Perhaps you have seen the large sign on one of the buildings of the world headquarters of the Jehovah’s Witnesses “Read God’s Word the Holy Bible Daily”. Without doubt this is good advice. And it is true that the organization does encourage bible reading. However this good advice is counteracted by discouraging deep bible study without the publications. The organization does it’s utmost to ensure all JWs continue to see all bible texts through the lens of the Watchtower.
Because of seeing the bible only through the Watchtower thought-adjuster the average JW probably has a hard time finding bible reading interesting. After all if it’s all spelled out in the pages of the publications, pouring over the pages of the bible wouldn’t seem all that important. For this reason in my opinion there are few real students of the scriptures among the witnesses. There are a number of doctrinal experts or proof-text experts that know all the texts by memory to defend JW’s beliefs, but this is not the same.
When I was an asleep JW I was quite versed on doctrinal points and where to go in the bible to “prove” the rightness of JW doctrine. I was an avid reader of the publications but didn’t do a lot of bible reading outside the assigned chapters for the Theocratic Ministry School. This meant at times I would go years without reading large portions of the greek scriptures in their context, since the assigned chapters would rotate to the greek scriptures only every few years.
Bible reading is what started me down my path of spiritual discovery. I developed a love of bible reading and study. As we leave behind the highly structured framework of the organization, it is more important than ever to make bible reading a habit. Instead of simply allowing an organization or another person explain to us what the bible teaches, we feel the need to take personal responsibility for our spiritual wellbeing. We can not do this without regular bible reading. How can we make bible reading interesting and rewarding? There are many articles on the web you may want to consult for additional tips, here are some of my suggestions:
1) Be sure to make bible reading enjoyable especially if you are unaccustomed to reading large portions of the bible. I would suggest you start with Matthew and proceed through Revelation. Read through the New Testament a few times before starting with the Old Testament. If you are used to the New World Translation, use a different translation. For your very first read through the bible you may want to use a paraphrase version such The Living Bible or The Message. These versions will give you an overall feel for the general message of the bible and are worded in a way that is more interesting to the average reader. However, I would strongly recommend against the use of a paraphrase for deeper bible study, they are inadequate for that. For deeper bible study you will want to use a translation that uses a more “word for word” approach.
After reading the NT through once use a different translation. If you used a version such as The Living Bible for your first read, use a translation that uses a more word-for-word approach such as the English Standard Version for your second read. Then switch to a translation that combines the thought-for-thought and the word-for-word approach such as perhaps the Holman Christian Standard Bible. By switching translations we make our minds think more about the meaning of what is written instead of just the words, which can happen if we only use one very familiar translation such as the NWT.
2) Take your time. I would recommend against sticking to a very rigid schedule of having to read a certain amount of material each day. The goal is to understand not to mark another chapter or book off the checklist. If you don’t understand a certain passage read it out of another translation. I often go to biblestudytools.com to be able to consult several translations of a particular verse. I don’t believe it is a good idea however to get too bogged down the first couple times we read the bible with too much additional research, there will be time for that later when we begin to dig deeper.
3) Keep your mind focused. It is quite easy to be reading but be thinking about something else. One thing I do to focus my mind is read aloud or mouth the words. If you are feeling lethargic during your reading time, perhaps doing a few jumping jacks will get your heart pumping and make the sleepiness vanish.
4) Read with an open mind. Try not to have a preconceived idea about what certain passages say. Granted this is easier said than done. Especially as former or current JWs we have all kinds of preconceived ideas about what the scriptures say. If we read the bible looking to prove our beliefs on a certain subject we will undoubtedly take things out of context. We should read keeping in mind what the bible writer was trying to say to the original receivers of the message.
5) Let what you are reading affect you. Share with someone else what you have learned. Put into practice what you have read. (James 1:22-24)
6) Start and end with a short prayer.
As we progress as bible students we will want to start digging deeper. The depth of the bible is truly remarkable. It is a good idea to write down questions that come up to be able to consider them at a later time. We may want to use a pencil to write notes in the margin of our bible and other scriptural cross references. We may want to use other bible study aids such as interlinears, cross-reference guides, bible dictionaries etc. many of which can be found online. All these things are tools that can help us leave the elementary message about the Messiah and push on to maturity. (Hebrews 6:1)
Above all we want to remember that bible study is a means to an end and not the end itself. The goal we are striving for is a closer relationship with God and His son. May we never allow bible knowledge cause us to think more of ourselves than it is necessary to think. (1 Corinthians 8:2)