Read Through the Bible in 2018

The Christmas season is finally upon us and the halls are decked, music is in the air, and plans for holiday parties and events are filling the calendars. It seems the ‘most wonderful time of the year,’ is also the busiest time of the year. The month of December flies by super-fast, and before you know it we will be waking up to a New Year with 2018 on the calendar. Before we reach the new year, there is an important activity to consider adding to your plans for 2018: Reading through the Bible.

Have you ever read through the Bible—the entire Bible? It is an imposing task, to be sure, a challenge, but not impossible. There are many plans available for tackling the challenge of reading through the Bible in a year, but the first challenge to master is the way one thinks about it. Yes, to have a plan is very helpful, but if you look at it as a chore or one more task to check off your list, you are missing the point.

The Bible is unlike any other book, as the apostle Paul makes clear when he writes, “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 Tim 3:16-17). The Bible is the self-revelation of God, written by him through human authors for building up God’s people, equipping us to do good and thereby glorify him. It is through God’s word that we learn how to achieve our purpose, as stated in the answer to the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism:

Q: What is the chief end of man?

A: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

Scripture accomplishes this end because it is not mere ink on paper, but, “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). The word of God is used by the Holy Spirit to root out our hidden sins, shining the light of holiness into the dark corners of our hearts, revealing the lies we have believed against the brilliance of the truth by which we are to live. By the work of the Spirit, through the means of the word, we are made holy, as Jesus himself prayed for us, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17).

Alright, the purpose for reading through the Bible sounds good, but it still sounds like a chore, even if it’s a holy chore, and it kinda sounds like it’s going to hurt. But wait, there’s more. The word of God is beautiful, is desirable, and it brings blessing to those who know it. It is through the word that we learn to know our God: who he is and what he has done in creation and for us in our salvation. Through the word we learn not only to know him, but to love him. In reading, meditating on, and delighting in God’s word we find blessing, wisdom, and life.

“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.” (Psalm 1:1-3)

Moreover, the word prepares us for times of difficulty, when knowing who God is and what he has done for us becomes vital.

“If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction.” (Psalm 119:92)

And so, reading through the Bible will be a blessing to any who undertake the challenge. To embark on a challenge of this importance and duration, one needs a plan. As I said above, there are many plans for reading through the Bible in a year. There are chronological plans, which take you through the Scriptures in the order that the stories and events occurred; plans to read through from start to finish, Genesis through Revelation; and Historical plans that take you through in the order the Scriptures were written.

One that I have found helpful combines readings from the Old Testament, the Psalms, and the New Testament for each day, breaking it down into five readings a week rather than every day. This gives some flexibility for those (like me!) who have trouble sticking to daily routines and may need to catch up after falling behind. You can find many of these plans and more at Bible Gateway. The last one I described can be found here and printed out on a single sheet of paper to tuck into your Bible, so you can find it easily.

There is yet another way to tackle this challenge. Because I find it difficult to keep a routine going for an entire year, the only success I have had reading through the entire Bible is to power through it like reading a novel. When I have devoured it without a plan, but have taken it in huge gulps, fitting it in to my day before, between, after, and sometimes instead of my other daily tasks, I have been able to read it entirely through in a few short months. I found the following on my friend Cal Beisner’s Facebook page, and it reminded me of this. While not exactly what I just described, Cal has inspired me to begin thinking about how I will approach my Bible reading this year.

“Have I mastered the Bible? Has the Bible mastered me?

For over 45 years I’ve studied the Bible, often in minute detail, assiduously examining the specific grammar and vocabulary of every phrase or clause of a given book (mostly the Epistles that way, though sometimes the Gospels), sometimes going into monumental study of the meaning of single words… and I have gained tremendously by doing so. Often I’ve felt about specific passages, and still do, that the result has been that I’ve mastered the text. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I think it’s a good thing.

Fairly often I’ve read straight through some of the shorter books of the Bible in single sittings. Always I’ve appreciated their unity that way and had a better sense of the author’s overall purpose and how he achieves it. On rare occasions I’ve done that even with some of the longer books–like Genesis, the Gospels, Romans, and Hebrews.

Sometimes I’ve read 5 chapters per day. That, too, has been rewarding.

Nine days ago I set out reading the Bible differently: 20 chapters per day (slightly more or less depending on how close that would put me to the end of a given book on a given day). This morning I finished Deuteronomy, so 187 chapters in 9 days.

How would I describe the result?

Instead of feeling as if I’ve mastered the text, I feel intensely that the text has mastered me. I understand far better now how some people who have started off to read the Bible for the first time and just plowed through it rapidly have felt completely overpowered by its drama and truth, convicted of their sin and awed at God’s amazing love and His faithfulness to His covenants… I find myself eager, very eager, each morning to get on with the journey.” (emphasis mine)

Cal later added another advantage to reading straight through the Bible:

“It’s easy, when reading the Bible in little bits and pieces, to focus on characters who are important to those bits and pieces but who, in reality, come and go. Few Bible characters occupy more than a few chapters, and many–even many of the kings of Israel and Judah–only a few verses. But when you read rapidly through the Bible in big chunks, it becomes easier to see that there’s one Character who’s always present.”

He’s so right. When we look at the Bible as a collection of stories it can be easy to lose the Main Character. When, however, we read it as a single unit, we see the great arc of redemption from Eden and the fall and the promise of a Deliverer; through the generations of failure and sin; smaller deliverers come on the scene entering at stage left and exiting stage right. The prophecies of The Deliverer unfold across the centuries as he works out his plan—as if from behind the scenes—until the announcement of his birth to a lowly maiden in Galilee. Cal imagined how this would look to a first-time reader of Scripture:

“It dawned on me that someone who had never heard any of the Bible story, any of the gospel, anything significant about Jesus, and started reading in Genesis and read straight through in big chunks would, when he came to Jesus in the Gospels, immediately recognize Him as God, and when he got to the crucifixion, he would immediately think, “No! This can’t be! This isn’t supposed to happen! God’s the one Character who endures through all of Bible history!” Ah, for that reader, coming then to Christ’s resurrection would be incredibly powerful.”

My friend has hit on something that I fear could be lost when we set out at the beginning of our journey to read through the Bible. We can, and should, seek to gain a greater understanding of the Scriptures. But we must not feel that the Bible is a book that we will ever, finally, conquer; we must be conquered by it.  We must follow the crimson thread of redemption from the slaying of the first animals in Genesis 3 to the slaying of the Deliverer on the hill outside Jerusalem. We must feel the tension of the Now and the Not Yet as Christ is resurrected from the grave and ascends to heaven from where he reigns in glory until his deeply anticipated return.

Cal’s conclusion is my goal, and I hope it will also be yours:

“In short chunks, I can feel like I’ve mastered the text. In big, ongoing swaths, I feel that the Word of God (not the text–that’s too impersonal a term) has mastered me.”[1]

Whichever approach you choose: measured readings throughout the year according to plan, or throwing the plan to the wind and diving in headfirst, I hope you will join me in reading through the Bible in 2018.

Soli Deo Gloria

[Originally posted at Women of Purpose]

[1] E Calvin Beisner, posted on Facebook: November 24 at 8:52am

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