One thing I’ve been really thankful for lately is a Christmas gift from my awesome younger brother. He bought me the ESV Study Bible for my kindle. Growing up, I remember my Dad talking about, reading, highlighting and making notes in his King James Bible and that inspired me to read my King James Bible, but I was usually confused. When I was around 12 years old (right around the time I lost two very special people in my life: my grandma and my Uncle Paul), I remember deciding to read through the entire Bible on my own. This was pretty big for me since I had barely read any of The Bible. I started with Genesis and had a really hard time understanding everything that was going on and how it was interrelated. Sadly, I gave up after three weeks. I was confused about the wording and the meaning behind it. I realize now that the language, cultural context, and so much more made it difficult for a pre-teen to read Genesis on her own. And the King James version was translated in the 1600’s, which is much different English than today; I would’ve been better off with a children’s version. (I bought this book for my daughter and it’s so sweet and beautifully written, focusing on God’s love. If you have kids, check it out).
As I’ve grown up, I’ve read very little of The Bible on my own. At times, I felt drawn to read, but most experiences ended up the same as when I was 12 years old. I was still confused and needed some guidance. And as I grew up, I found that I had big questions, like, “How do I know that God is loving when I read the fire and brimstone passages?” Part of the problem was that it’s difficult to read The Bible on your own without the support of a community (like church, youth group, spiritual mentor, etc.) to help work through big questions.
Since moving to Anchorage, I’ve found that community. There’s a neat, easy-going, food-loving church two doors down from our home in Anchorage, where the pastor is great about answering my big questions and is not afraid to acknowledge his own big questions and how he resolves them. And the church sermons have been based on The Story, which is (majority of) The Bible written to read as one complete story (explaining things from our human perspective, aka the lower story, and God’s perspective, aka the upper story). It’s a great way to understand The Bible and God’s plan because it uses biblical text and then inserts explanations at certain points; this was what I was looking for as a 12-year-old (and it’s only $3.99 for the Kindle version!). There’s even a children’s version of The Story that’s pretty good too.
The ESV Study Bible has been amazing though. Here’s why I love this version (and may finally read through the entire bible):
- It has introductions and overviews to the bible, explaining theology and giving some guidance through those big questions.
- Each chapter has an introduction, explaining the author, date, theme, cultural context, and other helpful information.
- There are study notes to answer questions that pop up as I’m reading. There are lots of notes on most verses, explaining the possible meanings of translated words and discussing various interpretations and why one explanation is more plausible. It also tackles cultural issues like the roles of women and how verses connect to one another.
- It has charts, maps, diagrams, and illustrations.
- At the end, it offers additional information about biblical doctrine and the bible in relation to other religions.
And of course, it seems the best tool for understanding the bible is to pray. I’ve been doing a lot of that and it’s been so powerful. Anyone else have other recommendations (versions of The Bible, children’s texts, or anything)? I’d love to hear your experiences or recommendations.