#1 – You need a Bible.
Why ? Well, the Bible is the primary source of growth for the Christian. The apostle Peter tells new believers that just like newborn babies, they should “…desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious.” (1 Peter 2:2-3) In other words, you should make it a priority to desire to read and know God’s word. It is where you will find His will for how you should live, His standards for how you should live and most importantly, it is where you will will get to know Him. 2 Timothy 4:13-17 remind us of this:
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.
That being said, make it your mission to get your hands on a Bible this week.
Which Translation ? Why ?
Translations are usually based either on a philosophy of translating a Bible ‘thought-for-thought’ or ‘word-for-word’. The good thing about some ‘thought-for-thought’ Bibles is that they make the text very easy to understand. The bad part is that they sometimes ‘miss’ some of the richer meanings and things found in most word-for-word translations and water-down the text. The good thing about word-for-word translations is that, as best as possible, they try to remain faithful to a word-for-word rendering of the original languages. The bad part is…they require you to actually use your brain and think without having someone ‘do the work’ for you (which really isn’t a bad thing in the long run…unless you’re lazy). The passage quoted above was from a ‘word-for-word’ translation. A ‘thought-for-thought’ translation of verses 16 and 17 would look like this:
All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It straightens us out and teaches us to do what is right. It is God’s way of preparing us in every way, fully equipped for every good thing God wants us to do.
The translators have ‘done the work’ for you… but unfortunately, they miss some of the richer meaning of what ‘training in righteousness’ conveys – not just ‘doing what is right’, but knowing intimately and understanding intimately what righteousness is – not simply actions, but a state of being.
That being said, I recommend word-for-word translations for memorization and study. It’s good to consult other translations (sometimes going between 2-3 different translations gives you a better sense of what the passage is trying to say, as each translator may capture a different nuance of what the writer intended in the original language), but do most of your study and memorization out of one translation.
The New King James Version Translation (NKJ or NKJV). This is essentially a word-for-word translation of the scriptures following the old style and layout of the King James Bible, but with updated language. It’s easy to read, easy to understand and a good overall translation to study from. If you’re used to hearing bible verses quoted a certain way (usually from a KJV), then this is a good way for you to keep the ‘style’ of the KJV, but in understandable modern language.
The English Standard Version (ESV). This translation was made this century by some very good Bible scholars and seeks to present the Word of God as clearly, word-for-word as possible and remain as faithful to the original languages of the Bible as possible. The ESV is actually my current ‘favorite’ translation as it captures the accuracy of a good modern translation with the reverence of an older translation.
The New American Standard Bible (NASB or NAS). Long considered the most accurate word-for-word translation, the NASB is good for study, as it rarely does anything even close to paraphrasing. It’s a bit ‘wooden’ so it might sound ‘clunky’ while reading, but it’s good for personal study.
The New International Version (NIV). Ever since the 80′s, the NIV has been a favorite translation of many folks because of its’ easy to read style and modern language. Many people have found their Bible reading increased simply by switching to this translation. The NIV uses a combination of word-for-word translation (remaining faithful to the original languages) and some thought-for-thought translation (seeking to bring across what the author intended, even if not word-for-word). It’s a generally good translation for reading and some light study. If you have a quick question on what a text means, this is usually and good translation to use.
If you’d like to examine these Bible translations for yourself, they and several dozen others are available at the Bible Gateway. If you can’t afford a Bible, but you’ve got computer access…head here.
What I’d do if I were you and I was broke: If you’re strapped for cash, head to your nearest American Bible Societies store. They sell paperback editions of all of these translations for $2-$3 each. Some ABS stores also sell study Bibles pretty cheap as well. If you can’t find an ABS store near you, drop me an e-mail, and we’ll work out how to get a study Bible to you (there’s an ABS store in Baltimore). Speaking of which:
#1a – AND a good study Bible.
