This presentation is intended for Anglican lay people who have not read the Bible on their own, or not read it regularly in the past, but who want to try.


We assume that readers belong to a local parish, and that we have some sense that the Bible is “inspired” – that God inspired the human authors so that at least some of the text is significant or inspirational for us today. This series does not assume that readers know a lot about history and culture in the ancient world, or know a lot of the arguments about Bible scholarship (although we are not opposed to scholarship).


In short, the Anglicans Reading the Bible Series is intended for lay people who want to develop their devotional life by using the Bible, even if there have been roadblocks in the past.


Getting Started (or Re-Started)


“Later [discipline] yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12: 11b)


Tried before and gave up:

In 1982, a cradle Anglican who had drifted away from Church decided to try reading the Bible on his own. The Bible contains a lot of wise sayings, and helped shape our western culture. It’s good to know what it contains.

He persuaded his partner and kids to listen together after supper. With no game plan, he found an old Bible and began to read on the first page – the story of creation. All went well for the first few nights, reading about creation, Adam and Eve, the Garden, and Cain murdering Abel. But then they got to Genesis 4: 17, which begins a list of Cain’s descendants. Genesis 5 contained more genealogical lists. The kids grew bored. Then everyone got bored. In less than a week, the family experiment about good literature collapsed entirely.

Many of us – even people who know the Bible pretty well – have sometimes struggled with the habit of reading the Bible. If you’ve never tried to read the Bible on your own, or if you’ve tried and given up, this “Anglicans Reading the Bible” series is for you.

If you’re just looking at the Bible itself, we suggest reading from Matthew, Mark, Luke or John for the beginning.

The first step is to decide you want to learn more about what’s contained in these pages. We can help with the rest…



According to Statistics Canada, almost one and a half million Canadians worked more than 50 hours a week in 2019. If we think that being connected with a local church means a life of leisure, we might be disheartened to read a 2013 survey that 97% of clergy work more than 40 hours a week. There are emails. There are sick kids or sports-consumed kids or aging relatives – or we’re aging!

We get it. Life can be busy. The idea of developing daily devotions, including reading the Bible, can seem like one more thing piled into each day which is already too busy.

Two things to remember: First, we can’t do everything. We need to choose what is important and then do that first. If we really believe that God exists and loves us, that there’s a plan for our lives and that physical death isn’t the end, shouldn’t we take a little time each day to get connected with Him? Second, we aren’t asking for hours a day. If we start from 0 minutes each day to 2 minutes each day – two minutes! – that’s a success…


Can’t focus:

Charles Wesley was a great preacher in the 1700’s. He grew up in a large family. There’s a story that when his mother wanted to spend time focusing on God, she would put her apron over her head. That was her signal to all her kids to leave her absolutely alone.

Sometimes it can be hard to focus. A few habits can help: Try to find a quiet place – a corner of a room, or even under an apron. Try to find a quiet time – many of us try for first thing in the morning, before another frantic day begins. If you get distracted thinking about what you have to do today, have a pen and paper nearby to jot down a note, so you can address it later but forget about it now. Especially if this devotions thing is a new habit, don’t try to read too much. It’s okay to skip over the family records of Genesis 4: 17. Lastly, try not just to consider “What does this say?” but “What might this mean for my life?”


The Adversary:

We live in a material, materialistic world. Developing devotions encourages us to think about our supernatural God. There’s good evidence that this horizontal, material plane isn’t the whole story. Love is not a material thing.

But sooner or later, we come across the problem of evil. Part of the historic Christian story is to focus on the power and goodness of God, but to accept the reality of spiritual evil, revealed as the devil or Satan. That can be really hard for a lot of folks to accept.

Maybe it’s because we have a cartoon picture in our heads, rather than what the Bible text actually says (or doesn’t say). God is still in charge. We’re still responsible for our behaviour. Good will triumph.

But maybe there’s a spiritual resistance to the habit of devotions, which we can choose to overcome, with God’s help. Keep listening and looking for God.


How to (Re-)Start:

So, pick a time. Be realistic. Be stubborn. When we mess up and miss a day or two, don’t give up, but get up and start again. Tell a sympathetic family member, or someone else from the parish, so they can make us accountable. Lastly, don’t look on devotions as something good for us but we hate it, like zucchini for a two year old, but a potential joyful encounter with a Friend.


