How do you read the Bible?

On my Facebook page, I posted a blog from The Gospel Coalition called “Sola Scriptura or Sola Cardia?”  It is a great read, dealing with the question of how much we really believe that the Bible alone guides our faith and life.  In the blog, the author mentions some ways that evangelicals deny Sola Scriptura in practice, and the first way is by not reading the Bible.

That got me thinking:  How do you read the Bible?

I understand that we don’t want to turn Bible reading into just another legalistic thing we add to our already burdened lives.  But neither can we deny that we need the word, in its entirety, to guide our lives.  It is God’s special revelation to us.  It is how we know what we do about our faith.  It is by the word that we see who Jesus is, what He did for us, and what promises await us in our future.  It is by the word that we know what sin is, what holiness looks like, and what means we have to grow in holiness.  “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17, ESV)

Christ equates the word of God with food (see Matthew 4:4; compare also Hebrews 5:12-14).  Just as we fail to thrive (and even die) without physical food, we cannot thrive spiritually without the word of God.  It is that important.  If I were to say to you, “You need a plan for eating enough to sustain you every day, and you need to be sure that what you eat is a balanced diet, not focusing too much on one type of food, so that you get all the needed nutrients,” no one would argue that I am being legalistic.  In reality, it would probably be something obvious.  But if I say to people, “You need a plan for reading enough of the Bible to sustain you every day, and you need to be sure that what you read is a balanced reading, not focusing too much on one genre or type of Scripture, so that you get all the needed instruction and guidance,” people may accuse me of being legalistic, though I think those people would be few.

In reality, we acknowledge mentally that we need God’s word, but when it comes to living it out, we struggle.  We forget to read or we get too busy to read.  We read only our favorite portions of the Bible, ignoring those parts that we find boring or hard to understand.  We read so little that we can’t keep track of what is going on in the Bible as a whole, so we don’t know what Paul’s overall concern is in the book of 1 Corinthians, or how Leviticus relates to Hebrews.

I want to suggest some possible reading plans for you to consider.  Granted, there are no perfect plans. (I’m still trying to find the perfect plan, though.)  But I find that if we approach Scripture without a plan, we usually struggle more.

I’m not going to cover the basic read-through-the-Bible-in-a-year plans, as those are easy to find.  (You can even find Bibles with the plans built in.)  My feeling is that most of us read far less than we can (and probably should) be reading.  I realize there are exceptions to this rule, and I have days that are busier than others.  Honestly, I don’t end up reading every single day, although I strive to and don’t beat myself up when I don’t.  The traditional plans are often reading so little that by the time we finish in a year, we really don’t know what is going on in Scripture as a whole.  Maybe that was just me, but it’s like watching a 2-hour movie at about 5 minutes at a time once a day.  Yes, it’s more manageable, but when I finish 24 days later, I really wouldn’t have a grasp on what the movie was about.  That’s been my personal experience with a lot of reading plans.  Perhaps your experience is different.  If those plans work for you, and you are growing closer to God through His word that way, then I am excited for you!  Keep it up!  Admittedly, there may be times in our lives where reading less but reading deeper is better.  But since Scripture interprets Scripture, we need that broad idea of what all of Scripture says to keep us aligned.

I would like to share some plans for you to consider which will all help you get a broad idea of Scripture as a whole.  These will take more time each day, but usually, you are looking at about 30-45 minutes.  The television shows we watch are often longer than that.

One plan is Professor Grant Horner’s Bible Reading Plan.  (You can read about it at Tim Challies’ blog here.)  It is one chapter a day from each of ten lists (the gospels, the Pentateuch, New Testament epistles 1, New Testament epistles 2, Old Testament wisdom literature, Psalms, Proverbs, Old Testament historical books, the prophets, and Acts).  The ten chapters are always rotating, and the goal is to immerse yourself in Scripture and see cross references within the Bible. You area also reading in all of the Bible’s genres each day.  Some days you may read a psalm and read it quoted in the New Testament the same day, which really serves to tie the Bible together.  It has tended to be my go-to plan for a while, even though I keep trying other plans.  The downside is keeping up with context at first, but over time, you learn that through repetitive reading.  It is not meant for deep study, but for reading at a decent pace.  If you try this plan, Horner recommends giving it a solid 30 days every day.  At that point, you will usually know whether or not it will work for you; but you need to at least give it that long.  Pastor Brett Maragni did an interview with Grant Horner that touches on the plan here.  It is well worth the time to read if you are thinking about this plan.

Another plan is one by John MacArthur.  (You can read about it here.)  He advocates reading straight through the Old Testament at a few chapters or 15 minutes a day.  He then advocates reading a small New Testament book (such as Colossians or 1 John) once a day for 30 days.  For longer New Testament books (such as John’s gospel), he recommends breaking it down into smaller parts (maybe chapters 1-7, 8-14, and 15-21), and following the same process.  At the end of about 3 years (I have never broken it down smaller), you will have read through the entire New Testament 30 times and will remember it.  The hardest part is pushing through rereading a book that many times straight, which MacArthur himself acknowledges is an issue to consider.  When I tried it, I adjusted the plan to read 4 Old Testament chapters, 1 Psalm, one Proverb, and then reading the New Testament as MacArthur encourages each day.  That would get me through the Old Testament twice a year as well.  I read a little faster than some, and it takes me about 45 minutes.  I also keep in mind what Dan Edelen recommends at his blog, Cerulean Sanctum, about the intention of reading Scripture, which is to apply it and live it and let it change us (see here.)  I cannot imagine not reading any Scripture for a month, but if my focus was as intently on applying it as he recommends during that month, it could be an interesting challenge.  Either way, as I read and reread a book or portion when I tried the modified MacArthur plan, I did keep a focus on applying what I was learning to my life each day.

