It’s January 2nd, and I really don’t want to go to the gym this morning, because there will be lines of well-intended people who I’ve never seen before. New Year’s resolutions do that. I figure I’ve got until Valentine’s Day before I can use the place undisturbed again.
Many people set out every January with the resolution that they are going to read the whole Bible this year, which is a great goal. I have a few thoughts that may get you past February.
- Don’t read it left to right. That’s not how it was written – the books don’t appear in chronological order – and that’s not the best way to understand it. We’re used to reading books from left to right, because that’s the way English texts are written. Hebrew goes right to left. Chinese sometimes reads top down. But the Bible is a book that reads from the middle outwards. The best place to start reading the Bible is with the story of Jesus’ life, the gospel, in Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. Everything before that is pointing towards Jesus’ life; everything afterwards is reflecting back on Jesus’ life. Read the gospel first.
- Save the file cabinet material for the end. I meet so many well intentioned people who tell me, “I’m going to read the whole Bible this year!” And I say, “Good job!”, because I’m a pastor, and I guess I’m supposed to encourage this sort of thing. They read Genesis, and then they come back to me saying, “It’s great! There’s so much adventure! I love it!” I say hesitantly, “Uh-huh. They come back a couple of weeks later and they say, “I’ve read Exodus! It’s amazing! I love this book.” I say, “Yup.” And then I never hear from them again. Because then they come to Leviticus, and they aren’t all that enthralled with the specificities of how to sacrifice your goat. They come to something which, even for the original authors, was file cabinet material, and they get bored. You know, it’s a really important document, so you need to keep it, so you put it in your file cabinet. It’s not pleasure reading. And all those resolutions die in Leviticus like so many sacrificial lambs. We’re going to read that stuff too – just not yet.
- Ask someone who has read the Bible what you should read next. After reading a gospel, ask someone who knows it, and even better, who also knows you, what you should read next. Generally I recommend a shorter book that gives you a taste of a bigger genre of literature. Read the book of James next. It’s quick, easy, and practical. It contains a lot of moral advice that’s sometime pithy and the kind of thing a lot of people go to the Bible for. Then read Ephesians. It will give you a little taste of Paul’s 13 letters in the New Testament, a sense for his theology, and a sense for those letters trying to teach the church to get along. Read Micah so you know who the prophets are.
- Read each book by itself. Some guides to reading the Bible recommend a section of this book and a section of that book at the same time. That can be an ok way to go at it. To have a true grasp of the context, you want to read any one of the 66 books by itself. In other words, when you sit down to read Romans, read the whole book from beginning to end, even if it takes a few days. Don’t read a little of Romans and then come back to it six months later.
- Use study aids. There are commentaries that are a great help to understanding parts of the Bible. You can read a single-volume commentary, which has notes on every single book of the Bible. I like the ones with pictures. When you get further along, you might want to read an entire commentary on one book of the Bible, like Romans. N.T. Wright has a readable series of commentaries called “The Bible for Everyone.” And of course, you can always listen to sermon series by preachers who like to go through books of the Bible. Some people find that it helps to take notes, keep a journal, or illustrate the pages of their Bibles as they go.
Hope this helps! May God bless the reading of His Word!