Here’s an excellent way to do just that. I have been blessed daily by reading the Chronological Life Application Study Bible.
Here’s the review I wrote at Amazon.com two days ago…
Excellent helps for informed and enjoyable Bible reading.
Well-balanced, insightful, and helpful commentary through the entire Bible–like getting little mini-sermons or devotionals. It’s like an ongoing Bible devotional. Very well-written and a pleasure to read.
The book has been beautifully structured to put Bible aids (like maps, charts, character studies, timelines) right on the same page as the text where you can conveniently refer to them to enhance your grasp of the background information that can clarity the Scripture passages. Also, when referring to useful information in other parts of the book, you are not referred to this or that section but the exact page number.
Example: This morning I was reading the New Testament passage where Jesus refers to John the Baptist as Elijah who was to come, and the comments referred me to page 719 where I could read about Elijah, a more than half a page character study summarizing his life.
Here’s a quote from the Elijah character study I referred to in the above paragraph:
“All that happened in Elijah’s life began with the same miracle that is available to us–he responded to the miracle of being able to know God.”
When most of us read the Bible we are faced with trying to understand the culture and attitudes of ancient people (the Old Testaemnt) or first-century people (the New Testament). The aids this book provides are very useful in bridging those time-gaps and the differences between those people and us. So having the essays and charts and maps and character studies and other helps handy and reading them too can improve our understanding of the Bible text. Also, needless to say, having all the Bible stories in chronological order can be quite clarifying too.
The authors of this book did not shy away from controversy or debated sections of Scripture, and instead of a biased approach you will find explanations of various views. The reader can choose for herself which is best. But, nevertheless, the authors do often indicate their view, that is which of the alternative interpretations they conclude with are the most sound or sensible. In other words a balanced approach to commentary.
Excellent, practical, helpful sections that enhance Bible reading. And the New Living Translation is very readable. I prefer the NASB for Bible study for its more literal translation accuracy. But for an enjoyable read to get the gist of the content and action, this is a good read.
But for me–and I am not a commentary devotee for the most part–I enjoy very much the devotional commentary notes. There are techical matters covered when necessary, but also very frequently practical life-applications. These are not forced but are biblically sound and trustworthy Christian lessons from the Bible verses. They are like daily pep talks for good living.
To me, the authors are to be commended for putting together such a fine combination of a reading Bible with a virtual library of Bible reference materials.
I am reading daily through the New Testament portions, including all the notes (except charts at times) this year, and the Old Testament sections (1833 pages!) within the next two years–that’s my goal.
PS: For those of you who are not Christian, I still recommend this book. It’s perspective is never atheistic or even agnostic or in any way hostile to faith. It consistently presents a Christian view of what the Bible means. And for that reason it can be valuable to you in the sense of “What do Christians believe?” It answers that question quite well.