One final plan is meant for getting an overview of the whole Bible relatively quickly.  It is to read the entire Bible in 90 days.  There are a few ways to do this.  One is to read using this schedule.  A second is to read 13.2 chapters a day (I rounded to 14, which would finish a little sooner); the downside to this is that some chapters (like Psalm 119) are really long, so you may read considerably more one day than the next in terms of length.  A third option is to look in your Bible, take the number of pages and divide it out into 90 days.  This will get you cover to cover in such a way that you may see larger themes that you normally miss.  You could also subtract the Psalms and Proverbs out and read one of each per day.  Just figure out how many pages are left in the Bible and divide that by 90.  You won’t quite finish the Psalms in that time (it would take 150 days), but they are more suited to individual reading.  A great Bible to use for this plan (or for MacArthur’s) would be the ESV Reader’s Bible.

Jason Kanz offers some good overviews of Grant Horner’s Plan and John MacArthur’s Plan on his blog also, with a bullet list of strengths and weaknesses on each page.

Whatever plan you ultimately choose, the point is to know God better and be transformed into Christ’s image through His word.  We must obey what we read and live it out, or the exercise of reading is not beneficial to us.

If there is another plan you use that works for you, let me know in the comments below!

God bless!

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6 thoughts on “How do you read the Bible?

  1. All very good suggestions,Martin. I have used some or part of some of most over the years. The one that seemed to bless me most was one that suggested reading (can’t remember how many) chapters in OT, 5 Psalms, 1 Proverb and chapter(s) in NT. I think you covered all the Psalms and Proverbs every month.
    Now have found reading aloud the Psalms is very beneficial. And instead of a set plan I read in OT or NT slowly and absorb what I’m reading asking the Holy Spirit to enlightened my understanding.
    Like you said, the important thing is to immerse yourself in the Word. Found as I do this I sometimes want to dig deeper into meaning of certain scripture which leads to research on LOGOS software.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I see the Grant Horner’s Plan not very useful because it is not defer from the typical one year plans.
    By one chapter per day you are still missing to see the book as a whole.
    I wanted to know how this plan helped you.
    God bless.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I wouldn’t say it isn’t useful, just depending on what you are looking for.

      It differs from one-year plans not in how much of each book you read at a time, but in how much you read in total (10 chapters). Most one-year plans only read a few chapters, at most.

      Another way it differs is that it leads to repetition. If you stick with the plan for a year, you will have read the following approximately: the Pentateuch 4 times, the historical books 1.5 times, the wisdom books (Job, Song of Solomon, and Ecclesiastes) 6 times, the Psalms 2.3 times, the Proverbs about 12 times, the prophets about 1.5 times, the gospels about 4 times, Acts about 12 times, and the New Testament epistles and Revelation about 4-5 times. Most one-year plans will only get through the whole Bible roughly one time.

      A third way it differs from one-year plans is that the chapters you read together are always different. Since the lists start and end at different times, you will never really read the same 10 chapters on the same day more than once. This allows a lot of potential cross-referencing of Scripture. For example, you might read a Psalm one day and that same day read Paul or a gospel quote it. That can make a connection in your mind between those sections.

      One final way that it is different from a one-year plan is that most one-year plans are tied to a date on the calendar. So if something happens and you get busy and cannot read for a few days, there is the pressure to catch up so you can finish the plan in the planned year. With the Horner plan, if you miss a day, there is no pressure to catch up; you simply pick up wherever you left off. That is actually a very nice aspect of the plan, as many people fall behind in a plan and just give up and quit reading altogether.

      If you are on Facebook, and you are interested, there is a group that I believe is called the “3650 Challenge.” It is a group of people who have taken to using the Horner plan as their plan. They often post questions and encouragement about the Bible as a whole and the plan in particular. There are also files and posts where people have altered the plan to better suit their purposes (combining lists, etc.), and I believe some audio of interviews with Grant Horner, the man who created the plan, and his experiences with it. I think you have to be approved for the group, but it is a wonderful group (I am part of it). If you have Facebook, check it out!

      As you pointed out, the weakness is that until you have repeated a book enough, it is easy to lose context since you are only reading one chapter from that book at a time. But most people have found that the amount of times they read those books in a few years makes up for that.

      I also had the idea one time of making the Horner my main plan, but on the first of each month, putting the plan on hold while I took a book of the Bible and read it straight through to get the context of that book before picking the Horner plan back up the rest of the month. That may be one solution.

      If you haven’t tried Horner’s plan, you could give it a month and see what you think about it.

      Whatever plan I use, I notice that it falls into a category that requires repetition (whether a plan like Horner’s, rapid Bible read through, or Gray’s/MacArthur’s). I like seeing Scripture over and over.

      I hope this helps!

      Blessings!

      Liked by 1 person

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