Is it your first time opening the Bible?
There are a few things you might want to know before you begin reading.
Explore a few brief answers to 10 common questions about the Bible.
The Bible is the bestselling and most influential book ever published, but it’s not just one book. In fact, the term “Bible” comes from a Latin phrase meaning “the books.” The Bible contains 66 books, written by various authors over the span of more than a thousand years.
The writings in the Bible were known for most of time not as “the Bible” but as “the Scriptures,” because people recognized these writings as sacred and unique from all others. In fact, within the Bible, biblical authors will refer to one another’s writing as sacred Scripture (Daniel 9:2; 2 Peter 3:15-16). But what is it about the Bible that makes it so unique? To answer that we need to consider the authorship of the Bible.
Learn More: Is the Bible God’s Word?
Many men from different eras, cultures, and languages wrote the Bible. Fishermen, kings, poets, shepherds, scholars, and a few anonymous sources penned the words of the Bible according to their personality, experience, and beliefs.
However, the Scriptures themselves tell us that “All scripture is breathed out by God” (2 Timothy 3:16 ESV), and that “no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21 ESV).
Many other religions claim to have divinely inspired texts, but they almost always have that message mediated through an angel, or one prophet who is unverified by other witnesses. Often their message has significant gaps and cannot account for the entire history of the world in a coherent fashion that aligns with reality.
On the other hand, the Bible attests to its divine authorship all throughout the book by multiple authors. When people read it, they recognize it to be the very words of God spoken through ordinary people. The unity of the Bible, meaning the fact that all 66 books written over thousands of years tell one coherent story that matches reality, proves that it originated from God. The more you read the Bible, the more you realize that no single human mind or collection of people could have come up with such a coherent book over many generations.
The Bible’s own claim is that the author of the Bible is the Spirit of God. This is why we believe that if you engage with the Bible sincerely, you will be changed, because we know that the Spirit of God speaks through these Scriptures.
Now you understand why often refer to the Bible as God’s Word, because that is what it is! The Word, the Word of God, or God’s Word are common ways of referring to the Bible among believers in Jesus.
Learn More: Is the Bible God’s Word?
In short, yes. If you carefully look into the process of preserving the original writings of the Bible, compiling the books of the Bible, and translating the original manuscripts, you will find that God has wonderfully watched over his Word.
Although people claim the Bible is unreliable, it does not cease to be the most accurate historical account ever written, used even by secular universities in their studies. Science and archaeology continue to affirm the historical record of the Bible. You will find that the Bible tells the true story of history.
But we know that there are many accusations lobbed against the Bible and its reliability. Part of why we created Bibles.net is to help you see that the Bible is reliable, even when stacked up against science, history, and archaeology.
Learn More: Why the Bible?
You may hear people refer to the Bible as life-giving, or that when they read it their attitude improves, and they have a better day than if they had not read the Bible.
These testimonies are understandable, as the Bible tells a beautiful story and includes wonderful, riveting, and engaging literature. It is the most thought-provoking book, filled with the greatest wisdom the world has ever known.
But we do not encourage you to read the Bible as one self-improvement book among many others, nor to introduce you to excellent literature.
The Bible holds the words of the living God, who actually came to us as a man in Jesus Christ. Jesus explained to his followers that the whole Bible tells one story about him (Luke 24:44-48). Each part of the Bible helps us to know and love Jesus more.
The book of John records Jesus talking to some of the best Bible scholars of his day. He says to them, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life” (John 5:39-40 ESV).
When we open our Bibles, we don’t look to the words themselves for life. When we come to the Bible, we understand that we are listening to the words of Jesus. So, we go to the Bible as a way of relating to Jesus—knowing him, treasuring him, and obeying him.
What’s the point of reading the Bible? To know God. And by this we don’t mean know about God, but we mean to know him such that we find our greatest joy in him.
Learn More: Can We Know God?
Yes, you can! You probably ask this question because you know there are parts of the Bible that are hard to understand. In fact, there are concepts in the Bible that no one fully understands. But those difficulties do not need to keep us from reading the Bible. Here’s a verse from the Bible to encourage us to open it up and expect to understand.
Deuteronomy 29:29 says, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (ESV). From this verse, we can draw a few conclusions.
First, some things only God knows, and he has chosen not to reveal them to us. Second, God has revealed some things to us. Third, what God has revealed to us he has also revealed to our children, meaning they are easily understood.
