How to read the Bible

The Bible is the most popular book ever written. Year after year it outsells every other book. It shows God interacting with ordinary and extraordinary people in often surprising ways. Its stories, ideas and words have shaped societies, language, culture, art, architecture - and the lives of millions of people - all over the world. Such an extraordinary book is exciting to read, but it is a good idea to prepare beforehand rather than diving in.

First: Start with the story of Jesus Christ. His life story is told in four books of the Bible known as the Gospels, at the start of the New Testament.

The following book, Acts, is a good place to go next. It is like an action adventure which begins with Jesus’ ascension to heaven and then tells how the early Church began to spread across the Mediterranean region in the first century CE. It includes stories of persecution, miraculous events, and even shipwreck, and documents how thousands of lives were changed as people became followers of the Christian faith.

A garden, inspired by Psalm 23, with rocks and flowing water.
Bible Society/Clare Kendall
A garden inspired by Psalm 23, at the 2021 Chelsea Flower Show.

The Old Testament part of the Bible is full of fascinating stories and people illustrating what it means to explore a relationship with God. A good place to begin is a book called the Psalms. This is a collection of 150 songs and poems, written centuries before the coming of Jesus. Many are believed to be by King David, whose life included extreme highs and lows, which come across very clearly. All human experience can be found here and many people find reading the Psalms offers comfort and encouragement as well as challenges. Some, such as Psalm 23, are very well known and full of beautiful imagery, as brought to life here by The Bible Society's Psalm 23 garden.

Using a guide

A mobile phone displaying a Bible-related app sits on top of a Bible.

The Bible is so rich in meaning that it is a good idea to have a guide or notes to help you as you read. Some versions of the Bible have notes alongside the main text. These provide background context to what you are reading and help to explain some of the more challenging passages. You can also buy or download separate Bible reading notes. There is a wide variety of options to choose from and many people find daily Bible reading notes provide a structure to their reading.

Another good tip is to try different versions of the Bible to find which ones work well for you. The language used in the King James Version, for example, can be different to that in modern versions such as The Message but both can be helpful. They are conveying the same truths, in a different style.

When exploring the Old Testament, it is a good idea to read some background notes which explain the ancient history of the Jewish people. Having this added understanding will help you get more from stories about figures such as Abraham, Joseph, Moses and King David.

Below are links to some sites offering Bible reading notes: