What's the best way to eat an elephant?

Give up?

One bite at a time.

To many people, reading the Bible can be as daunting a task as trying to eat an elephant, which is why so few people have ever bothered to try to do either, and why the "Good Book" remains the most reproduced and widely purchased but least read work of literature of all time.

And what a shame that is. Imagine purchasing the complete collection of Shakespeare's works and neatly placing them on your bookshelf, never to touch them again. That would be crazy, right? So why do so many professing Christians know so little about the book that they say they base their lives on?

That's an interesting question, of course, and one that must be answered by each individual. However, you're not one of them. You've decided that you really want to read the Bible for yourself instead of taking other people's words for what's in it, which is commendable. Further, now you've even found the time to do it, which is remarkable. But how to go about it? That's the question.

You've tried it a few times before but were never able to get much past Adam and Eve, or maybe you gave up shortly after Noah's flood. Perhaps you even got as far as Sodom and Gomorrah and all that stuff about God's wrath before you found opening the Good Book to be too difficult a task for you. But you're determined to get through the entire thing. Someday. Before you die.

So here is a few tried and true methods for reading the Bible that hopefully you may find useful. You'll still have to provide the determination and discipline, of course, but this should give you at least some idea of what you're up against, how to best go about getting it done, and even a few clues on what parts you can safely skip without missing anything and still sound biblically literate.

Elephant, anyone?

What Is the Bible?
Before you can read it, however, it's always nice to know a few basic things about the Bible.

The first thing that most people assume is that the Bible is a single book, like War and Peace or the Iliad. In reality, the Bible is actually a collection of books—66 in all (in the "official" bible)—that were written by lots of different people—most of whom are anonymous—over the span of a few centuries between 600BCE and 100CE. That's what the word Bible means: a collection or library of books (it's the same word from which we get the word bibliography in case you were wondering). So remember, when you crack open your Bible, it's not written like a normal book with a beginning, middle and end, but is more akin to opening an anthology of similar but different stories, all built around a central theme.

The next thing you should notice is that all these books are divided into two groups: the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament—those books that begin with Genesis and end just before the Gospels—is what was traditionally known as the Jewish Bible. This is because it contains a number of writings which are considered sacred (or, at least, important) to the early Jews. As such, the Old Testament isn't really about Jesus or Christianity at all, but since Christianity started out as an offshoot of Judaism and finds its roots in that tradition, these books are included in the Christian Bible. The New Testament, by contrast, is the section that contains the gospel stories of Jesus and his miracles and teachings, his death and resurrection, and a bunch of ideas about what it all means.

So why is all this important? Because this is where most good-intentioned readers make their first mistake, and that is in starting at the beginning with the Old Testament. Unfortunately, most never get much further than the first few chapters before losing interest and giving up, thus missing out on discovering what the Bible is really all about. As such, if one really wants to get the most out of reading the Bible, they need to start with the New Testament rather than plunging right into the Old Testament (and don't worry about spoiling the plot by reading the ending first. It's not a murder mystery and you already know how it comes out anyway.) In fact, it will be almost impossible to get through the book at all if you don't, for the Old Testament won't make all that much sense if you don't have some idea of why it's there. Additionally, the New Testament is shorter, generally more interesting and probably more relevant to your life. And, finally, if all you manage to get through is the New Testament, you'll at least have a better idea about what Christianity teaches than most people.

Okay, so now you know what the Bible is and how it's put together (which will automatically make you more Biblically knowledgeable than most of your contemporaries) you're ready to dive right in, right? Not so fast. There's still the question of understanding what you're reading to clear up. I mean, how can anyone be expected to understand the Bible with all those thees and thous in it, along with all those archaic Old English terms and phrases that refuse to make sense no matter how many times you read them?

The Thees and Thous Objection
Clearly, anyone who uses this argument is demonstrating two things: first, that they are utterly and completely ignorant when it comes to the Bible and, second, that they have no intention of ever reading it.

The thee and thous of legend, along with much of the archane language, were a part of one of the oldest modern translation of the Bible known as the King James version, which came out around 1611. It wasn't the first attempt to translate the Bible into English, but it quickly became the most popular and widely read one, and remains a favorite among many right up to this day. Naturally, it reflected the way English was spoken in its day, but as languages evolve over time, with words changing meaning or falling out of common usage, it naturally became obsolete and, with time, increasingly difficult to understand. Though the King James Version (the KJV as it's often called) has had a few facelifts over the years, it remained difficult for most modern readers to understand. However, as early as the late nineteenth century there were moves afoot to modernize the Bible, the result being the Revised Version (RV)of the Bible, which did a pretty fair job of bringing the Bible up to date linguistically. Since then, the book has been extensively translated three times in the last century alone--with the New International Version (NIV) being probably the most popular--and a half dozen paraphrases (not exact word for word translations, but the gist of the text) either being popularized or in the works. As such, anyone who has bothered to look into the question at all knows that there are numerous modern translations in circulation, and that no one is forced to read the King James version anymore unless they want to. Long gone, then, are the thees and thous that so predominated the oldest versions and served Cecil B. DeMille so well. They've been entirely supplanted by modern terms and common language, so that argument no longer carries any weight.

As such, go find yourself a version you like. There are translations and paraphrases designed for every age and intellectual level, so you have no excuse. Besides, no one who wants to read the Bible is too dumb to do so. The mere fact that they are curious enough about it to want to read it should be enough to demonstrate at least a few brain synopsis are being test-fired somewhere.

Getting Started: the Gospels
As I said earlier, the best place to start is with the New Testament or, more precisely, with the gospels. Gospel means "Good News" and while the term is commonly attributed to the entire Bible, it really applies only to the first four books of the New Testament, which contain the main story of Jesus of Nazareth. The first three books are called the synoptic gospels because they are similar to each other in that they provide a brief history (or synopsis) of Jesus' life, acts, and teachings, usually starting with either his birth or the beginning of his ministry and ending with his death and resurrection. The fourth book is somewhat different in that it concentrates more on the philosophical meaning of Jesus' message rather than trying to provide a time-line, so it is not included with the synoptic gospels.

So who wrote the gospels? No, it wasn't Jesus (as cool as that might be). The fact is we don't know who really wrote them. Some fundamentalists like to insist they were written by four of Jesus' actual disciples, but scholars generally agree that such was unlikely. First, most of Jesus' followers were illiterate, which makes it hard to write anything. Of course, they could have dictated it to someone, but since the gospels were thought to have been written many decades after Jesus' death, most of the real disciples—the one's who actually saw, lived with, and worked alongside of Jesus—were probably long dead. More likely, the names on the books are simple attributes designed to give them credentials and, hence, authority they might otherwise lack if the actual authors were known. In other words, the Gospel of Matthew wasn't really written by the disciple by that name, but likely by some unknown follower of Jesus who attributed (or, more correctly, dedicated) his writings to the famous disciple. That doesn't mean that what's written in it is necessarily wrong (or right, for that matter) but it is important to realize that none of the gospels are genuine first-person, eye witness accounts, despite the insistence of some of the more conservative branches of Christendom. Okay, enough politicizing. Back to the task at hand.

As I said, there are four gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. While it is tempting to dive right into Matthew, might I suggest you skip that gospel for now and start instead in the second book, Mark, which is both the shortest of the four and generally believed to be the first one written. At a measly sixteen chapters, a person can easily get through it in an hour or so, and it gives one a good thumbnail sketch of Jesus' ministry, making it a good primer for the other three books.

By the time you finish Mark, you'll be ready to backtrack and take on Matthew (don't ask me why they didn't put the gospels in chronological order. Probably they didn't worry much about things like that back then and the earliest compilers of the Bible probably didn't know themselves in which order they were written.) It's a little lengthier than Mark, but it is the book that contains both the star of Bethlehem and three wise men stories, along with a bunch of other stuff. If you are especially observant, you should notice that Matthew contains a lot of material you already read in Mark (some of it almost word for word) which should tell you that Matthew is really just an elaboration of Mark's shorter gospel, with a bunch of old testament prophecy and other curious (and some might say dubious) stories added for color. It's almost as if the author of Matthew took Mark's abridged version of events and added a bunch of stuff he thought needed adding, creating a hodgepodge of a Gospel that, at points, strains one's credulity to the breaking point (I won't tell you what stories these are; you'll have to find them for yourself.) In the end, however, between Mark and Matthew's gospels, you should have a pretty good picture of what Christianity generally believes about Jesus.

