Swimming with Elephants

Developing the habit of Bible reading is not always easy. The beginning reader may at times feel overwhelmed by the Bible. A quotation that I’ve heard in various forms dates back at least fourteen centuries.

Scripture is like a river again, broad and deep, shallow enough here for the lamb to go wading, but deep enough there for the elephant to swim.

Why do we at times feel like we are swimming with elephants with the water way over our head? Consider the following. The Bible has thousands of names for people and places. The dictionary Pronouncing Bible Names gives 3,492 proper names from the KJV, and many of these names are admittedly difficult to pronounce. The Bible has plenty of common nouns that we don’t use in everyday conversation, like atonement, propitiation, righteousness, and mercy. The Bible covers over two millennia of history. The geography of the Bible is not ours. The cultures and customs of the Bible are distant from ours.

So how do we begin? We wade. We begin with those portions of the Bible most relevant to us and possibly the easiest from which to gain something: the gospels and Acts. Then read the epistles. If nothing else, you will learn the ethics of the Christian life. As you wade into deeper water, you add the narrative portions of the Old Testament (Genesis through Esther). Once you have all the narrative of the Bible read, you will understand the flow of Bible history. You can add the wisdom literature of the Old Testament (Job through Song of Solomon). And finally, read the prophetic books of both testaments (Isaiah through Malachi, and then Revelation). And then repeat, and repeat, and repeat.

You will have questions and things you don’t understand. Write them down, but keep reading. The Bible is its own best interpreter. You will be amazed at how many of your own questions you can answer by continuing to read.

Have a dictionary handy. It is good to have a Bible dictionary because it specializes in Bible words, but a regular dictionary is helpful too. I’m an avid reader, but there hasn’t come a point in my life where I didn’t have to look up certain words to find out what they mean.

Recognize that this is a process that takes time. The more I read the Bible, the more I grasp of it. It begins by wading. But in time you find yourself in the deep water swimming with elephants discovering the wonder of thinking God’s thoughts after Him.

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