Out-of-date in the nuclear age? A collection of ancient superstitions? Or the most up-to-date book available? You need to know!
WHAT a paradox. The Bible is consistently on the best-seller list. Yet for many who have a copy it is one of the least read and most often misunderstood of books. The chances are, if you have a Bible in your home, it primarily occupies space on the bookshelf. Or it sits on a coffee table as part of the living room decor. Or it's there in the nightstand drawer by your bed. But read it? Understand it? Not many do.
What the Bible Is
Why should that be? The Bible is the oldest used book known to man, and at the same time the most up-to-date book available. So why don't people read the Bible? There are probably as many reasons as there are people. Few know that in its pages are revealed the purpose of man, the reasons for the course of human history and prophecies of what is to come upon this generation. You would think more people would want to understand these things. Is it any wonder that the Bible has been viewed as a book you can't understand. Author Bruce Barton referred to it in a book title as The Book Nobody Knows. And that has generally been true. Not many people have understood the Bible. But you can.
I Accepted a Challenge
While listening to The World Tomorrow on radio more than 30 years ago, I decided to accept Herbert W. Armstrong's challenge, "Blow the dust off your Bible. Read it. Find out what it really says. You'll be shocked at the truth of your own Bible." I decided to start reading the Bible. Like many American homes, ours had a Bible or two. But I had not read it. In Sunday school, we sometimes read some verses, but usually we had quarterlies and lesson plans. During worship services no one took a Bible. The minister usually had a text for the message of the day. It seemed to me the Bible was a book for only ministers to read. Mr. Armstrong challenged listeners, "Get out your Bibles. Read the scriptures. Prove whether what I say is true or not." I decided to read the Bible. I didn't know where to start or how to go about it, so I decided to begin at the beginning. That made sense. I started with Genesis 1:1, "In the beginning God created ...." I got through the first four chapters — how God made the heavens and the earth and all life — the account of the first humans in a garden (familiar from Sunday school) — and the story of Cain and Abel. Then I came to Genesis 5. Here was a whole chapter of hard-to-pronounce names and somebody begetting somebody else who, in turn beg at yet another. I couldn't understand why all that was important. But I read on. The story of the Flood in chapter 6 was a challenge — and the repopulation of the earth in the following chapters. Then came Genesis 10. Another whole chapter of names — even harder to pronounce than those in chapter 5. "I just don't understand all this," I said to myself. I put the Bible back on the shelf. There it sat for more than three years. Maybe you have had a similar experience. If so, it's time to try again. You might find, as I later did, studying the Bible can be very rewarding. Then I entered Ambassador College. In the academic program the Bible came alive. It started to make sense. I could understand it. (I even came to understand Genesis 10 and all those hard-to-pronounce names. Through those names, the history of important nations can be traced to their founders. But the study of Genesis 10 can take hours, so we won't go into detail about that here.) The Bible became a fascinating book. I discovered one third of the Bible is prophecy — not ancient, dead history — but up-to-date vital information. Most Bible prophecy has not yet happened. So when you read the Bible, you are reading about events soon to occur — probably in the lifetimes of most of you!
First, You Have to Read It
How can you read the Bible with understanding? How can you experience the excitement and — meaning for today of ancient history and battles of long ago? How can you understand the times in which you live and understand the meaning of world news in the light of Bible prophecy? You have to read the Bible. If you have not read the Bible through at all, or in recent years, you might like to make a special project of reading the entire Bible during the next year. You will then have an overview of what the Bible is all about. If you would like to begin such a program, you can complete the Bible in one year by reading about 23 chapters each week. That means reading between three and four chapters each day. No doubt there will be days when you simply do not find time to read. But it should not be hard to catch up on the weekend or at another convenient time. Never let yourself fall too far behind, though. Catching up after a long delay will prove too hard for many — there will be a temptation to quit. So stay with it. As you read, there will no doubt be many questions you will have. Make notes on those questions and look for the answers as you continue to read. Perhaps you will be encouraged to look up answers by doing further research at the library. Discuss your questions with other members of your family. Feel free to write us at one of our offices — the addresses are listed on the inside front cover of each issue of The Plain Truth. We probably have a booklet or reprint article we can send that will answer many of the most often asked questions our readers have. But be prepared for a few surprises. You are going to find the Bible says some things you have not heard before. Things you thought were in the Bible are not in there. For example, you will not find the modern celebrations surrounding Easter, Christmas, Valentine's Day or Halloween in the Bible. You will find instead that the New Testament Church continued to observe days God made holy rather than modern holidays of pagan origin. You will find the Bible tells you how to have a happy marriage, good health, successful children and how to have a close personal relationship with the Creator God. The apostle Paul wrote Timothy about the Bible, "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness" (II Tim. 3:16).
Ask for Understanding
This brings us to another way to study the Bible. While it is fine to read the Bible through, it is good to have other methods of Bible study. Above all we should want to understand the Bible. I am reminded of the story of a young pastor, who with his wife excitedly visited the members of his congregation to become acquainted with them. One elderly gentleman lived way out in the hill country and didn't make it to the services frequently. So they went out to visit him one day. They drove up to his property and inquired if they might visit. He eyed them up and down and said, "So yer the new preacher, huh?" "Yes, sir," the pastor replied. "Kind of a young feller, ain't ya?" he asked. "How many times you read the Bible through?" "Well... ta... ta... two or three times," he stumbled. (Of course he had studied the Bible hundreds of hours in his academic experience, but had not read it straight through many times.) "Sonny," he said, "I've read the Bible through from lid to lid nigh unto 40 times. Now what do you think you kin teach me?" That elderly gentleman had read the Bible over and over — but he didn't understand what it said. He didn't understand that it is a book to educate a person spiritually. Perhaps the most important key of all in Bible reading and study is understanding. When you set out on your course to study the Bible, pray for guidance, wisdom and understanding.
Have Your Own Bible
The first step is to have a suitable Bible to read and study. This does not always mean having to purchase a new Bible, but for many, a new Bible provides inspiration to study. If you plan to purchase a new Bible you will find a host of choices at the bookstore. There are big Bibles, pocket-sized Bibles, old translations, new translations, leather bound, cloth bound, paper bound, inexpensive editions, expensive editions. The choice is almost limitless. But here are some helpful hints. Spend a little extra to buy a quality binding. It pays off in the long run. If you can afford it, buy an edition with India paper, leather binding and margins wide enough to make some notes as you study. Also be certain the print is large enough to be easily read. An edition with a center reference column can be helpful if you wish to locate scriptures on the same subject. If you would like to make notes, use a black-ink ball-point pen (red and blue ink tend to soak through the paper). A set of colored pencils can aid in underlining and marking words and passages of interest. Some people develop their own special marking system using colors to signify different subjects. The main point is to develop a plan that will help you read, remember and understand the Bible. Do whatever is necessary to help you. The physical surface of the pages of the Bible is not holy or sacred. The living Word of God is. So use what will help you in your study of God's Word. A well read and well marked Bible is invaluable.
Useful Study Aids
Another way to read and study the Bible is by subject. Perhaps you would like to study about specific subjects such as you read of in the advertisements in the pages of The Plain Truth. This is where study aids come into play. First in importance is a concordance. A concordance is a book that lists most of the words in the Bible and tells where they are used. Let's say you want to look up the word understanding. In the concordance you would look up the word just as you would in a dictionary. There will be a list showing every time the word understanding is used in the Bible. You can look up each scriptural reference if you want — or select a few to read. When you do look up understanding, pay attention to what is revealed in what you read. You will be surprised at what the Bible says is the basis of a good understanding. Once you have mastered the concordance, you might want to purchase a one-volume Bible dictionary. In such a reference work you will find a short explanation of historical events and background information on personalities of the Bible. For example you might like to read about Jezebel, the infamous wife of King Ahab of ancient Israel. In a Bible dictionary you could read a short sketch about her colorful life. If you want more detailed information, there are encyclopedias available at public and other libraries where you can go for certain detailed study. In fact, it's not a bad idea as you study at a library to spend a little time and read up on subjects such as "Christmas," "Easter" and "Halloween." A question many people ask about Bible reading and study is, "Do I need to understand Greek and Hebrew to understand the Bible?" The answer is no. The Bible has been translated into more than 1,400 modern languages and dialects. While there are a few places in which translation problems exist, they are most often corrected by checking a different translation of the Bible or a commentary, dictionary or encyclopedia. As you become more and more familiar with the various study aids, you will see which ones will help you most.
Modern Translations Help
Another important aid is a modern translation of the Bible. In the English-speaking world, the traditional Bible has been the King James edition of 1611. But a more modern language translation can be helpful. And there are many available. Again, a public library is a good place to start to see which ones you enjoy most. I have found three modern English-language editions suitable for basic reading Bibles the Revised Standard Version (RSV), the New International Version (NIV) and the Revised Authorized Version (RAV), which is called in the United States the New King James Version. There are other translations also that you might find to your liking. The Bible is a book that tells you not to accept what you hear preached — just because you heard a preacher preach it. God says through the apostle Paul, "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good" (I Thess. 5:21). And Paul told Timothy, "Study [give diligence] to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (II Tim. 2:15). Follow the examples of the Bereans in ancient Greece who "searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so" (Acts 17:11). There is nothing more rewarding than reading and studying God's revealed Word. All the adventure and intrigue of history, the instruction of how to live your daily life, all the news of prophecies to come are found in the Bible. It's a thriller such that when you start to read with understanding you will not be able to put down. Why not get started on a Bible reading program right away? To help you understand the Bible as you read it, use the Ambassador College Bible Correspondence Course. It's a helpful Bible study program to guide you in a systematic study of the Bible. It will take you through history, prophecy and how to live a Christian life. It's free of charge, too. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.