For example, the Bible tells us that God is one being. It also talks about him as three persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We can accept that God is the Father of all who trust in Jesus. We can also accept that Jesus is the Son of God. We can also accept that God lives within those who trust in Jesus through his Spirit. However, even the best scholars cannot fully explain this concept of
The Westminster Confession of Faith answers our question about the clarity of the Bible wonderfully. It says,
All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.
Friend, everything you need to know to have a relationship with God through Jesus and to live a godly life is clear to you in the Bible. When you put your faith in Jesus, God gives you his Spirit to help you understand his Word, the Bible (John 14:26). The Holy Spirit enlightens your mind to help you know God better through his Word (1 Corinthians 2:6-15).
For those who genuinely desire to understand God’s Word, God will give them understanding (Jeremiah 29:13). Often people lack understanding of God’s Word not because God isn’t clear, but because they don’t want to believe or accept what he clearly says.
Learn More: Is the Bible Clear?
Here are a few basics to know about how to understand your Bible.
First, if you open your Bible, you will find that the books of the Bible are not chronologically ordered. For example, the book of Job, likely written at the same time as the first book of the Bible (Genesis), is placed in the middle of the Old Testament, way after the book of Genesis. There is still a rhyme and reason to the ordering of the Biblical books, but if you expect to open your English Bible and read the story of the Bible straight through, you may get confused.
Second, the Bible is divided into chapters and verses. The authors of Scripture did not include these divisions. They were added very recently.
As you read the Bible, you’ll come to find out that the writings of the Bible include letters, poems, contracts, prophecies, and narratives. Many of the Scriptures had no divisions at all, but were one scroll, or one letter. However, once all the books of the Bible were recognized as one unit, publishers thought it would be helpful to create a system for navigating and referencing the Bible.
Publishers have added chapter numbers and verse numbers to help us navigate this huge book. The way people reference specific Bible verses is as follows. You start with the title of the book, then list the chapter and verse number. For example, John 3:16 refers to the sixteenth verse in the third chapter of the book of John.
Third, every book of the Bible has a unique message, even though it has an essential place within the storyline of Scripture. We are confident that God’s Spirit will help you read and understand his Word. But before you open a book of the Bible, learning a little about the author, setting, and message of that book will help you understand it. We have written five-minute book introductions to help you get your bearings in the Bible story no matter what book you have decided to begin with. We also have articles that give background information for each book so you can understand the historical context.
What do I need to start reading the Bible?
To start reading the Bible, you just need three things: a time, a place, and a plan. And you may want a fourth thing—a friend!
The time and place you read your Bible will depend on the plan you choose. Let’s talk about what we mean by a plan. You don’t need a plan to read most books, you simply read them front to back. But the structure of the Bible differs from ordinary books. Although the Bible tells one story, it resembles an anthology more than a novel. There are many books within the Bible to read and enjoy, and because each book within the Bible has its own message, you can bounce around the whole book with no trouble. Because of all this, you must choose where to begin your exploration of the Bible. Here are a few suggestions.
Where do I start in the Bible?
Reading the Bible from beginning to end will begin to familiarize you with content. You’ll learn tons. If you embark on this wonderful adventure to read the whole Bible, front to back, the Lord will meet you in beautiful ways as you listen to his whole of his revelation, day by day. If you’re not ready for that, and would rather start slow, we would suggest two options.
First, consider starting just with the first book, Genesis—you guessed it—at the beginning. Genesis provides the groundwork for our biblical worldview and wonderfully answers the most foundational questions we have. Genesis tells the true story of the beginning of all things. Commit to reading the first book of the Bible. Then, you can reconsider what to read afterwards.
Second, consider reading one of the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John). These four books tell the story of Jesus. The whole Bible tells one story that’s all about Jesus—who he is and what he has done for us. You might want to meet Jesus right away, so that as you read the rest of the Bible you are prepared to ask how it relates to Jesus. As a quick reference for you, Matthew’s gospel focuses on how Jesus fulfills the Old Testament. The gospel of Mark can be read in an hour and its main theme is the suffering of Jesus and his identity as the Savior. Luke’s gospel will give you the most detail in order to fully convince you that the story of Jesus is true. John explicitly tells us that his gospel is written to convince you to put your trust in Jesus (John 20:31). Choose one of these and get to know Jesus right away.
It is more important to get the Bible through you than for you to get through the Bible, as many people have said. In other words, the quality of your reading matters far more than the quantity. The Bible is a method of communication when it comes to your relationship with God; it is the way he reveals himself to you. God cares far more that you are listening to his Word by reading the Bible and speaking to him in prayer than how much of the Bible you have read. He wants you to know him and to love him, and to know the great love he has for you.
Can we share two last things for you to consider as you start reading the Bible? First, you will enjoy reading the Bible in community, so consider finding a friend to read it with you, keep you accountable, and have discussions about what God reveals to you. Second, whenever you open you Bible, ask the Holy Spirit to help you understand what you are reading (1 Corinthians 2:14). We need God’s help to understand God’s Word.
Learn More: How to Read the Bible?
So many people talk about the benefits of reading the Bible and its impact on their lives that it may seem like the Bible story revolves around us. However, the Bible is not a choose-your-own-adventure book, nor is it a story where we are main characters. The Bible is all about God. It’s the testimony of his works from creation to the end of all things, and in it God discloses his character and his plans for the world. The climax of the Bible hinges on the revelation and coming of Jesus Christ, who is God incarnate, and who has come to rescue us from our sins and their eternal consequences so that he might welcome us into a loving relationship with God for all eternity. God revealed himself progressively—first to the first man Adam, then to another man Abraham and his family, and then to the nation of Israel. God chose Israel as the nation through which he would bring the promised Savior to humanity. After Jesus’ arrival, God continued to reveal the rest of his story through a handful of Jesus’ followers. The Scriptures record the work of God in the world.
We are transformed as we read the Bible because through it we encounter God—his character, his work, and his plans. The Word of God transforms us not because it is the answer key to our stories, but because our stories only find their meaning in the story of our Creator. As you read the Bible, remember that it is first and foremost about God, meaning it reveals him to us.
You have probably noticed that the Bible has two parts, the Old Testament and the New Testament. Before we talk about the difference between the two, you must understand that they are both part of the same story, about the same God, and cannot be understood without each other.
Many people like to treat the Old and New Testaments as two different books. They’re not! They’re two parts of a whole.
The Old Testament tells us about the beginning of the world. It tells us how humanity rebelled against God, but God promised that one day, he would remove our sin and reconcile us to a right relationship with him. God revealed himself to the nation of Israel and began to unfold his plan through that nation to bring a Savior into the world to rescue us from our sin.
The New Testament tells of the coming of that Savior, Jesus Christ. It tells us how Jesus fulfilled every promise in the Old Testament and accomplished the work of salvation. The New Testament teaches us how to respond to Jesus’ salvation and anticipates his return.
The Bible does not contradict itself, though it may seem as though it does. Here are three examples of seeming contradictions that often cause people concern.
When Two Passages Say Opposite Things
You may read two passages of the Bible that seem to contradict each other. There are instances when it may feel like the Bible makes a statement and then states exactly the opposite. For example, in Proverbs there are two verses side-by-side that say the exact opposite of one another (Proverbs 26:4-5). But these verses belong to the genre of wisdom literature in the Bible, and their contradiction exists intentionally, to teach us that applying knowledge to life takes wisdom, and something may be wise in one situation but not in another. Often we encounter what we think are contradictions in Scripture because we have not taken the time to understand the context in which we find them. We must understand what the Bible says, as well as what it means by what it says. Our first business when we run into a contradiction is to consider whether we have understood both passages of the Bible correctly in their context.
When the Details of Two Stories Don’t Match Up
You may also read multiple accounts of the same story in the Bible told in different ways. Many of the stories from Jesus’ life are told in the four Gospels but include different details because they are being told from four different witnesses’ perspectives. Similarly, in historical books like Chronicles and Kings, some events are recorded differently in one book than the next. You may encounter inconsistent records. However, such discrepancies can be solved by thoughtful reading, careful synthesis, or taking into account When you encounter what seems to be a discrepancy in the biblical record, search for an answer to your question rather than despairing that you have found God’s Word to be unreliable. You will find thoughtful answers to assure you of the reliability of the Bible.
