Read the Bible – it’s a standard recommendation for Christians, but why? How? And how much? Christianity and the Bible are inseparable. Centuries before printing was invented, the apostles had a detailed knowledge of the Scriptures and quoted them frequently. They had access to them because scrolls were held in every synagogue, and synagogues were in most cities of the Roman empire. When St. Paul pleaded with Timothy to return scrolls that he had left behind, it’s fair to assume that they were copies of the scriptures (1 Timothy 4:13)[i]. From the earliest times, Christianity has always valued scripture, but we have the privilege of being able to own personal copies, even in several different translations.
I think that Bible reading matters, but I don’t go along with people who say that you must read the Bible every day. It’s not an obligation but a choice. We don’t read the Bible to earn bonus points from God. His grace comes to us free. Nor should we do it to gain credit from other people. This is part of our personal journey of faith. And our personality comes into this choice. I love reading the Bible, but I love reading anyway. A friend who used to commute with me daily by train once observed, “You don’t just read books, you consume them!”. So, I don’t expect everyone to copy me – but I can offer some tips and encouragement to those who would like to know the Bible better.
It may be pleasant to relax on a settee, watching TV and eating chocolates, and it can be engaging to settle down for hours in front of a computer or games console. But body and brain need exercise and stimulation. Without appropriate exercise, our brain will lose capacity and our life will be shortened. Spiritually, we also need to stretch our capacity to keep growing. No law can force us to look after our health, mentally, physically, or spiritually. But the choices we make reveal what truly matters to us. We don’t have to read the Bible, but those who do so find their faith strengthened and their hope increased.
There are many systems, schemes, and products to help you read the Bible and it’s best to try more than one until you find what best suits you – and make it a habit. Whatever system you use habitually, I recommend that you read the whole Bible at least once. If you rely on sermons and handbook briefings you will gain knowledge of Scripture, but you will mostly read the easy bits. The Bible doesn’t just include easy readings. Some of it can be challenging, confusing, or even tiresome. But people who only read the easy bits have an incomplete picture. Our faith is built on the whole Bible – not just a selection of isolated texts.
The whole Bible – that’s big! But you don’t have to read it in one go. Try stretching the task out over a year. A year is short enough to remember where you started when you finish. But it’s long enough to be able to split the readings into achievable chunks. There are 1185 chapters in the Bible so, to spread your reading over the 52 weeks of a year, you need to read 22.75 chapters a week – or let’s say 23. As a young Christian, I was taught to read “three chapters a day and five on Sunday”. But that doesn’t fit every Christian’s routine (Sundays can be very busy, especially for those with leadership roles!) So, I interpret it as three chapters a day and an extra one on a couple of the days. Some chapters are longer and some shorter, while some days are busier than others, but the principle works – provided you keep track of where you’re up to!
There’s an easy way to keep track – and you don’t even have to read the books in consecutive order. It’s OK to read chapters from different parts of the Bible, using a Reading Record to keep track of what you’ve read. At the end of this blog is a link to a download page for a pdf file you can use to print your own Reading Record. It may also help with managing the more difficult sections (e.g. read the more difficult parts on your ‘extra chapters’ days).
When you’ve read the whole Bible, what next? My choice is to carry on and read it again, but that won’t suit everyone. Having read the whole book you will find that the shorter passages you study with Bible Reading Notes make better sense because you know their context. If you continue reading the whole book year after year you will find, perhaps to your surprise, that it doesn’t get boring. Each new reading discovers new truths, previously missed connections, and deeper understanding. A friend once asked me if I get bored reading the lists of names in 1 Chronicles. I thought for a moment and replied, “They’re no longer just lists of names to me; they are people I’ve come to know.” Bible in a year? Certainly – and the next year, and the next. You may eventually find yourself reading the Bible every Year.
[i] To have left behind something that precious, Paul must have left in a hurry, possibly because he was under arrest, or to escape the threat of imminent arrest.