Sometimes people can be very intimidated when it comes to reading the Bible. They might have picked up the Bible and tried to understand it, but found the process more frustrating than helpful. Outside of the context of a community of faith, it can be difficult to understand how to approach the Bible. We've put together this simple guide to help you understand the structure of the Bible and the overarching story that God tells us through the Bible, so that when you read a particular section you will know where it fits in the greater story of God.
It is helpful for you to have an understanding of the overall story (sometimes we call it the 'meta-narrative') of the whole Bible in order to best understanding how each book fits together. This is like having a 40,000 foot perspective before diving deep into a particular section. You will be able to navigate through the details to a greater degree the more you understand the big picture.
The Story of God
This short telling of the overarching story will help you better understand how to share the story and also how to read the Bible. This was written with the intention that parents would read it to their elementary age children.
The True Story of the Whole World
by Michael Goheen & Craig Bartholomew
This is a more abbreviated version of their earlier work "The Drama of Scripture."
The Drama of Scripture
by Michael Goheen & Craig Bartholomew
This work was put together to walk someone through the entire story of the Bible, showing the historical context and missional thrust of Scripture.
The History of Redemption
by Ronnie Smith
This was put together to share the entire story of Scripture, using only Scripture. In this piece, only verses from the Bible are used to share the big story.
Reading the Story
In order to understand the historic flow of Scripture, some may think that you just start at the beginning and move all the way to the end. This is the way novels typically flow. However, we must understand that the Bible is a mixture of various types of literature and so each book and section should be evaluated based on the particular style of literature it utilizes to communicate the truth of God. Therefore, if you want to get an understanding of the historic story that the Bible tells, we recommend reading through the following books (in this order):
- 1 & 2 Samuel
- 1 & 2 Kings
This reading will take you from the beginning of creation to the formation and expansion of the church. It will span a period of approximately 4,000 years (we believe).
Why read the Bible?
In order to assist you as you discover the truths of God that are contained within this holy book, we are going to point you towards a great video interview with a gentleman named, D.A. Carson, as he addresses the question: "What is our goal in reading the Bible?" (5 minutes)
Understanding the Genres
Each book of the Bible varies in terms of the audience that the book was written to, the author that penned that particular book as God inspired him to do so and also the literary genre (or type) that the book is written.
This genre is concerning with representing history. When you read narrative portions, you will notice names, places and details like this that tie the writing to a time and location.
Examples: Genesis, Acts
Poetry & Wisdom
The poetic or wisdom literature portions of Scripture are written to provide inspiration and guidance to the reader.
Examples: Psalms, James
The Bible has many books that are written by prophets, or people who were appointed by God to speak His Words to His People. These books often feature prophetic oracles of God as he pronounces what He is about to do in the near future and sometimes the distant future.
Example: Amos, Jeremiah
Didactic simply means "teaching". These books of the Bible are written to address specific people and situations. They are similar to a teacher instructing a class on what they are to learn.
Examples: Philippians, 1 & 2 Peter
How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth
by Gordon Fee
Understanding the Bible isn’t for the few, the gifted, the scholarly. The Bible is accessible. It’s meant to be read and comprehended by everyone from armchair readers to seminary students. A few essential insights into the Bible can clear up a lot of misconceptions and help you grasp the meaning of Scripture and its application to your twenty-first-century life.