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Reading the Bible

Updated: Jun 29, 2023

Photograph by Sherry Vechery

I heard somewhere that if you read the Bible daily for 20 minutes that you will have read through the whole thing in a year. My question is why 20 minutes and why a year? On one hand 20 minutes doesn’t seem unreasonable to me, but it is to a lot of people. We all know you get sick, you go on vacation, your child has that big school project due tomorrow, you sometimes feel like you can’t pack in one more thing in a day and adding a required 20 minutes a day of Bible reading seems overwhelming to you. You end up missing a day here and a day there and you get behind. Then you beat yourself up over it and try to sit down and read for 2 hours straight to catch up and then your reading becomes just reading to check off that box on your Daily Reading Plan. It stops being meaningful Bible reading. And why a year? Why not plug along and you finish it when you finish it?

There are 66 books in the Bible. What order should you read them in?

There are many Daily Bible Reading Plans out there. Just going through my reference books and Bibles I found 8 here at home. I’m not a fan of Bible Reading Plans. At least not the ones I’ve seen. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a fan of reading the Bible daily. But I haven’t seen a reading plan that makes practical sense to me. What I do agree with is keeping track of what you are reading. One day you may have time to read the Bible for an hour. The next day 5 minutes. Try to read the Bible daily. It is a wonderful habit to get in.

The thing about the Bible is you can read something and read the same Scripture later and gain new insights. It is like an onion with many layers. The first time you read a book you are just reading it to get the story of it – peeling off the outer layer. The next time you see things you didn’t see before. Then the next time you see how it connects to other Scripture. You are continually being transformed and going into deeper thinking. It is pretty amazing. You can read the Bible every day of your life and still grow and learn. It becomes like your daily food. And that is the goal – to feast on God’s Word daily.

Looking at the 8 reading plans I have here, two of them have you reading through the Bible from beginning to end. I don’t think this is a good way to read the Bible. The Old Testament is extremely important to God’s redemptive plan for mankind. But to start there and just start reading doesn’t make sense to me because you are going to wonder how this has to relate to Jesus. The Old Testament takes up about 2/3rds of the Bible so you will be reading for months before you come to Jesus' life here on earth.

One of the plans has you reading the Bible in chronological order. Remember the books of the Bible are not all in chronological order. They were organized by history, writings, prophecy in both the Old Testament and New Testament. I don’t like this plan either because again you are going to spend months reading the Old Testament before you get to read about Jesus.

I have one plan that has you read just the New Testament 5 minutes/day, 5 days/ week and finishing the New Testament in a year. It doesn’t have you read the books in the order they are in the Bible which is fine. I sort of like this plan, but I see the drawback of not spending any time in the Old Testament.

The last 4 plans have you reading from different sections of the Bible every day.

  • Plan 1: Has you reading from 4 places each day – an Old Testament reading, a New Testament reading, a Psalm, and some reading in Proverbs.

  • Plan 2: Has you reading from the 7 biblical sections – Epistles, The Law, History, Psalms, Poetry, Prophecy, and Gospels!

  • Plan 3: Has you reading from 4 sections of the Bible every day – Psalms and Wisdom Literature/ Pentateuch and History of Israel/ Chronicles and Prophets/ Gospels and Epistles.

  • Plan 4: Has you reading from 5 sections every day – OT History/ Prophets/ Gospels/ Epistles/ and Psalms.

Seriously? These plans are a very chopped up way to read the Bible. If you are reading from several different sections every day then you aren’t going to get the unity of the Bible. And the Bible is unified in its teaching. It moves along historical eras of God’s redemptive plan.

Here is what I recommend. You might have a Daily Reading Plan in the back of your Bible, but if not, print off a Bible Reading Plan. There are a bunch on the internet. Print it off not to necessarily follow it, but to check off the sections as you read. I am going to recommend you spend most of your time initially in the New Testament. Start with the book of Matthew. Read the book through, marking off the chapters on your Bible Reading Plan. When you finish the book, go to the index of your Bible and check off that book. Then read Mark or Luke (I prefer Luke because it has a lot more parables in it.) Now read Acts which is about the founding of the universal church and the spread of the Gospel message.

After Acts, read Romans. This book was written by the apostle Paul to the church at Rome. It is considered Christianity’s first theology textbook. It gives you the statement of the Christian faith which you may have heard called The Romans Road.

  • Romans 3:23 All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

  • Romans 6:23 The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

  • Romans 5:8 God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

  • Romans 10:9 That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.

  • Romans 10:13 For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

At this point you have read two of the synoptic gospels, Acts, and an epistle (letter). Now go back and begin reading the Old Testament with the book of Genesis. The Old Testament is crucial to understanding the New Testament and to understanding the character of God. Don’t spend all of your time only in the New Testament.

The first 17 books of the Old Testament are the Historical Books and it is good to read them in order. But you can go back and read in the New Testament in between your Old Testament reading.

You can read the Old Testament Writings - Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon - any time you want to.

The Prophecy Books of the Old Testament are important. I would put off reading them at least until you have read the Historical Books of the Old Testament because the prophetical books are not in chronological order and each book relates to a specific historical era. If you don't know what happened during that historical period, the prophetical book won't have as much meaning to you.

(Note - Protestants have 39 books in their Old Testament. Catholics have more books in their Old Testament Canon.)

At some point read the gospel of John. It is different than the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) in that it reveals who Jesus is from the get-go. When you read it, you will see what I mean. And at some point read the 4th gospel you haven't read yet.

You can read the Epistles (letters) of the New Testament - Romans through Jude - any time. These books of the Bible are not in chronological order; they are all written to instruct us on living a Christian life; and they can be read in any order you want.

I wouldn’t read the Prophecy Book of the New Testament, Revelation, until you have read the Gospels, Acts, the vast majority of the Epistles, and the vast majority of the Old Testament Historical Books because you aren’t going to understand all the references to the Old Testament otherwise.

Start your Bible reading with the New Testament.

Then begin spending some time reading the Old Testament.

Alternate between the Old Testament and the New Testament.

This way you are learning about God's character/ the history of the Hebrew people/ what God expects of His people/ the need of a Savior and prophesies of the coming Messiah/ and the ministry of our Savior/ the founding of the universal church/ the spread of the gospel/ and how to live as a Christian.

Starting with some of the New Testament books and then alternating between the New Testament and the Old Testament, reading a book at a time, seems to be a more logical way to read the Bible.

My English Standard Version (ESV) Study Bible says The most important thing is to take your Bible and read it, praying to the Father that the Spirit will take what all the Scriptures teach about Christ and apply it to your mind and heart and life. I couldn’t agree more! The goal is to read it, but not on a set rushed time table. Be purposeful in your commitment to reading the Bible and you are sure to make God smile.

This post is dedicated to someone I love who is just beginning to read the Bible. Smile.

Updated 1/1/17.

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