by Pastor Al Robbins
As was mentioned in an earlier post (Understanding the Bible, Part 1), the Bible is made up of 66 individual books. So, if these are separate books, how should they be read?
The case can be made that there is a reason for the order of the books and therefore the books should be read in this order. However, as was mentioned in the earlier post, the books are more grouped according to type and style rather than a "flow" of readability. They are definitely not ordered in chronological order, although the book of Genesis starts with the creation of the world.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Genesis 1:1 (NIV)
Similarly, the book of Revelation ends with the return of the Lord Jesus Christ for His church.
20 He who testifies to these things says, "Yes, I am coming soon." Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God's people. Amen. Revelation 22:20-21 (NIV)
So, I propose that a reading plan that would foster a better understanding of the scriptures is to start in the middle at the Gospel of John. This is not the first book of the New Testament; in fact, it is the fourth book and the fourth gospel.
The authorship and date of writing of the book of John are, like many books of the Bible, a topic of discussion, and sometimes disagreement, by various Bible scholars. Entire books could be written on one or another of these topics. However, this is not the purpose of this article. The common understanding is that it is written by the apostle John.
Our focus is more on reading the Bible in order to understand it better. Especially if this is the first time that you are reading the Bible in any kind of a disciplined manner, rather than going back and forth reading a few verses here and a few verses there.
The book of John is a good place to start a disciplined reading because it uses several phrases that identify Jesus as divine - the Son of God.
That identity is clearly stated in the first few verses of the book:
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2 He was with God in the beginning.
3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.
4 In him was life, and that life was the light of men.
5 The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
15 John testifies concerning him. He cries out, saying, "This was he of whom I said, 'He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.'"
16 From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another.
17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
18 No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known.
John 1:1-5, 14-18 (NIV)
The first recorded miracle of Jesus is recorded in the second chapter of John, where Jesus turns the water into wine at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. The statement in chapter one that Jesus is God, followed so closely by a record of a miracle, set the tone that is followed throughout the book of John - Jesus is God!
One set of verses that emphasizes this, and which many can quote is John 3:16-17.
16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
John 3:16-17 (NIV)
Located throughout the book of John are revealed seven I AM statements that Jesus uses to describe Himself:
|I am the bread of life||John 6:35, 48|
|I am the light of the world||John 8:12|
|I am the door||John 10:9|
|I am the good shepherd||John 10:11|
|I am the resurrection and the life||John 11:25|
|I am the way, the truth, and the life||John 14:6|
|I am the true vine||John 15:1|
The book of John, focusing as it does on the divinity of Jesus, is a great place to start to read the Bible. Understanding who Jesus is, and how much He loves each of us - this is a foundation to the rest of the Bible.
If you are just starting to read the Bible in a comprehensive manner, I recommend that you read through the book of John twice. The first time is to get the "larger picture" of the book, and the second time, pray that God would speak directly to you through the passages as you read them. It is a love letter from God to you, read it as such.
Once you have read completely through John at least once, then go back a few pages and start reading at the beginning of the New Testament: the Gospel of Matthew. Read through the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and then John again. Ask God to show you who Jesus truly is.
More about the four gospels and what to look for while reading them will be covered in a future article.