The American philosopher Mortimer Adler (d. 2001) wrote and edited scores of books, including the 60-volume Great Books of the Western World series. So no one questioned his qualifications when he wrote one of his most popular volumes, How to Read a Book—a guide to getting the most out of any book.
If it helps to have a plan for reading books written by human authors, how much more should we have a plan for reading the Book written by God?
I’ve noted a parallel between spiritual health and physical health. Physically, we know we should eat our fruits and vegetables consistently for optimum physical health. But most people eat the best foods sporadically. The result is they are healthy enough to function, but not as healthy as they could be.
Spiritually, people nourish themselves the same way. For optimum spiritual health, we should take in the truth of God’s Word consistently. Instead, many Christians read God’s Word sporadically. The result is they are spiritually healthy enough to get by, but they don’t become as spiritually mature as they could or should be.
People offer two main reasons for why they don’t read the Bible every day: “I don’t have time” and “I don’t know how.” Interestingly, solving the second objection often solves the first as well.
Instead of needing How to Read a Book, they need something called How to Read the Bible. When they get such a plan in hand, they suddenly realize they can make time in their schedule to follow their plan. It’s much easier to create space for something specific than for something nonspecific.
The goal of this article is to solve the second objection—to suggest specific ways to read the Bible with three approaches and two plans. There are, of course, many more ways to read the Bible, but I know these methods work—and they will bear fruit. If you aren’t reading God’s Word daily right now, that can change by using one of these simple plans or approaches. Depending on your daily schedule, you can pick a way to read the Bible that works best for you.
Three Approaches to Reading the Bible
These three approaches work best for people who want to set aside a specific amount of time to read every day—say, fifteen minutes or a half-hour each day. Each of these approaches allows you to study for a set amount of time and then, the next day, pick right up where you left off. The goal is spending a set amount of time reading the Bible rather than covering a specific amount of content.
1. Pick a Book
Other than reading the Bible straight through from Genesis to Revelation, choosing a book of the Bible is the easiest way to begin. But you can choose the books you read based on length or based on subject matter.
Books By Length
The greatest sense of accomplishment will come by starting with short books rather than long ones. Obadiah, Philemon, and Jude each have one chapter; Ruth, several of the Minor Prophets, and some of Paul’s epistles have fewer than five chapters, and so on. It is better to start small and be encouraged by your accomplishment than to start big (like with Deuteronomy, Isaiah, Jeremiah, or Revelation) and grow discouraged. An advantage of this approach is that it requires no other study aids. The Bible is all you need.
Books By Subject Matter
The Bible contains five broad categories of subject matter that could be chosen based on personal interest or preference:
- History: Genesis–Esther plus Acts (written in narrative, historical style)
- Wisdom/Poetry: Job–Song of Songs (full of poetic imagery)
- Prophetic/Apocalyptic: Isaiah–Malachi plus Revelation (the most challenging subject matter)
- Gospels: Matthew–John (Mark is shortest; John is thematic rather than biographical)
- Epistles: Romans–Jude (practical theology and instruction for the Christian life)
2. Pick a Topic
There is no shortage of topics one could choose to read about in the Bible. The two broadest topics are subject or person(s).
- Subjects: Read about love, war, sex, discipline, creation, wisdom, judgment, money, angels, marriage, children, anger, etc. Choose a subject that interests you, or about which you have questions, and pursue it in an open-ended fashion. Or, purpose to study a subject-a-month for a year. Reading just 15 minutes a day for 30 days equals 7.5 hours—a mini-course in a topic related to your life.
- People: Read about Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, Jesus’ disciples (by name or as a group), Paul, Peter, John, Barnabas, one of several Marys—and more. For a subject or character study, you will need some sort of topical study guide or a Bible concordance (either or both are found in many of today’s study Bibles). A topical study guide will group relevant passages together for you; a concordance will list every verse in which a certain word (“love/loves” or “Abraham”) is mentioned. Then, it is simply a matter of reading through all of the relevant verses.
3. Pick a Purpose
This approach allows you to embrace the purpose for which certain parts of the Bible were written. For instance...
- Psalms—staying focused on (worshiping) God in the midst of life’s trials.
- Proverbs—gaining wisdom needed to live a skillful, godly life.
- Song of Songs—exploring the depths of marital love and romance.
- Ecclesiastes—understanding why the world can’t satisfy man’s deepest longings.
- Daniel—examining evidence that God rules the world and the affairs of kings.
- Matthew—proving to a Jewish audience that Jesus was the Messiah.
- John—demonstrating that Jesus was the divine Son of God.
- Acts—relating a record of the supernatural explosion of the early Church.
- 1 Corinthians—answering a variety of questions about Christian living.
- Revelation—outlining God’s victorious plan for the end of the present age.
Each of the above three approaches works well when you designate a specific amount of time to study every day. Begin reading, mark your place at the end of the allotted time, and continue reading the next day.
REMEMBER: The very best approach to reading the Bible is the one that works for you. Begin your pursuit of maximum spiritual maturity by reading God’s Word every day!