There are many good ways to read the Bible. The purpose of this article is to explain what I call “A Better Way” to read it.
Please take note that I’m going to discuss reading the Bible rather than studying it, meditating on it, or memorizing it (which, of course, are also valuable ways to spend time in the Word).
But first, let’s address the issue of whether we actually read the Bible. It appears to me that many professing Christian don’t read the Bible much. If they do, it’s with inconsistency and/or scarcity.
By “inconsistency,” I mean it’s not a habit. We don’t read the Bible regularly. We do it every now and then, hit or miss, haphazardly. “Maybe I’ll spend time in the Word today, maybe I won’t.”
Such an approach to Scripture reflects the attitude that reading the Word is not a priority. “I’m busy. I’ve got a job and a family and things to do. And reading the Bible just isn’t that important to me.”
“I still love God. I attend worship services regularly and give money and serve in the church (in the nursery, or as an usher, or in any number of other important ways). I’m doing fine without this ‘Quiet Time’ people talk about. Having ‘devotions’ is just not something I see the need to do.”
By “scarcity,” I mean that it’s for very short periods of time, and it may involve reading one verse from a daily devotional book that follows this format: a verse is quoted and then the author provides a few paragraphs of explanation and application, along with a prayer at the end.
Such devotional books are as popular today as they’ve ever been. And I’m not condemning them. These books contain God’s truth and are written by devoted Christ-followers whose sincere motive is to communicate the Word of God to the people of God.
I have read and benefitted from such books. My wife and I have read John Piper’s The Dawning of Indestructible Joy, twenty-five daily readings for advent. It was excellent and follows the format described above.
But if this “verse a day” approach is the only way we read the Bible, aren’t we shortchanging ourselves? Certainly it’s better than nothing. But I believe there’s something missing here, and I hope I can explain why by introducing you to A Better Way to Read the Bible.
To unpack A Better Way to Read the Bible, please think of your favorite book (other than the Bible). It could be fiction or non-fiction. It can be a book you’ve read at any time in your life – a childhood treasure or a classic you read for a college literature class. Or maybe it’s a book you read recently. It could be Alice in Wonderland or Grapes of Wrath or Chicken Soup for the Soul.
Now, think for a bit about why you like this book so much. And how you enjoyed reading it and benefited from it — how worthwhile it was.
Pretend you are talking to someone about this book, perhaps a good friend or a family member or a co-worker. This person has not read the book, even though he may have heard of it.
And you want to explain how to read your favorite book. Now notice I did not say to share why you liked this book so much. Let’s assume you’ve already done that. Right now, I want you to explain how to read it.
What are you going to say? Would you say things like this:
1. Do not begin reading the book at the beginning.
2. Do not read the whole thing.
3. Instead of reading the entire book from start to finish, over the next 365 days take a random sentence (or at most, a paragraph) from anywhere in the book and read just that.
4. It doesn’t really matter what you read each day, or what part of the book you read, just read a small portion each day, in no particular order.
5. Not sure where to start? Just pick any page at random and start there. Or, find someone who has read the whole book and have them suggest which 365 sentences (or paragraphs) you should read over the next year.
6. If you find one particular sentence, paragraph or chapter that you really like, you can read just that over and over.
7. After a while, you may find many sentences, paragraphs and even chapters that you like a lot – your favorite sections. It’s OK to read those parts repeatedly, and there’s really no need to concern yourself with reading the other parts that you have not read.
What do you think of that approach?
Or instead, would you say this: “Start at the beginning and read the whole book.”
Obviously, you’d go with the last comment, right?
A Better Way to Read the Bible is to read the Bible like any other book, because to really understand a book, don’t you have to read the whole thing? And isn’t one of the main goals of reading the Bible to understand it? Therefore, shouldn’t we read it like any other book?
Do you find the Bible confusing and difficult to understand? Perhaps this is because you’ve never read it like you read any other book. You’ve never read it from start to finish. You’ve never read the whole thing.
So this is A Better Way to Read the Bible – read it like any other book.
I wonder how what percentage of Christians have actually done this: read the entire Bible. I have no idea. What do you think?
But it doesn’t matter how many other people have or have not done this.
I’m concerned about me and you.
Have you read all 66 books of the whole Bible, Genesis to Revelation? If so, great!
If not… what would be the reason why? Over the next few days, perhaps it would be good to reflect on this question, asking God to reveal the answer to you. And if you are so inclined, send me an email and let me know how that exercise goes for you.
Back to your favorite book… I assume you’ve read the whole thing. How long did it take you to do that? And by that, I mean not so much how many total hours you spent reading, but over what period of time did you read it? How many days or weeks or months or years did it take you?
I’m going to go out on a limb and say it took you a few weeks or a few months, at most, to read the whole thing.
So when we come to the Bible with this idea that we should read it like any other book, should we not make it a priority to read the entire book within a reasonable amount of time? Of course, the Bible is longer than the typical book that you would check out from the library, much longer. Depending on the font and paper size of your version, the average Bible is over 1,000 pages.
A few years ago I took a Bible translation in the public domain (World English Bible) and published a New Testament. The paper size is 6 x 9; the font size is 10 or 11 point. And just the New Testament is 390 pages. Since the New Testament is about 25% of the whole Bible, all 66 books would fill almost 1,600 pages.
When determining a “reasonable” amount of time to read the entire Bible, many have settled on the well-known “read the Bible in a year” timeframe. I think that’s a very doable objective, especially when you consider that this works out to about 3 chapters per day, which should take even a slow reader about 20-30 minutes max.
Think about that. If you set aside 30 minutes a day for 365 days, you can read the whole Bible in a year. How many of us spend at least a half-hour each day texting, watching TV, surfing the internet, liking Facebook posts, and any number of other potentially time-wasting activities. (Over the years, my weakness has been TV, especially sporting events. I wonder what my life would be like today if, over the past 55 years, I spent as much time reading as I did watching television.)
So reading the whole Bible is not such a daunting task after all. And this is how we read virtually every other book. Why not approach the Bible in the same manner?
What do you say? Does anything I’ve written so far resonate with you? I pray that it does.
Let me close by telling you about my own experience with Bible reading. When I started to read the Bible in its entirety, my understanding of Scripture skyrocketed to a new level.
It was amazing. I could go on and on about this. But it’s true. God used this simple exercise of seeing the big picture of Scripture to provide insights into the meaning of all the various parts. And there are many parts to the Bible, starting with the two main parts: Old Testament and New Testament. In the Old Testament, there are the historical books and the Law of Moses; there are the wisdom books like Job, Psalms and Proverbs; and there are the prophetic books — longer ones like Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, and a bunch of shorter ones like Jonah and Micah and Malachi. Then there’s the New Testament, with the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles; then come the letters written to churches and individuals; and then comes the grand finale of Revelation.
Whew! How do we make sense of all those different authors and genres and famous characters?
We begin by taking a step back and realizing that while the Bible is an incredibly diverse collection of 66 books (like a 1,000 page mini-library), and it is also one book with one Author, namely God. Yes, God wrote this book!
And to understand the Bible as one book with one Author, we need to read the whole thing in a reasonable period of time. I pray you’ll see the value in that today, and that you’ll experience the joy of reading the entire Bible. May God be with you as you do.
Also, many Bible reading plans are available online. These provide a schedule for the year, telling you which books to read in what order, and which chapters to read each day. There are several ways to do this, so take a look at these plans and pick one that you like and give it a go. Simply visit your favorite search engine, input “Bible reading plans” and you’ll have no trouble finding many from which to choose. Enjoy!