How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth: New Testament Letters
by Matt Rawlings
All too often, people see posts like this, “How to Read the Bible” and they tune out. Many believe they should just read their Bible and trust the Spirit to guide them. There is some truth to this but we need to remember that we are sinful beings with wicked hearts (Jeremiah 17:9) and that it is possible to study the Bible extensively and still not get it (i.e., the Pharisees John 5:39). This is a reason why Paul instructs Timothy to appoint teachers in every church (1 Tim. 5:17).
We need to study the Bible carefully with the help of good teachers. But first we need to decide on what Bible to use. If you walk into a Christian bookstore you will quickly find there is a dizzying alphabet soup of choices. Why?
Some of this is due to translation theory. The Bible was written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek and it is not always easy to translate it into English. One may try to translate it as close to word-for-word as possible while others will try to translate it by the idea the phrase seeks to communicate.
Also, a translator (usually a translation team) will also decided to cater their interpretation to a certain reading level. Christianbook.com provides the following guide for determining the reading level of popular translations:
KJV—12th grade NRSV—11th grade NASB —11th grade
ESV —10th grade HCSB —8th grade NIV — 8th grade
NKJV — 7th grade NLT —6th grade Message — 5th grade
So, you need to keep your own reading level in mind when choosing a Bible to read and study. I would recommend a good study Bible like the ESV Study Bible (Crossway 2008).
But how do you study the Bible once you buy one? Unfortunately, only a minority of Christians regularly read their Bible and when they do, too many read a verse or two and reflect upon how they “feel” about it. This is an odd practice because we don’t read a line of an email, reflect upon it and read the rest later because we know the author meant us to read the whole email in one sitting. The same goes for the letters of the New Testament. Peter, Paul, James, John, etc. expected the churches or people who received their letters to read them all the way through…