Bible Reading Rebooted
As Christians we hope and strive to be Bible people. We remember Jesus' famous rebuttal to the devil in Matt 4:4, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God." These words and perhaps other favourite verses urge us and motivate us on to enjoy a healthy, wholesome daily diet of scripture to keep our souls alive. Indeed we love the experience of being filled with God's counsel and comfort ahead of the day. Nevertheless we can also find it a struggle to stay nourished. Sometimes we neglect our spiritual food altogether and our Bibles stay closed on the shelf. At other times perhaps the Bible is open but our eyes and heart aren't. We read the words on the page but they seem to have no grip on us and little goes in. What can we do?
Well, the ultimate solution is of course not a technique, but the grace of God. But taking into account our natures - our tendency to get bored, our ability to filter out the familiar, that very human problem of getting 'stuck in a rut' - keeping our Bible reading fresh by thinking about how we do it is worthwhile. There are lots of ways of doing that, but on this occasion I thought I'd put together 5 technology-inspired suggestions that I've tried recently. Have a read, and if one of these ideas has worked for you or you've got further suggestions I'd love to hear from you.
1. Listen to the Bible.
Sometimes you've just had enough of reading - so why not swap the written word for the spoken word for a while? Listening to the Bible moves you through the text faster than reading and so gives you a better impression of the overall feel and tone of a chapter or book. If you’ve got headphones or a connection to your car stereo it’s also possible on the go, perhaps on the school run or the commute.
Here are some options for listening to the bible.
Bible.com is a great resource. You’ll find free, easy access to the scriptures in thousands of versions and languages and an option to listen as well. If you’ve got a smartphone, download the bible app for iphone/ipad, android, blackberry, windows phone etc. The NIV audio version, read by David Suchet, is superbly produced and, amazingly, free! The only proviso is that you'll need to have wifi or network reception to listen.
The ESV website and app (free for android and iphone/ipad) is especially good for reading as you listen – it scrolls through the verses as you go, so you can also see what is being read.
While it doesn’t offer access to the Suchet recording Bible.is has a good English audio Bible for ESV and NIV (though be sure to avoid the ‘drama’ version with its distracting soundtrack) and has the extra benefit of allowing you to download a chapter or even a book at a time so that you can keep listening even when you’re out of range of wifi or your network – particularly good for the car. There's a great website interface that does the same as well.
2. Read the Bible in one year.
Perhaps you’ve only ever read a book at a time, and getting pulled into the detail every time is beginning to feel a bit stale. Well, If you’re the kind of person who responds well to a bit of focus and a challenge, why not follow a Bible in one year reading plan? It keeps you consistently enjoying the whole breadth of scripture. There are lots of options but the BIOY app is a good place to start. Every day has a psalm or some proverbs, a New Testament and an Old Testament reading. There’s continuity between the NT and OT readings, so you still get the sense of a book, but you also get to consider it in the light of the rest of the Bible. The BIOY app has a helpful commentary each day drawing together some of the themes of the three readings
3. Read the Bible in several translations side-by-side.
Different translations have different goals. Some aim for word-for-word accuracy others aim for readability and still others are more paraphrase than translation; they may have the advantage of unfamiliarity which can make you notice something you didn't before but are less reliable.
Try reading a verse in three such different versions side by side so you get the benefit or accuracy, readability and impact together. The paraphrase might show the text in a new light, the word-for-word makes sure you’re not losing the true meaning and the one focused on readability helps you follow the flow of the argument.
Biblegateway.com is a good place to start. I’ve started you off with John 1 in ESV (literal), NIV (readable) and MSG (paraphrase), just change the search box to the reference you're looking for (e.g. Matt 5).
If you’re a real multiversion junky head over to Biblehub to see more than 20 versions side by side.
4. Get Bible reading notes on an app
Keep losing your bible study notes? Why not get the goodbook’s Explore app, a new format for using the excellent Explore Bible Study notes. With an easy to use interface you can have your notes and the bible text all in one place, and apart from when you first purchase a set of studies (very easy to do) you can be completely offline, whether you’re in a field, or on holiday or travelling. Top tip – switch your device onto airplane mode while you use the app – that way no pesky email or message will spoil the moment. The app is free, comes preloaded with 30 studies to get you going and further sets of studies are amazingly cheap, as well as being consistently high quality.
5. Pack a library in your pocket
Finally, if you’re looking to go a bit deeper in your studies and you don’t mind spending a little on it, have a look at olive tree’s Bible study app or the Logos software, available for iphone/ipad, android, mac and windows. Both Olive tree and Logos have a huge library of resources that you can purchase to enhance your study, whether you want to carry around 10,000 pages of biblical commentary in your pocket or whether you want in-depth help with the language side to answer questions like– what does this word mean in its ancient context?” Or what does it say in the original language? Really useful for having quick access to the answer to some thorny comprehension problem, and helpful for preparing talks and bible studies too. This screenshot of Olive Tree's software on the ipad, gives you an idea.