Now you're ready for the third gospel, which is called Luke. You should notice it is a bit more finely crafted and better organized than either Mark or Matthew's tomes, which is why Bible scholars generally consider it one of the better Gospels. Unfortunately, it actually adds to the confusion, however, for while it contains many of the same stories as Mark and Matthew (from whom the author probably borrowed) it has a bunch of other controversial and occasionally even contradictory stuff in it that throws the entire Jesus story into some doubt. Luke's birth narrative, for example, is completely at odds with the one told by Matthew, and the resurrection accounts are considerably different than those contained in the earlier Gospels. While there is no fatal flaws in it, it is different enough in many respects that it forces the dedicated and objective Bible scholar to take a second look. Still, it is a worth-while read.

Finally, once you've managed to polish off Mark, Matthew, and Luke, you'll be ready for John's gospel, which, being more philosophical in nature, you'll probably find more difficult to "get." If you stick with it, though, you'll probably find it more interesting than the others (it contains some especially good dialogue between Jesus and Pontius Pilate that would make Hollywood envious) and well worth the effort. Additionally, once you finish it off, you'll become part of a very exclusive club: that tiny fraction of the population who have actually read all four gospels from beginning to end, and that's nothing to sneeze at.

At this point, even if you read nothing else in the Bible, you'd have a pretty good understanding of what Christianity is all about, and if that's all you're after, you can stop there. However, you will miss some good parts that follow, as well as lose the opportunity to observe how Christianity was shaped and developed during the early years of its inception, so I'd recommend pouring yourself another cup of coffee and reading on.

Movin' On: The Letters of Paul
After the Gospels, one should notice the tone of the entire Bible changes. It is no longer just a bunch of stories about Jesus, but it becomes a series of letters intent on telling us who and what he was and what it all means, and as such, it provides the basic philosophy behind Christianity. In fact, it could be reasonably argued that Christianity can't really be well understood without having a good solid understanding of these letters. So who wrote them? Jesus' disciples? Probably not. Some later followers then? More likely. But most of them, especially the longer and more important ones, were written by a Jewish rabbi named Paul.

So who's Paul you ask? It's kind of difficult to explain, but suffice is to say he was one of the early leaders in the church who had a great deal to say about who Jesus was (which is remarkable when you consider he never personally met the man and wouldn't know him if he met him at the market.) In turn eloquent, defensive, poetic, grandiose, magnificent and pompous, Paul is a difficult guy to figure out, but he never fails to get some response out of his readers. Whether he's blasting some church or church leader or admonishing, encouraging, or pleading with the early Christians, he's always "on" and, as such, can be a fascinating (if eccentric) character to get to know.

To find out his story, however, you have to first take a little detour, and that is to the fifth book of the New Testament known as the Book of Acts. Written as a greatly abridged history of the months and years that followed Jesus' ascension to Heaven, it eventually turns into a story about a fiery anti-Christian rabbi named Saul of Tarsus who has an encounter with the resurrected Jesus (not sure how this happens: could be a vision or some sort of supernatural encounter) and goes from being the church's primary persecutor to its greatest defender. Written by the same fellow who wrote the Gospel of Luke, (in fact, it may have originally been part of Luke's Gospel but was separated from the rest because it records only events that occurred after the resurrection, and so could not be considered an official gospel), it is a valuable resource in understanding the church's early development and subsequent growth.

Once through Acts, you're ready for the letters themselves, which are named after the church or, in some cases, the individual, to whom they were addressed. As such, Romans was a letter Paul wrote to the church in Rome and 1st and 2nd Corinthians a couple of letters he wrote to Christians who resided at the church in Corinth, Greece (and Titus a letter he wrote to some guy named Titus, etc.). While a couple of the letters are almost as long as the Gospels themselves, some are no more than a few short chapters, allowing the determined reader to get through them in a few hours. There's even some tiny letters (a couple no more than a few hundred words in length) towards the end—most of them not written by Paul, that were included because somebody thought they were important at some point—which, while lacking the sort of power and eloquence of Paul's letters, are still worth a quick read. They should at least give one an idea of how various Christians in the church thought, and permit the reader to contrast their perspectives with those of Paul's.

Beware of the Apocalypse!
At this point one could safely put their Bible down and walk away with a pretty good understanding of what Christianity teaches. Unfortunately, there's still another book to contend with, and it's a doozy. Probably the best known and most controversial book of all (there was considerable debate as to whether it should have been included in the final Bible at all, leaving some to wonder if it should really be considered a "holy book" in the first place) the book of Revelations—also known as the Apocalypse—is completely different from anything else in the New Testament (and indeed, the entire Bible.) It is a book of pure prophecy that attempts to describe the end times through metaphor and wild imagery, and has served as inspiration for many an "end-of-the-world" movie and book over the years. (It's also what's kept Jack van Impe on the air all these years.)

