripture and reread my notes on the pages. Its helped me a lot in my journey.
There is nothing wrong with writing in the pages to help you absorb what God is telling you through His Word. One worry I have always had is that I don't want to feel like I am destroying the pages because of using the wrong pens and highlighters. I have tested so many to find pens and highlighters that don't bleed through the pages and have come to love these pens and these highlighters hands down above any other for writing in my Bible. A lot of people love color coding but I just love having all the fun colors for whatever is on my heart to use at the time.
Always have pens and a notebook (and sticky notes) handy
Like I said, writing in your Bible is perfectly acceptable. I also wish I'd been better about writing notes in a keepsake notebook dedicated to study notes. I didn't start this habit until years later but truly wish I had done this from the start. Even if you're not a notetaker, having a notebook handy to write down questions, key phrases or verses you want to remember, prayers as you study, or whatever else God puts on your heart is so valuable, and again, a way to get more intimate and intentional in your study time with God.
I always have a notebook, sticky notes and lots of colorful pens handy. I often use sticky notes to carefully stick on the Bible pages to keep a lot of my notes within its pages, but heavily use my notebooks as well. It's been a game changer for me.
My favorite note taking goodies are:
5 subject notebook to break my notes into categories and double as a prayer notebook to bring it all together
Amazing and colorful pilot pens that are fun for notes and art journaling
Sticky notes and lined sticky notes for extended notes to save in my Bible. Margins can only fit so much! And great for when I go back and study something again. Add a sticky note with your new notes on it!
No-bleed Bible highlighters that are vibrant and not tacky and messy.
There's not really a right or wrong way to get started reading the Bible, but I remember the daunting feeling before I did actually get started. Over the years I have met a lot of Christians who have asked questions about how to get started and truly, these are the words of wisdom I wish to impart on them. What I would say it all really boils down to is that your time in the Word is personal time for you to spend with God. Spend intentional, personal, intimate time with Him daily and let Him lead the way every time.
If you have any other tips you wish you'd known, or would like others to consider when starting out please feel free to share below in the comments!