Bible Reading

It’s easy enough to read the Bible on a regular basis; it’s really simply a matter of choice.

For instance, reading through the entire Bible in a year’s time is not as daunting a task as many fear. You can read through the entire Bible in only fifteen minutes a day. There are many daily plans available on the web. Bible programs, such as Logos, have daily reading guides as one of their many options. Bible Gateway is a free online site that has many different daily reading guides for getting through the Bible in a year.

What are some strategies for making a systematic, daily approach to Bible reading succeed?

First, if you miss a day, pick up on whatever day you start back up again; don’t try to “catch up.” That will merely intimidate you and wear you out and make you give up.

Second, don’t feel like you have to have a set time to do this; you can do this in the morning, in the afternoon, at night before bed, during lunch; you can vary from day to day. Keep in mind that your schedule changes, especially on the weekends. Be flexible and adjust accordingly.

Third, answer this question: why do I want to read the Bible?

Your answer should be something along the lines of wanting to know God better. Consider it analogous to school: if you think the reason for going to school is to pass tests and get a diploma, you’ve missed its purpose entirely. The purpose of school is to learn—to become educated—to lessen your ignorance. That’s the same reason for reading through the Bible yearly. Nothing more. It is not for acclaim, it is not for a sense of accomplishment, it is not to check off boxes. It is not so you can say “I’ve read through the whole Bible.” It is not to gain browny points with God.

Instead, it is simply to know: to cast aside some bits of ignorance, and to understand God better: what he wants and what he’d like you to be doing.

Fourth, accept that some parts of the Bible are really, really boring. The genealogies, the design and construction of the temple, the details of the sacrificial system, Paul listing people to thank or remember really are not interesting and it is fine to recognize that fact. You may skim these parts and that’s okay. Eventually you may want to focus on them, but probably not. Why are they there? Because those details were important to the people to whom the Bible was written, just like the little details of your life are interesting to you. It illustrates the importance of the individual and the importance of the details that make up our lives, like going to the DMV or worrying about getting new blinds to fit the odd window. Most people don’t care, except for those closest to you. God is that close to you. He finds you so utterly fascinating that he even bothers with the number of hairs on your head. That’s what all those “boring” details tell us: how much we mean to God. How much he loves us. You and your spouse might enjoy the slides from your vacation and the dozens of pictures of your new baby. No one else cares. Parts of the Bible are going to be like that. Accept it and move on; don’t let those things stand in your way of the rest of it.

If you read through the entire Bible once every year, on top of whatever other Bible study you do, you’ll soon develop a good sense of what is in there, the themes, and how it all fits together. Over time, more and more things will fall into place for you. So I want to stress the importance of getting the big picture (the Bible was written to people, not lawyers working on analyzing depositions)

Finally, reading and understanding the Bible is easier than you think. You already know how to watch a movie or TV show, I imagine. You know how to read a novel or short story. Those are the skills you need to bring with you in reading the Bible. Don’t be naive about your reading; some of the characters and events you meet will be vile. If they give you the willies, that was the point. Not every thing in the Bible is God’s will or righteous. Some of it is there to serve as a warning, to let you see what not to do. You probably won’t have too much trouble figuring out which is which.

Don’t be afraid of the Bible. Pay attention to context. Recognize that each section was written to a specific audience, with specific answers for the questions they were having. Application to your life comes when you comprehend what it meant to the original audience. Remember, it was written to a pre-industrial, monarchical, agricultural society, not a modern western urbanized liberal democracy. Also, your primary question is “what does this mean” not “did this happen?” What is it that God is attempting to tell us by means of these stories and other sorts of literary productions? Don’t literalize what should be understood as allegory and don’t allegorize what should be taken at face value. Recognize that there are many genres in the Bible: poetry, narrative, legal texts, and personal correspondance. Read accordingly. For instance, poetry is not likely to give you the sort of information you’d expect from a legal text or how to manual. Use some common sense.

The primary key to making sense of what you’re reading is to realize that the theme of the Bible is twofold: to love God and to love people (Matthew 22:34-40). If you come up with an interpretation that violates either of those concepts, you’ve made a mistake. Try again.

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About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm the interim pastor at Quartz Hill Community Church. I have written several books. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
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