Which would you rather do: spend an evening with Jesus Christ in person, or read the New Testament?
On the evening of his arrest, here's how Jesus comforted his disciples: "It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you" (John 16:7). He was talking about the Holy Spirit, who would lead them in all truth and, through them, give us our New Testament.
But what about the Old Testament? Would you rather have been a witness to the very death of Jesus, or read the Old Testament for an afternoon?
After witnessing his death, two of Jesus' disciples were sad and bewildered as they traveled from Jerusalem to Emmaus, walking and discussing all that had happened. You know the story. Jesus showed up, "and beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself" (Luke 24:27). That had to be a thrill! After Jesus vanished, the disciples even said, "Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?" (Luke 24:32).
Surely their hearts burned as they heard the voice of the risen Christ speaking with them in person. Or maybe not. At the time, they didn't even know it was Jesus talking. Their hearts did not burn within them because they were with Jesus, but because they were finally seeing Jesus on the pages of the Old Testament Scriptures. Jesus' interpretation of the Old Testament made the difference for these men between sadness at Christ's death and what can only be described as a burning in the heart with joy for what God had done in accomplishing their salvation.
Read the Bible with a Goal and a Plan
This is why reading the Bible is so important. It's not important fundamentally because there are commands to obey, though of course there are. And it's not ultimately important because there are examples to follow, though God has given us many examples of great faith. Reading the Bible is central to the Christian life because knowing Christ in Scripture is the means to magnifying Christ in life.
That's why Paul described his ministry as an apostle this way: "Him we proclaim . . . that we may present everyone mature in Christ" (Colossians 1:28). Christ is the substance and the goal of our growth as Christians. And he is the substance and goal of the whole counsel of God.
Given this, what should it feel like to hear and read the Bible? Jesus said it was like eating food, and in several places in Scripture we're given the imagery of eating as a way of getting at the effect of reading the Bible. God fed his people with manna from heaven in order that they might know that "man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God," and believing this is how Jesus persevered in temptation before the start of his public ministry (Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4).
Extending the illustration a bit, in the same way that we plan for what, when, and how we eat food in a given day, it is wise to plan for what, when, and how we will read the Bible. To serve us in this, there are many wonderful Bible reading plans available, each with unique features and strengths.
Read the Bible to See Christ in 2013
This imagery of eating is where the Bible Eater [PDF download] reading plan gets its name. We read the Bible to feast on Christ, the bread of life (John 6:35).
If you already have a Bible reading plan working for you, that is wonderful. Keep going. But if you desire to start reading the Bible through in a year, or have struggled with other plans, this one may be a fit for you.
Here's how the Bible Eater works:
- Old Testament: Read 2 to 3 chapters per day and take 4 days off per month. Read 1 to 3 designated one-sitting Old Testament books each quarter.
- New Testament: Read 1 chapter per day and take 4 days off per month. One gospel is assigned to each quarter and Romans and Hebrews are assigned twice across the year.
Follow this rhythm and you will get through the entire Bible in one year.
So far, this doesn't sound a whole lot different than most other plans. So now I'll unpack some of its unique features.
Redemptive Historical Focus
Every chapter in the Bible is important since every word in the book is from God. But some chapters are more crucial for helping us understand the overall narrative of the Bible's salvation story. For example, the story of Joseph is an important demonstration of God's faithfulness to keep his promises, but God's covenant with Abraham in Genesis 12 is the very promise that forms the backdrop for Joseph's story and the rest the Old Testament as it prepares us for Christ. Or in the New Testament, for example, Paul's instructions to the Corinthian church concerning sexual immorality are crucial for a Christian sexual ethic, but Jesus' genealogy in Matthew 1 establishes the very identity of Jesus Christ as the Savior who bought our bodies with the price of his life.
By highlighting these chapters in red, the Bible Eater draws our attention to those chapters crucial to the story of Scripture. These chapters are like the frame of a house. Every part of the house is carefully placed, but these chapters hold the story together.
The Historical Redemptive highlights indicate promises, for example, of a prophet, priest, king, new exodus, or new creation to come. Others show the need for the promised Savior. New Testament highlights show the fulfillment of these expectations in Jesus Christ.
Romans and Hebrews are assigned twice, since these two books are especially helpful for seeing how the Bible's story unfolds and how the Old and New Testaments relate.
Plans that assign texts to each day have a number of advantages, including the needed reminder and help to be in the Scriptures each day. One disadvantage, at least in my experience, is that your reading can be more oriented to where you are on the calendar and less on where you are in the Bible, especially if you get behind. Getting behind, no doubt, is the reason many readers fall off the wagon, since catching up can feel overwhelming.
The Bible Eater assigns several books of the Bible to each quarter, allowing some flexibility with the pace without the discouragement that can come when your reading is a day or a few weeks behind schedule. This allows you to recalibrate several times during the year. If you get behind, get back on the wagon and catch up on your own time by the end of the quarter.
In addition, this quarterly format allows for one Gospel to be assigned to each quarter.
OT and NT Balance and One-Sitting Reads
The Old Testament is, by far, the longer side of the Bible. In my Bible the Old Testament takes up about 800 of the 1,050 total pages. There was a lot to prepare for in the coming of Christ! Given this, however, any plan for reading the Bible through in a year must grapple with the question of balance. Reading from Genesis to Revelation means the reader spends only a small part of the year in the New Testament. For that reason, most plans work through both testaments together, some of them working through the New Testament twice in order to balance the material. Many of these plans have two tracks in the Old Testament and two tracks in the New Testament. This has its advantages. But this can also mean splintered attention.
The Bible Eater works through both testaments together, going through the New Testament once, and with only one track in each side of the Bible. Normally that would mean reading as many as four chapters in the Old Testament and one in the New Testament on a given day. This is where "one-sitting reads" come in to play. By designating several Old Testament books to be read in a single sitting, and outside the daily reading rhythm, this keeps the Old Testament readings to two to three chapters per day.
In addition to thinning out the daily reading, one-sitting reads have another important advantage: they allow certain books to be read for the big picture. Multiple Old Testament books are pushing 40 chapters, or, in the case of Isaiah, almost 70 chapters. Reading these books several chapters at a time means that we inevitably lose the forest through the trees. By contrast, when we read books like Deuteronomy, Job, or Isaiah in one sitting, we're better able to grasp the overall message of the book and, hopefully, better discern how it leads us to Christ.
Enjoy the Meal
As you make plans to read the Bible in 2013, look forward with great expectancy to what God will do. His Word is living an active. It is busy. Whether you are excited to read the Bible already, or only committed in your mind, there are three great places in the Book of Psalms that will ready your affections: Psalm 1, Psalm 19, and Psalm 119. Camp out in any one of those psalms and pray for God to bless you, to rejoice your heart in him, and to conform you to the image of Christ in 2013.
*Download the Bible Eater Reading Plan.