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Articles

Reading Through the Bible

The beginning of the year may spur the religiously minded to consider reading their Bible cover-to-cover.  We read excerpts for specific activities...maybe in preparation for a Bible class on a particular topic or maybe a 'daily devotional' or 'verse of the day'.  These are valuable, but I don't think these can or should replace the value of reading its entirety.

It can seem like a daunting challenge.  I remember as a youngster hearing someone much older profess their own reading of the Bible cover-to-cover and I was in awe.  It seemed to me at the time a monumental feat at best and something far beyond my attention and perseverance could bear at least.  Fortunately, somewhere along my faith journey I overcame that attitude in spite of setting the goal and failing at least once (if memory serves it was twice).

I am currently embarking on my eighth time reading through the Bible in a "year".  I put year in quotes because it can happen much quicker than a full year; the last time I started over Christmas break and finished in May.  If I can do it, absolutely anyone can do it.  My point isn't in my eventual success in accomplishing the goal but to encourage anyone that thinks it's not possible or maybe has tried and failed -- you can do it!

Of course, this is nothing like a personal challenge (like completing a marathon) or simply an intellectual exercise!  I'd like to address why we should do this in the first place.  Understand, the God of the universe has revealed Himself to us through His word.  Let that sink in.  If God's revelation to me - what He wants for me, what He's done for me, how I can honor Him - is laid out for me in this book, how foolish and selfish am I not to take some time to read it...all of it?  I think it was that question that finally got me over the hump.  How can we not read all of it?

The Bible is replete with testimony about its own role in the life of a Christian. It claims to not just be important but essential. No matter when the inspired writers were living, they recorded for us a foundational truth - that God's word is true and singularly mankind's source to know Him.  Here's just a sampling:

  • King David writing about 1,000BC, "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path." (Ps 119:105)
  • About 300 years later, God through the prophet Isaiah compares His word to the rain and snow that water the earth, "so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it." (Isa 55:11)
  • the Apostle John in the first century records, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." (Jn 1:1)

Really consider what that last passage is teaching.  Jesus (God) and the Word are one.  They're equal, synonymous.  How do we know Jesus? We read God's word.  Furthermore, Jesus was in the beginning, therefore reading Genesis - and all the books that follow - is to 'know Jesus.'  Finally, what does this say about our need to read and understand God's word if Jesus' claim is true when asked by Thomas, "How can we know the way?"  Jesus famously answered, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (Jn 14:5)  Read that again and replace I/me with "God's word." 

Finally, I'll share some advice based on the experiences I've had:

  1. Let someone know that will hold you accountable.  Better yet, do it with them.  Other family members, church family members, etc.  Accountability is a great thing the first time or two.
  2. There may be some lapses but don't stop.  Get back to it if (rather, when) you fall behind. Don't fixate on "daily reading" but rather the goal completion.
  3. Try not to stop for questions about the text or ideas/discoveries you have; you will have them, but make a note about it to come back to and keep going.
  4. Related to the last point are the inevitable times you will simply not understand what you're reading. I've had this experience and continue to have it.  My advice: plow through it!  Don't stop and don't be discouraged.  Let your FAITH prevail that in time, God will "open" that part of scripture.  Indeed, I have found that greater understanding has come through reading ALL of God's revelation.  Each time I read through old questions are answered and new questions appear.
  5. Don't make your timeline more than a year.  There are actually 2 and 3-year plans out there...way too long IMO.
  6. Use a chronological plan your first 1-2 times through.  I found particular parts can be difficult reading through as it has been ordered in our Bibles today.  Specifically, I've found the Psalms, the Prophets and the Gospels difficult -- honestly a bit monotonous when reading straight through.  However, reading chronologically - or as events occurred as this schedule lays out not only removes much of that monotony but provides some amazing insights.  It was truly powerful for me in understanding God's message more cohesively.
  7. I can suggest three possible approaches about how to organize and manage your reading:
    • A literal 'daily reading' schedule, or I prefer the 5-day schedule linked here (aka 270 day plan); this builds in a couple of days each week to use for catch up if needed.  I haven't used it before, but this site will custom create a schedule based on some options you enter and then tracks it for you.
    • If you're using the Olive Tree app you can go "Reading Plans" and find lots of options.  I've used the 'Chronological OT/NT (5/week)' and it's great in that it keeps track for you.  It even tells you if you're "X" days ahead/behind  and your estimated completion date -- a great motivational feature.
    • I had heard a lot about the ESV Reader's Bible and so I'm trying it out this time.  It's not chronological, but it strips all man-made insertions (headings, chapter breaks, etc.) to allow you to focus on the flow of the original text.  I got the basic softback (on sale on Amazon right now for $8.99) but there are much fancier versions.  It does seem to cause the basic task of reading to flow better, which theoretically speeds it up which in turn helps with context.

May this help and inspire all of us to read God's word, the first step to "seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness." (Mt 6:33)