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Browsing Fr. Joel Hastings

How to read the Bible

I would like to start reading the Bible and when I was reading the book “Rediscover Jesus,” the author stated “No one should start reading the Bible from the beginning (Genesis) you should start with the gospels.”  If this is true
(is it?) what order should the Gospels be read in?

         This is an excellent question for us to consider toward more prayerfully reading the Bible.

         I agree completely with Matthew Kelly’s words in his book Rediscover Jesus that one who is interested in reading the Bible ought to begin with the Gospels.  Without referring back to him (nor remembering his particular words – though I do remember him stating this point in the book) I agree with Kelly on the basis that the end goal of reading the Bible (and of any prayer, for that matter) is to be drawn and nurtured into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ Himself.  While there are multiple ways for our relationship with Jesus to be kindled and to grow, to meditate upon the very life and words of Jesus as given by the four evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) is a direct and clear way to “get to know Jesus” and to allow Him to speak to us through His own word of truth, His actions, and all other ways that He reveals Himself to us.

     For it is in Jesus (who came to fulfill the plan of Salvation) that all other books of the Bible are given their complete significance. If one reads only the Old Testament, they might come away from this reading with the impression that God does not love – as the books of the Old Testament are filled with stories of sins and the consequences of sins (that are often death and destruction), with acts of vengeance, and with an apparent lack of mercy in God. However, this is not the complete story of God. Rather, with the completion of God’s work contained in the New Testament fulfilled in Jesus Christ, all of these seemingly “un-Godly” stories or characteristics of God and His people can be understood without the connotation that many unfortunately cling to (even in our own time) that God is vengeful or not loving. As we see throughout the Gospels, Jesus often refers back to the Old Testament and points to His own place as the fulfillment of God’s saving plan – both in His words of teaching and in His own carrying out of works of healing. (As the scribes and Pharisees are scandalized by Jesus’ words and acts based upon their own concept of who they “think” God is or ought to be, Jesus shows the true face of God who is mercy and love, thus, to have a more complete and Christ-centered view of the whole Scriptures, the natural place to begin is with the Gospels.

     As to which Gospel is the best starting point, one might simply take them in order – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Another approach would be to read Mark first (as it is the shortest and most concise – without any text devoted to the birth and early life of Jesus, beginning instead with Jesus at the Jordan River receiving the baptism of John, and with less substantive sections where Jesus offers various teachings – so as to focus more upon what Jesus accomplished). From there, one might move into Matthew and/or Luke, keeping in mind that these two Gospels contain many of the same stories and teachings, though they each have different emphases in places.  John is usually encouraged as the last one that ought to be prayed, as John’s account contains several dialogues between Jesus and those who encounter Him – that are unique in their composition and filled with meaning. Likewise, John has places where Jesus’ words of prayer and teaching are presented as though they are independent of the other happenings, and therefore are more effectively entered into with awareness of the larger context of all four Gospels considered as one.

     As a final point, that you might “prayerfully” read the Gospels (and all of Scripture) it is best to only read a short passage each time – perhaps as designated by a heading within each chapter, depending upon which Bible translation and edition you are using. It is important to pray for the help of the Holy Spirit when beginning, that you might hear and receive that which Jesus Himself wants you to take in, to then read the passage slowly (and even multiple times) and then to sit in quiet prayer,
reflecting upon what may have stirred you. Finally, to finish such prayer time with prayers of petition (that you might live what you just read) and of thanksgiving is
always a fine way to conclude.

 

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