The problem with the book is two-fold: first, it's difficult to understand, for it contains all sorts of spectacular visions that could mean any of a hundred different things, and second, it portrays God as an angry deity intent on torturing the planet into loving him, which one might argue does not jive well with the Gospel of love as taught by Jesus. Read it if you must, but you can be a perfectly good Christian (and probably a far less confused and paranoid one) if you just leave it alone. Believe me, God will thank you later.

Tackling the Old Testament
Okay, you've made it through the New Testament! Congratulations!

Now the fun is over, so get ready to do some work. You're about to delve into the Old Testament, from which few have emerged unscathed. It's not that it doesn't have its good points; it's just that to find them takes determination and patience (and a little interest in ancient history doesn't hurt either).

Actually, it's not so bad once you understand a few of the ground rules. First, it is important to understand how the 39 books of the Old testament are arranged, and what sort of story they're trying to tell. In a nutshell, they are the story of ancient Israel and the birth of Judaism, divided into three 'types' of literature. The first type are historical books, which trace the history of the ancient Israelites all the way from the Garden of Eden to shortly after the country of Israel was conquered by its neighbors in the seventh century B.C. The second type are poetic books, which are collections of songs (called psalms) and fortune-cookie type wisdom sayings, all designed to provide the reader with some Godly insight and wisdom, and the third type is prophetic, which record the deeds, admonitions, and lives of the various prophets of ancient Israel. Unfortunately, it is not always clear which category a particular book belongs in, nor are they in any particular order. Worst, some historical books contain a great deal of prophecy, and some prophetic books are heavy on poetry, further muddying the waters. Your best bet, then, is to just do the best you can and see what happens.

The Pentateuch
Chances are you've never heard the term Pentateuch, which would not be remarkable. Most people probably haven't. Most have heard of the Torah, however, and almost everyone has heard of Genesis and Exodus, the first two books of the Bible. The interesting thing is that all are simply different terms for the first five books of the Old Testament (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy).

As you've probably figured out by now, Pentateuch means, literally, five books, and it is these books that constitute the soul of ancient Judaism and the central core of Old Testament thought, putting them in the same class with the four Gospels in terms of importance. What has traditionally made them so important, however, is not just what they contain within them, but the belief that they were written by none other than Moses himself more than three thousand years ago.

For those unfamiliar with the story, Moses was a Hebrew who was supposedly one of the most powerful men in ancient Egypt (and the Pharaoh's step-son, no less) who gave it all up to help his people—the Israelites—escape the bondage of Egypt and create their own nation. Probably the most important figure in Jewish history (the equivalent of Jesus to Christians or Mohammed to Muslims) he is revered by Jews to this day as the founding father of Judaism. No wonder, then, that anything he supposedly wrote carries such weight.

Unfortunately, scholars can't let anything rest in peace and in recent times the belief that Moses himself personally penned these books has fallen out of favor, until today only the most conservative fundamentalists still believe the Pentateuch to have been of Mosaic origins. Even so, however, these books remain important, both as historical documents and inspirational writings, and as such, they deserve a careful reading. The question to be answered, then, is simply where to start.

I know I said earlier the biggest mistake people who set out to read the Bible make is starting at Genesis, but now that you've mastered the New Testament, you can proceed safely. If you've made it all the way from Matthew to Revelations, you've demonstrated that you really are serious about learning your Bible, and so have earned the right to start "In the beginning...".

Starting at the Beginning
The first book of the Bible, Genesis, is, like the gospels, one of the few books most people have had some contact with. Anyone who has ever watched the Adam and Eve epic or caught a Discovery Channel special on Noah's Ark will quickly find themselves immersed in the stuff, and many parts of it have been deeply ingrained into the very soul of our culture. As such, it wouldprobably be a good idea to find out what's in the thing first-hand instead of getting a skewed version of it from Hollywood or some late night television or radio preacher.