A Lectionary (a systematic way of reading):

Of course, we can read the Bible on our own, but most people find it helpful to have some sort of guide. There are printed and on-line devotional resources. (As always, use common sense in using resources on-line.) For readers who want to go a little deeper, the main website of the Anglican Church of Canada has suggested lectionaries, using the daily office lectionaries found in the Book of Alternative Services or the Book of Common Prayer. Please see https://lectionary/



“My child, if you accept my words
   and treasure up my commandments within you,
making your ear attentive to wisdom
   and inclining your heart to understanding;
if you indeed cry out for insight,
   and raise your voice for understanding;
if you seek it like silver,
   and search for it as for hidden treasures—
then you will understand the fear of the Lord
   and find the knowledge of God.” (Proverbs 2: 1-5)


Confusing or Hard Passages

It’s happened to us all, at one time or another. We read something in the Bible, and can’t figure out what the heck it means.

Here are a few tricks: Try looking at another translation – either another book, or by looking on the internet. Try breaking it down into smaller chunks. See what comes before or after a passage. Some Bibles have devotions or commentaries to help with the hard parts we can look at (be sure to read the Bible itself, not just what others say about it, though). Perhaps most of all, ask our parish priest or someone we trust in the parish. They might be stunned we asked, but they probably know, or can find out, a good answer.


Seems Irrelevant or Boring

Not every part of the Bible – which is actually a library of 66 books and letters and poems and stuff, not one book – is equally riveting. Some parts may speak into our lives more deeply, depending on what we’re going through. Especially if we’re getting started, it’s all right to skip bits sometimes.

But we shouldn’t be too quick to skip. If we do, then we can want to make the gospel into affirming What We Like or What Seems Best To Us, rather than allowing ourselves to be amused, intrigued, challenged and changed by what we read.


Some Parts Seem Contrary to God’s Will

Agreed. The Bible isn’t about God dealing with perfect, obedient people. The Bible reveals Jesus Christ, but we also read about people who do really stupid things, people who are cruel or mean, people who have a deep faith and people who don’t seem to have a sweet clue what faith is. God works in history and with individuals and in particular cultures. Sometimes God goes along with stuff we find objectionable today, like killing our enemies.

It helps a lot to keep the big picture in mind. For example, we can read a story about a cruel man raping a princess. But we can also read a tender love poem, about human dignity, and about self-sacrificial love in a couple’s marriage. We can read passages about war, but we can read about how God longs for peace and the triumph which is won through Jesus Christ.

We need to be prepared to be challenged ourselves. It’s easy to judge the world – or the Bible – by our current standards. Does that mean that our current standard is perfect? Or that others couldn’t have insight we might have lost? We need to be prepared to be challenged, including our own common tendencies to quick judgement.


How To Apply

In applying lessons from the Bible in today’s world, people sometimes fall into one of two camps – one danger is to be too reckless or over-confident; the opposite danger is to be too cautious. The “cautious” camp might say to themselves, “Maybe I’ll get it wrong;” or, “We live in such a different world today; the message of the Bible applies to Bible times. But can it really apply to ours?” In contrast, there are sometimes Christians who say, “I know exactly what God meant in this verse for today, and if you disagree, you must be an atheist.” If anything, Anglicans tend toward the more cautious camp.

Certainly we need to be humble if we are seeking God’s direction. Particularly if we are making a decision based on one Bible verse, we risk making a very foolish mistake.

But all is not lost. First, God has given the Holy Spirit to Christians, who can help us discern what is right. He has also given us minds to think, and given us the gift of one another – the Church – to help discern His will. If we come up with an interpretation which is contrary to all the other Christians throughout the ages, who is more likely to be wrong?

Obviously, if an apparent application is contrary to, say, one of the Ten Commandments, or if it’s not loving, or if we have no peace with it, then we need to start again.

We also need sometimes to discern the principle which is sometimes behind the text. For example, near the end of the Letter to the Colossians, Paul writes about complementary relationships in family life, among parents and their children. Paul then goes on to write about relationships between slaves and their masters. It can be easy to dismiss this instruction, because thankfully we do not have slavery today in the Western world. But what was slavery in the New Testament world? It was a way some people got out of being in debt, or was an employment relationship – a crude and unfair employment relationship, no doubt, but an employment relationship nonetheless. The slave provided the labour; the master provided housing and a small income for the slave. Would it not be appropriate for some employers today to consider how they treat their employees, as an expression of their Christian faith? Equally, shouldn’t employees consider how they behave at work – regardless of whether their employer is a Christian or not?

Textual Issues


Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.” (Genesis 11: 7)


Is This Translation Okay?

Very probably. Unless you were one of those people who paid off the Jehovah’s Witnesses at the front door so they’d leave you alone, and are clutching the New World Translation in your hand, your translation is probably fine. Translations by groups of scholars are better than translations by one person. While many appreciate the majesty and poetry of the King James Version translation of 1611, on the whole, most people find modern translations easier to understand.