What’s a Study Bible ? Study Bibles are Bibles with tons of study notes to aid you in understanding the scriptures. There are good study Bibles and some really rotten ones out there. The ones I highly recommend are (and you can click on the links below and buy them through Amazon.com):
The ESV Study Bible.Â I own one. Absolutely a great study bible, with plenty of good notes, tools for understanding the text of scripture, articles on topics in scripture and in addition, the ESV Study Bible has an online access feature that enables you to pull up expanded versions of your study notes, has a spot online for you to make notes and save them, highlighting and much more.
MacArthur Study Bible I own one. MacArthur gives extensive notes and explanations of tough passages and really gives you a good overview of what the scriptures teach and how to apply it to your daily life. Topical index is included, as well as an overview of theology and much, much more. Great tool for devotional Bible reading and serious study. Comes in an NKJV.
NAS MacArthur Study Bible. Did I happen to mention MacArthur recently (2006) released it in the NAS with updated notes, maps and stuff ?
Reformation Study Bible. R.C. Sproul of Ligonier Ministries is the general editor. A few dozen good teachers put their time into this Bible, providing you with notes galore and many good resources. Great tool for devotional Bible reading and serious study. The notes in this bible will give you a firm foundation in the Christian Faith. This comes in the ESV translation.
Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible. The NIV Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible is pretty cool. It contains a buncha good explanatory notes on what the scriptures teach (some of the same contributors to Sproul’s Reformation Study Bible also contribute articles to this one), and all of the historic documents (creeds and confessions) that outline the basics of what a Christian should believe and much, much more. Like it’s ‘cousin’ the Reformation Study Bible (above), this one’s a keeper. The only ‘downside’ is the translation (I wouldn’t recommend the NIV for memorization, but if it works for you…). But don’t let that stop you, go pick one up.
In addition, all the Study Bibles I’ve mentioned have maps, topical indexes to help you find subjects and things as well as whole studies on various topics and subjects throughout the Bible geared toward your growth as a believer in Christ. Your typical study bible will run you about $33-40 hardcover and $50-80 for a leather cover.
Study Bibles aren’t a necessity. They are a luxury, but after a while, you might want one.
What you do now: read your Bible daily.Take notes.
Write down questions you have about things. I’d start off with the New Testament (look in your table of contents), particularly the Gospel According to Mark (for a quick overview of the entire life of Jesus) and the Gospel According to John (to really know who Jesus is).
Mark was a companion of the Apostle Peter and recorded much of what Peter told him regarding the life of Jesus. In addition, Mark was a witness to the many miraculous events that occurred in the early church as recorded in the book of Acts. If you want a more detailed account, you could start reading the Gospel According to Matthew instead. Matthew was an eyewitness to all of the events he wrote about, covers most of Mark’s material, plus some other stuff.
John was also an eyewitness and the last apostle to die (he lived to be about 100). Most of his material doesn’t repeat what Matthew, Mark and Luke (who was a lawyer and physician and carefully researched all of the events of the life of Jesus before writing them down in his gospel account), but adds in stuff that the rest of them missed.
While you’re there, I’d also suggest you start reading the letter from Paul to the Ephesians (around the middle of the New Testament…. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Romans, First Corinthians, Second Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians!). Ephesians is a good book for new believers because it digs into the ins and outs of salvation and then teaches believers how they should act in light of God’s mercy on them in salvation.
Also: Establish a Reading Schedule.
A good sister in Christ asked me for some advice on exactly where to point a new believer in getting daily Bible reading done. I gave my advice on it here. So get a calendar out, and mark off your days…..
Questions to ask yourself as you read:
1. What does the text SAY ?
2. What does the text MEAN ?
3. How does this apply to me personally ?
Take extensive notes on the text and what it teaches. Summarize it. Remember while reading – some things simply are just historical accounts of what happened – some things are poetry, but poetry that teaches (like Psalm 119) – some things are symbolic (i.e.- Revelation) and you need a ‘background’ in other Biblical books that deal with and interpret the same material (i.e.- Daniel) in order to understand them.