I wrote Lectio Divina (Divine Reading) to help the congregation I served read their Bibles from Genesis to Revelation. My aim was simply to encourage people to read one of the most interesting, powerful, and in places, difficult-to-understand books that has ever been written. Writing Lectio Divina was a lot of work. I plodded away at it for over a year—in my study, in a library in Scotland or Cambridge, and even while laying in a bed in Nairobi recovering from an appendectomy. What was I thinking?? I still remember writing daily devotions after my surgery —pecking away on an iPad because I had rushed off (half sick already—thinking I just had the flu) and forgotten my laptop! And then I was desperately trying to find a wifi signal strong enough to send my work back to our staff editor—who amazingly delivered every day. Some of the things I did! Oh my! (My wife won’t let me forget them!) I have had many, many people ask if I will publish the devotions. I do answer that question later in this little article.
I’ve been reading through the entire Bible nearly every year of my life since I was 13 years of age. I’m still doing it today. Some years I have come up short, while at other times I have read through the Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation two or three times in a year. This might sound impressive, but it’s actually not that hard to do. Not if you work at it a little bit every day. In fact, it only takes about twenty minutes a day to read through the entire Bible in a year (an hour of reading a day means you can read through it three times). What is difficult however, is trying to understand what the Bible is actually saying; at least in some places. Well, here is the good news. We are not the first people to scratch our heads and wonder about what we are reading. Even Biblical writers, like Daniel and Peter, talked about how they didn’t fully understand the revelations they were given! However, we now have all kinds of things at our fingertips as Bible students, like Targums (oral explanations of the law, later put in writing), Haggadah (Jewish exegetical texts), commentaries (from different eras, of varying qualities), sermons (some as old as the third century), massive theological works ad infinitum. So…help IS available.
But where to begin? Well, that is what this article is about. First, let me encourage you to decide to actually read the Bible. Don’t just use simple devotionals that don’t get you in the word. I find some of these to be very trite and light and really not all that helpful. I remember when I took a class in grad school on Jonathan Edwards and saw the massive amount of reading we were required to do. (It was something like 2 billion pages for the semester—at least that’s how it felt to me). I asked my professor which biography on Edwards he recommended. He said, “This is a class on the Theology of Jonathan Edwards. You are going to read Jonathan Edwards. You can read ABOUT Jonathan Edwards on your own time.” He said it with a smile…but I got the point. The Reformers had an expression they often used: ad fontes (to the sources). Don’t just read about the Bible—read the Bible itself and ask God to change you!
Second, use a good study Bible. I recommend the NIV Study Bible or the NLT Study/Life Application Bible. I know that a lot of purists will try to point you to the ESV or perhaps the NASB (for those who are really old school), or even the KJV (for those who love the King’s English). But the NIV and the NLT have set a new standard for balancing accuracy with readability. This is an entirely different discussion so I will be brief. The most literal translations are more challenging to read—while paraphrases (like The Message) are “easy on the ears” but not as accurate as the original text. Anyone who has ever learned a foreign language knows that translation is an art as well as a science. Extremely “literal texts” aim to be closer to “word-for-word” translations (though no English version adopts this because verb and noun placements vary so widely from language to language). These are sometimes called “text-driven” translations. Extremely “loose texts” try to be closer to “idea-by-idea” translations and you are relying to a large degree on interpretive choices made by the translator. These are sometimes called “audience-driven” .The NIV and NLT translators tried to strike a balance, and I think they do a good job. And just a little jab here; anyone who argues that those living in the seventeenth century knew more about Bible translation and ancient texts have their heads buried in the sands of Palestine! Biblical scholarship is more fine-tuned today than it has ever been thanks to archaeological discoveries and advancements in linguistic studies. So much for the class on translation theory—but there you have my recommendation. The main thing is that you read the text of Scripture.
Third, use a good resource to help you understand the Bible, and don’t be afraid to change things up from year to year. Of course your study Bible will be a big help to you, and there are all kinds of daily reading plans out there on bible apps like YouVersion (my app of choice). I usually switch it up each year. For beginners, I highly recommend John Stott’s classic book Through the Bible Through the Year: Daily Reflections from Genesis to Revelation (Wilkinson House: Oxford, 2006) or for something a big lighter (but still very good), Max Lucado, The Story: The Bible as One Continuing Story of God and His People. For those wanting something a little more advanced, I highly commend D. A. Carson For the Love of God: A Daily Companion for Discovering the Riches of God’s Word: Vol. 1 & Vol 2 (Crossway, 2006). Carson follows a pattern from the Scottish minister Robert Murray M’Cheyne (1813-1843) who used a reading schedule similar to the Book of Common Prayer, with a daily reading from the Old Testament and the New Testament.
I was going to write more here…but alas this article is already too long. Perhaps later I will write about some good resources for the really advanced students who want to dig much deeper. As to Lectio Divina, I will be publishing a new and improved version of it in the future. One of the things I’m most excited about in my new position is that one of my responsibilities is writing! And that’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time. I will be spending some time each year in Cambridge working on writing projects that will bless the global church. Right now I have a couple of other projects waiting in the queue (as the Brits say)—so don’t wait for my work to come out. Get started reading the word. Ad fontes! The Bible will change your life like no other book in the world! I hope this helps—and if it does, feel free to share it with a friend!