Jesus is king, Lord of lords. We should attend church and preach the Gospel; we all know that we should always be telling all our friends about Jesus and inviting everyone to church and religious social events. The Bible says so, right? Maybe, or maybe not. According to Barna Research Group and American Bible, 81% of Christians do not regularly read the Bible. How can this 81% of professing Christians really know about the faith they promote?
Hypocrisy in the church is a leading cause of skepticism for non-believers and when Christians do not know the Word or let the Bible influence their life, they are not setting the example of how to truly live faith in Christ. Polls show that average American Christians do not appear to be any different than non-Christians in manners of life, family, marriage, or entertainment. It is clear that Christian teaching is not impacting the life of many Christians. This is a trend that needs to change, but it must start somewhere, it must start with each and every one of us. If we ask kids in Sunday school or other Christian activities to memorize Bible verses, are we memorizing verses ourselves? We also need to know our motives. If our motives are to bring us pride or to look good, we might want to start by memorizing James 4:1-10 The first step to guiding the next generation of Christians is to understand the Bible ourselves.
Some people say it is better to know one verse well then read a large chunk and not know anything. Though I firmly believe in the life-changing approach of knowing a verse well, the study of the Bible is not an either-or scenario but rather a both-and scenario. We need to do both. We need to spend time pouring over a small section of scripture in order to know it well, understand it, and apply the words to our life. In addition to spending some study time in a small section of Scripture we also need to spend time going through the Bible as a whole.
Why to Read the Whole Bible
The Bible contains the inspired Word of God and is meant to be understood as a unified whole. Though some sections contain boring and difficult to read genealogy lists and census counts, we need to be able to see Jesus and the sovereignty of God in the midst of those sections. Remembering that the Bible is ultimately about Jesus, and secondarily about how we become more like Him, we will be able to grasp overarching trends with better clarity. The more we read the Bible cover to cover, the easier the reading becomes and the more sense it makes. The more sense it makes to us, the more it informs our life.
An annual read through the Bible will also help us to familiarize ourselves with the general themes and trends in the book and to see where and how the Scripture is assembled. I can learn about a particular city by reading a map or checking out a page on Google, but I gain far more knowledge by visiting the city. In living there, I understand the ins and outs, the good and bad parts of town. This is very much like the time we spend reading the Bible. A Google search can teach me where to see the books of history in the Bible, but by reading the whole history, the songs, the prophecies, I can gain better intimate knowledge about these parts of Scripture. By reading daily, bit by bit, I start to live in the Word and I, too, will know my way around it.
Our culture has too much focus on the study and application of single verses, but the whole context of the Bible can be captured by reading the it through completely. Spend some devoted time working on and even memorizing small sections of Scripture, but do not neglect the full read through of the Bible either. Both of these approaches are essential in knowing the Word.
How to Read the Whole Bible
The Bible is a daunting book containing hundreds of pages and many chapters and verses. In addition to the size, difficult to pronounce names and words add an extra layer of complexity to a full read through. The Bible contains 66 books, 1189 chapters, and 31,102 verses. The King James Version Bible contains 788,280 words. That is a lot of words, indeed a large task, but consider the number of words in books that many people have read. The Harry Potter series contains 915,471 words in all of the books. The Lord of the Rings trilogy (plus The Hobbit) contains 828,045 and several famous novels contains upwards of 150,000. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time! Let’s talk about how to tackle this.
I like starting in Genesis and reading straight through. Another approach is jumping between Old and New Testament readings or through types of books in the Bible. In either case you can create or download a log sheet to keep track. I like the straight read through because my bookmarker allows me to keep my location, though a log sheet can help me keep on track or to get back on track if I need to.
On my first read through the Bible, I saw the thickness of the book and decided that even for a geeky academic like myself, it would be a challenge. To help me gain perspective on my progress, I placed a small paper strip as a marker between each book. My mind saw progress to the next chapter rather than progress to the end of Revelation increasing my motivation for the project. I kept my perspective using this approach and completed my task early. Reading plans for this approach will help you to make sure you are on track week to week.
If jumping around will help you keep motivation to read, you can find various reading plans like this one that breaks down your week into a reading in the Epistles, The Law, History, Psalms, Poetry, Prophecy, and the Gospels. Popular Bible apps for mobile devices have several annual reading plans. I personally like to build my reading plans on excel and print they out to track progress whether it is straight through or skipping around.
Whichever method you choose to follow for reading the whole Bible in one year, you will likely fall off course at some point. Do not worry about that and certainly do not give up. In reality, only 20 minutes or so is needed each day for your read through, so if you fall off course, just get back on and plan to spend a little more time to get caught back up. The most important part is to just read it. This is a goal to read. It is not a goal to become a master Bible scholar. It is not meant to memorize anything, nor to be able to recite whatever you read to a smart-aleck who thinks your goal is silly or that it does not provide you any benefit. It is merely to read, and if this is your first time through, you will forget a lot, and you will not comprehend a lot. That is fine. After 5-7 times of reading through the whole Bible, things will start to fall in place and you will find yourself understanding the Word better than ever, but it is a crock-pot solution, not a microwave solution.