People often make decisions about which Bible to use based on price, or explanatory notes often available next to the text, or even what’s comfortable to hold in our hands.

We’re blessed today to have confidence with a high degree of accuracy that what we have in translation comes from what the original authors wrote down. If there’s any doubt, most modern translations will have the occasional footnote about it on the bottom of the page. If you’d like to learn more, the science of “textual criticism” can increase our confidence.

A large majority of Canadian Anglican parishes use the “New Revised Standard Version” translation.



When this author was in theological college, a fellow student was expelled for plagiarism – for taking what was someone else’s writings, and claiming them to be his own. Today, plagiarism is a serious academic offense.

But it was different in the ancient world. At that time, it was considered a complement for a student to sign the name of his teacher to something he wrote. When the early Church was considering which books and writings were really inspired and belonged in the Bible (the “canon”), it was thought important to include only what was understood to be written by the apostles, because they had first-hand experience with Jesus in history. The authorship of the Letter to the Hebrews has been of some doubt from ancient times. Many Bible teachers today think that a section of Isaiah was added later. Granted that God can do miracles, but it seems highly unlikely that Moses wrote about his own death at the end of the Book of Deuteronomy, and so on. (Many people think that four authors contributed to the Bible’s opening books.)

But… does it really matter who actually held the pen? Most of all, while certainly all the human authors lived in the ancient Middle East, we believe that God inspired them all, and they have worthwhile material for us today – the gospel of Jesus Christ.


The Apocrypha

This is also known as “Why is my neighbour’s Bible bigger than mine?”

There were some devotional writings which were written in the period between the Old and New Testaments. Clearly written before the ministry of Jesus, they are often called the “Apocrypha.” Some of them contain proverbs or wise stories; some of them are a bit weird. Anglicans have customarily taken the position that apocryphal material can teach about being a good person, but aren’t on the same level as the New Testament and Old Testament (the Hebrew scriptures).

The Bible & the Church


“Proclaim the message” (II Timothy 4: 2a)


Interpretation within the Church

For the first three quarters of the Church’s life, lay people didn’t have easy access to reading the Bible themselves. Since the invention of the printing press, that’s no longer an issue in the Western world. However, some Christians have given up on attending a local church, and simply read the Bible on their own.

That’s not a good idea, for several reasons. First, readings within the Bible itself emphasize the importance of our gathering together for worship. Second, Anglicans understand that the Bible is a gift of the Church. It was the unified early Church which recognized what were inspired writings and what were not – not because of a conspiracy, but because they recognized wonderful writings which in one way or another honour God. Third, the Church helps us understand how to read and apply the gospel found in the Bible. The Bible is not meant to be read with our private interpretation between us and God. It’s meant to be shared, understood, and enjoyed together.

As well as regular Sunday worship and sharing communion together, participating in a Bible study (as well as having devotions at home) can be a great way of learning what’s in the Bible and having fun together. Sometimes our brothers and sisters in the Church can drive us crazy, but that’s how we learn to become more loving – more the people who God wants us to be.


The Preacher Said…

“I went to my local parish church this morning, and the preacher said the Bible was all outdated.” Or: “I read on the internet this morning that someone has proved that there are no miracles.” Hmm. Anglicans have tended to see ourselves as a “broad tent” – that everyone is sincerely welcome, and we are not quick to judge – “You don’t belong with us.” That’s not being wishy-washy; that’s a wonderful gift, and consistent with the hospitality expressed by Jesus Christ Himself.

But that doesn’t mean that everyone interprets Bible passages the same way, and it doesn’t mean that everyone is right.

We hope you’ll get nourished by your local parish church. If you struggle with your rector or some other aspect of parish life, keep getting fed (including reading the Bible). Pray for him or her, as well as yourself. Sometimes the people we find challenging the Lord has put into our lives so that we can grow more into the image of Jesus Christ.

Our advice would be, as a last resort, find another fellowship in the somewhat unlikely scenario that it really is so bad that we are becoming chronically more grumpy, unhappy and angry, not less, by belonging where we have been.


The folks who have put together “Anglicans Reading the Bible” are part of a Canadian Anglican group called the Anglican Communion Alliance. Our tagline is “Deepening Biblical faith in the Anglican Church of Canada.” We want to contribute helpfully to the Anglican Church of Canada by helping Anglicans know what’s in the Bible – including having personal devotions. We hope you find it helpful, and are further equipped to follow Christ joyfully and faithfully, in the months and years ahead.