The word Bible comes to us from the Greek word, biblos, which simply means book. Yet the Christian Bible is in reality a library of books. The ability to carry around this library in a bound format came with the advent of the codex. We would simply call the codex a book format, but this was the format that replaced the scroll and was introduced in the first century A.D. It’s compact size and capability to access pages randomly gave many advantages.
Sometimes I think it would be helpful to see the individual books of the Bible as separate books. They would seem far less intimidating. Most of the books of the Bible, if printed separately, would seem to be only pamphlet sized. Many books of the Bible could be read in an evening.
Since the Bible is a library of related books, we need to become familiar with the library to understand individual books in detail. The Bible covers a lengthy period of history. For example, the period from Abraham to Jesus is about 2000 years. It helps to get a handle on the major events and people of this narrative.
A convenient place to start is with Jesus and the gospels (Matthew through John). Adding the Book of Acts would then give you the narratives of the New Testament. The narrative portions of the Old Testament are found in Genesis through Esther. Many people get bogged down in the legal texts (think Leviticus) and genealogies. Genealogies have a function, and understanding that function is more important for the reader than the individual names. Although I believe every word is inspired, good readers sometimes skim as they attempt to see the big picture of what is going on. Careful reading needs to take place for these difficult texts, but I don’t want these texts to cause you to fail as a reader. After you have the flow of history then it is easier to begin on the remaining books.
We understand the Bible in the same way we understand any other book. We don’t understand a regular book by reading a passage here or there. We understand it by reading it all the way through and understanding it in context. The same is true for the books of the Bible.
When I run across a word in a book that I don’t understand, I look it up in a dictionary. The same is true for the Bible, and we even have specialized Bible dictionaries that are very helpful. When I don’t know where a place is, I will look it up on a map. That often makes what I’m reading more meaningful. When I’m puzzled by a cultural or historical reference, I try to find out more. This is actually reading 101 and doesn’t take a lot of reference books to accomplish. A lot can be done with a Bible dictionary and an atlas.
The Bible is meant to be understood by ordinary people. The reading skills needed are the skills that you have already used in reading other books. You just need to begin your exploration of this most important library.