When You Can’t Reconcile Two Related Truths
Finally, you will read about realities in the Bible that we cannot reconcile with one another. You will encounter spiritual paradoxes. For example, we are held responsible for our choices, yet are also told that God controls all things (Philippians 2:12-13). Or God is revealed as three persons— Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—but is adamantly referred to as only one being. Sometimes you will encounter truths like this in the Bible that we must believe independently of one another though we cannot reconcile them together. Because God is God, and his understanding is so far beyond ours, there are things we cannot understand about him and his works (Isaiah 55:8-9). He has given us what we can grasp and asked us to entrust the mysteries to him (Deuteronomy 29:29). What we do not understand, we don’t demand an answer for, we simply leave it to his wisdom. Just because we can’t reconcile two truths together, does not mean either one of them has to be false. We might just not have the mental dimension to comprehend the answer if it was told to us.
Those who truly desire to know God through his Word, who trust him and believe that all he says is trustworthy, may run into confusing parts of the Bible. And so, when we read the Bible, we read it with faith. This faith does not mean ignorant trust, but trust seeking understanding. God is not the God of confusion, but of peace (1 Corinthians 14:33), and all that he says is true (Proverbs 30:5). He has not contradicted himself in his Word. He may have left a few things mysterious, or left some things up to our thoughtful reckoning, but he has not left us with misinformation nor misled us.
Learn More: Does the Bible Have Errors?
You can trust Bible translations, but you also want to choose a translation thoughtfully. Instead of talking to you about the intense scholarship that publishers invest in Bible translation, or the unmatched reliability of the transcription of biblical manuscripts, or the history of the English Bible, we want to direct your attention to the character of God and a few reliable translations.
We trust the Bible because we have come to believe and trust in Jesus, having found its testimony about him to be true. Jesus himself believed in the absolute truthfulness of the Scriptures (Matthew 21:42; Matthew 26:56).
Because we have come to love and trust God, we believe God’s Word that he desires to have a relationship with us (1 Peter 3:18). He is more than capable of communicating to us. If he oversaw the inspiration and the writing of the Scriptures, surely he is also governing the translation and distribution as well. It was God’s initiative to give us the Scriptures by his Spirit, and he also takes responsibility to get it into the hearts of his people, one language at a time.
However, we do still pay close attention to the English Bible translations we use. At Bibles.net we like to use the ESV, NIV, CSB, NKJV, KJV, and NLT translations. All of these are reliable English translations. Some translations like The Message, are actually paraphrases of the Bible, and more like someone’s reflection on what the Bible says, rather than a translation of Scripture. While The Message and other paraphrases like it may prove useful, they aren’t really a translation of the Word of God.
Do you need to worry as you open your English Bible that human error and handling has corrupted God’s Word? No. Hundreds of God-fearing, Jesus-following men and women have painstakingly worked to ensure that the original manuscripts of God’s Word in Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic have been translated into English in the most faithful way possible. Furthermore, God is more willing to speak to us through his Word than we are willing to listen. When you open your Bible, whether in Hebrew, English, French, Spanish, or any other language, if you sincerely desire to meet with God, he will reveal himself to you through it (Jeremiah 29:13).
Learn More: Bible Translation Comparison
The term Christian comes from the Bible in Acts 11:26, where it says that, “in Antioch the disciples [of Jesus] were first called Christians” (ESV).
The term Christian means someone who follows Christ. That means they recognize Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah—the one God promised would come to rescue use from our sins. But they not only believe that Jesus is the Son of God and the Savior of the world. They also put their trust in him and walk in obedience to his Word.
A Christian is not a person with a certain set of morals, or political opinions, or family history. The title the Bible uses for Christians may help us understand what it means to be a Christian. Rarely is the term Christian used in the Bible. More often, followers of Jesus in the Bible are called “believers.” For, true followers of Jesus are those who believe in him, in his life, in his death and resurrection, and in his Word.
We know from the most famous Bible verse that the way to be saved from our sins, and accepted by God is by believing in the work of Jesus, God’s Son:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16 ESV)
If you are truly a Christian, it means that God has done a miraculous work in your heart—he has convicted you of your sin and shown you your need for Jesus. He has given you faith to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, who died for your sins, and to trust him. And, he has filled you with his Holy Spirit so that you no longer live a self-directed life but live in obedience to Jesus and his Word.
Learn More: What Is Christian Faith?
If you have questions we did not answer on this page, we want to help you find answers. Browse our topics on the website, which address the most foundational questions about the Bible. Explore our recent articles, which often answer questions about the Bible. Or, contact us directly with your question and we will happily do our best to provide you with an answer!