Genesis is one of the most appropriately named books in the Bible. The word itself means "beginning" so whomever decided to call it that knew what they were doing (and kudos to the earliest Bible compilers for putting it first.) It is the story of creation, the first humans (Adam and Eve), the first murder (Cain slaying his brother Able), Sodom and Gomorrah, the flood and the story of Noah's Ark, and the advent of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—known collectively as the patriarchs—who were to found the nation of Israel. For those who like history and archeology, it can be a compelling book, for it tells an intriguing and fast-paced story that ends with the Israelites moving en masse and setting up shop in Egypt (at the time the world's only super power.) This, of course, sets the stage for the second book of the Old Testament, the book of Exodus, which essentially picks up the story from where Genesis left off a couple of hundred years later.

In Exodus we have the Moses story in all its splendor, along with all those plagues and other divine punishments God metes out against the Pharaoh and his people until they finally agree to let the Hebrews leave. We also get the parting of the Red Sea story (actually, it was the Reed Sea—a shallow swamp north of the Red Sea that was the scene of the water's parting—but let's not ruin a good story) and Moses going up on Mount Sinai to receive the ten commandments (there were far more than just ten, but let's not get ahead of ourselves here.) It ends with the Israelites having to spend the next forty years in the desert because they were too chicken to conquer the land God had supposedly set aside for them.

After Exodus we get into three of the lesser known books: Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, that make up the balance of the Pentateuch. These are a little harder sledding, for they don't so much tell stories as they record the laws of Moses as handed down on Mount Sinai, as well as talk a great deal about the daunting task of keeping all the tribes together and the minutia of how to construct the traveling temple the Israelites were to take with them wherever they went. While parts of it can be skipped, it's also a good source for understanding the ancient Jewish mindset and where we get the foundations for many of our modern laws.

On to the Promised Land
Having polished off the Pentateuch, one is now ready for a real history lesson. These are the historical narratives that discuss at some length how the Israelites conquered the promised land (Canaan) driving out or destroying the indigenous peoples there (kinda like us with the Indians) and establishing their own nation, first as a theocracy ruled by various judges appointed by God, and later, as a more conventional kingdom ruled by an earthly king. Here you will see ancient Israel at both its zenith of power and splendor under Kings David and Solomon, as well as in its decline as it splits into two nations, each of which is eventually conquered by powerful neighbors. If you're not at least a little bit into ancient history, you'll probably find these books (about ten of them or so) to be a real grind to get through, but they contain enough interesting stories in them to make them worth the effort. I'd recommend getting a hold of a good Bible handbook to tackle this aspect of the OT, for they are good at explaining who's who and what's what, and generally providing some context with which to follow the story better. I found Halley's Bible Handbook to be especially helpful my first time through (though it has become a bit dated, since the man wrote it almost a century ago). I personally found that I got into the Old Testament more once I made the effort to understand the historical context within which it operated.

Finally, in case you're wondering who wrote all these books, the answer is nobody knows. Apparently they were put together over the years by various scribes and scholars, probably borrowing from long-standing oral traditions and other writings as they came across them, until they finally produced some sort of coherent history. Of course, this makes some of the books suspect as such things are usually written with someone's agenda in mind, but the places and events they mention have generally stood the test of both time and of archeological and historical scrutiny, which is no small achievement by anyones standards.

Time for some Poetry
Once you finish the historical narratives, next you'll come upon a number of books that read like poetic epics or stories of often great beauty. These are Song of Songs, Psalms, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes. The first is simply a surprisingly erotic love story (which explains why it is barely mentioned from the pulpit); the second, a collection of 150 songs of praise or lamentation (regret), many of which are attributed to King David (or, at least, someone in his court), and the third, a series of thirty fortune-cookie wisdom sayings, again many attributed to both King's David and Solomon. The fourth, Ecclesiastes (which means "the Preacher") is a dirge about the meaninglessness of life, usually attributes to Solomon (who, apparently, was no where near as wise as many assume him to have been). Taken together, they constitute the bulk of ancient Jewish wisdom and are worth reading for they do contain some surprisingly nice stuff. The "though I walk in the valley of death I will fear no evil" speech is in there (Psalm 23) as well as a number of other classics.

Curiously, the Psalms and Proverbs are set up in such a way that they can be read in a single month. Being that there are 150 psalms and 30 proverbs, one can get through the entire collection by reading a single proverb and five psalms a day, a task which usually takes only a few minutes (most of the chapters are short, with some being little more than a couple of paragraphs in length). You might even use them as a primer to get in the mood before you take on the weightier books that precede and follow them. Might be worth a try.

