What do the Babel fish of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the movie Apocolypse Now and U2’s The Joshua Tree album have in common? They all refer to things found in the Bible.
So maybe your interest is piqued and you might like to dust it off and check it out, but where do you start?
And there are so many versions! Does it matter which one you read?
This article will give you a very basic overview of the Bible and how to start reading it.
The Bible was the first book ever mass produced and, according to the Guinness World Records, is still the bestselling book of all time, with over 5 billion copies sold and distributed worldwide.
It is a collection of 66 books written by about 40 authors, in three different languages, on three different continents and over approximately 1600 years.
It is divided into the Old Testament (OT) and New Testament (NT), the meaning of which will be explained in our next article, but it is enough to know that testament is another word for covenant, solemn oath or binding agreement.
The Christian OT is the same as the Torah, the holy book of the Jewish religion.
The New Testament is about the life of Jesus, and the life and writings of His followers.
You might think that the Bible is a muddled collection of books because they are not arranged in chronological order but there is method in the way the books are set out.
The first five books of the Bible are called the Pentateuch and Moses is attributed as the author. They tell the story of the origins of the universe, people, wrongdoing, different languages and the Ten Commandments. They are in historical order, and the first three can be read as one story.
Numbers and Deuteronomy are full of detail about the tabernacle and the priestly rituals and are a bit difficult to wade through!
The books Joshua to Esther are also historical, detailing various highlights in Jewish history, but are not in chronological order.
The books Job (considered to be the very oldest book of the Bible), Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs are books of Jewish poetry, giving wisdom still relevant for living today.
The major prophets – major not because they are more important but because their books are longer – follow, including the famous Daniel of the lion’s den, then the smaller books of the minor prophets. The best known of these is Jonah, who was famously swallowed alive by a big fish.
There were historically about 400 years between the last writings of the OT and the events described in the NT.
The NT begins with four different but complimentary accounts of the birth, life and death of Jesus. These are a good place for a new reader of the Bible to start because they are engaging to read and cover all the main beliefs of Christianity.
The book of Acts follows chronologically from the four Gospels and tells what Jesus’s followers did after He returned to heaven.
Acts if followed by the 13 letters of the Apostle Paul, and eight letters written by other writers, detailing how Christians ought to live, how the church should function and explaining elements of Christian theology.
The last book of the Bible is Revelation, a book of prophecy written in symbols explaining how the world will end and what comes afterwards. It was written by the apostle John. This is a much disputed book but many of its symbols are explained by reading the rest of the Bible, particularly Daniel in the OT.
As to versions of the Bible. Some versions are more literal translations, word for word from the original Greek, Hebrew or Aramaic, while some paraphrase the thought of each sentence and are thus easier to read, if less precisely accurate.
Read whatever version you have handy but if you are finding it difficult to understand, try the English Standard Version (ESV), New Living Translation (NLT) or Today’s New International Version (TNIV). My personal preference in terms of accurate translation is the New King James Version (NKJV).