Getting Through the Prophets
After the historical and poetic/philosophic books, one runs smack dab into the prophets, a seemingly endless array of books written by (or about) the myriad of prophets that blessed (or, in some cases, cursed) Israel during its early years. Mostly their job was to advise the king of God's desires, admonish the people for turning their backs on God and following other idols, and generally reminding them of both his great love and fierce wrath. Though the term prophet has come to mean future forecaster in most people's minds, the prophets of the Bible rarely talked much about the future (and even more rarely about the far-flung future). They were more here-and-now types who saw their mission as being God's voice to a wayward and stubborn people, and to that end they took themselves very seriously (as evidenced in their writings).

Most of the prophetic books are fairly similar in content and message, which is as you'd expect if they really were God's mouthpiece. Only a few of the prophets are somewhat household names (Elijah, Daniel, and, thanks to the UFO craze, Ezekiel to name just a few) while most remain practically unknown, which is why they are known as the minor prophets and their writings delegated to the nether regions at the end of the Old Testament.

So do you really need to read them all, especially considering that they are often tedious and redundant? No, not really. Stick with Isaiah, Daniel, and Ezekiel and you'll have the gist of their collective message (and besides, no one ever asks what you know about Obadiah). Get through them, however, and you'll have accomplished a task even some seminarians have yet to master: making it all the way through the Old Testament.

You've made it. With a bit of perseverance, you should have gotten through the whole thing in about a year (a month if you are really serious about it and have a lot of time on your hands. Prisons are especially good places to catch up on your Bible reading though, of course, by then it might be too late to do you much good.) You have also entered a tiny fraternity of people who have actually read all the way through the Bible (without getting paid for it) and so should now be competent to either defend or attack the faith as you see fit. It may not change your life in any great ways (though it may) but you will at least have the satisfaction of knowing that you know more about this book than 99% of your cohorts. Use that information wisely, my friend, lest you be admonished by an Old Testament prophet.

The Other writings...
I'll bet you thought I'd forgot to mention to other books of the Bible that aren't always included with the 66 main books. Not a chance.

If you crack open a Catholic Bible (and you'll know if you do: they are usually pretty large and will say Authorized Catholic Edition somewhere on it) you will notice a bunch of additional books in the Old Testament that aren't there in your normal, store-bought Bible. These books are called the Apocrypha, and they are every bit as old and, some might say, valuable, as the other books. The problem is that they simply fell out of favor with certain groups over the years and so didn't make it into today's recognized cannon, and so are found either in a separate format or in some Catholic Bibles. Like the other books of the Bible, these also fall into historical, poetic, and prophetic categories, and a few make for some interesting reading. Most, however, will not do much to enhance what understanding of the Bible you already have, so they can be just as easily overlooked with little harm being done. Still, for the curious, they might be worth a look.

There are other books written around the same time as the books of the Bible that also exist, but most church leaders consider these to be spurious or heretical and so generally ignore them. Probably the best known and most controversial of these are what are known as the Gnostic Gospels, which provide one with a very different take on who Jesus was that is almost completely at variance with the traditional story. Curiously, though, some of these books contain a few stories and teachings that can be found in the traditional Bible, demonstrating that all the Bible writers—be they considered by modern standards either orthodox or heretical—appeared to at points borrow from common sources, forcing one to wonder what interesting stuff might have been forgotten, intentionally omitted, or otherwise lost to history. Wouldn't it be interesting if we really had access to everything that was written about God and the man we know as Jesus of Nazareth so we might make our own mind up about who they are instead of having to rely on the often politically driven decisions of the early church fathers as to what was "acceptable" and what was not? What a different world it might be.

Some Final Thoughts
Now that you are in that elite group of the Biblically literate, it is up to you what you will do with that knowledge. Will you permit it to strengthen your faith so you might be a better and more knowledgeable Christian, or will you use it as ammunition against those religious nuts you're always debating so you can watch them squirm? Or will you simply look for the wisdom it contains and decide for yourself what it all means? The Bible has been used as both an instrument of peace and as a weapon of war; as a means of bringing people together and of splitting them apart; and as a source of great comfort and as justification for great cruelty. Men and women have died for the ideals in this book, while others have used it to justify the wanton slaughter of millions. In this regards, then, it is both a curse and a blessing, so don't take this book lightly. Which it will be remains entirely up to us, just as it always has.