This article was originally published on the Southern Seminary blog.
I vividly recall two conversations with pastors shortly after I surrendered to pastoral ministry in the late-1990s. The conversations were pivotal because in them I was exposed to two divergent approaches to ministry, and the Lord used them to convince me that I must saturate my mind with Scripture.
In one conversation I asked a longtime pastor how many times he’d read the Bible in its entirety from Genesis to Revelation. “Never, but I hope to someday,” he replied. I was stunned. I thought, “Then how do you know what you believe?”
Soon after I encountered another longtime shepherd of God’s sheep, a man who retired a few years ago as pastor of my home church in Georgia. I posed the same question, but got a very different answer: “I try to read through the Bible every year. After all, I’ve given my life to teaching and preaching God’s Word, so I had better know it to the highest degree a man can know it.”
That day, I became convinced I should read through Scripture regularly and, since it was the end of the year, I began my first read-through-the-Bible-in-a-year venture. I’m so happy I did.
During my longer-than-intended tenure as a seminary student I followed the same practice and, after a few years, had read through the Bible several times. The results have been massively helpful for both my walk with the Lord and the teaching and preaching ministry he’s given me. John Piper’s words are apt: “When all your favorite preachers are gone, and their books are forgotten, you will have your Bible. Master it.”
Reading through it annually is one means of accomplishing that end.
I’e become convinced that every student of Scripture, particularly those of us who are or might be charged with teaching it as a vocation, ought to consider this practice. Here are five benefits I’ve discovered from reading through God’s Word each year.
1. It helps you learn the overarching story of Scripture.
After reading through the Bible a few times, the redemptive-historical storyline will become second nature. For example, when reading the Old Testament it’ll help you greatly to know that the kingdom of Israel divided around 930 B.C., after which the northern and southern kingdoms had different kings and began spinning off into serious idolatry. With some meaty study helps (such as the ESV Study Bible or Reformation Study Bible), you will soon learn where everything in the Old Testament belongs on the timeline of ancient history.
Pretty soon, you will see the Bible is all about Christ and will become keenly aware why it’s important to read Leviticus alongside Hebrews.
2. It will improve your ability to interpret and exegete Scripture.
This is a natural consequence of the first reason. The better you know the Bible’s storyline, the more aware you’ll be of the “near” and “far” contexts of each passage, and the less prone you’ll be to engage in eisegesis.
With the whole of redemptive history as your framework, you’ll see why it isn’t compelling to preach slaying the giants in your life or five smooth stones of ministry success from David’s encounter with Goliath. It will rescue you from teaching and preaching bare, soul-calcifying moralism.
3. It will keep you habitually in the Bible.
This discipline will force you to spend many hours in God’s Word, and that is always fruitful. If you commit to reading through Scripture in 2016, there will be precious few days, if any, when you won’t be ingesting Scripture. You will increasingly delight in God’s Word—all of it.
4. It will ensure you are engaging (and being engaged by) Scripture at least as frequently as you’re engaging other books.
I love the Reformers and the Puritans. I enjoy reading figures in Baptist history such as Andrew Fuller and Charles Spurgeon. I have to resist buying every piece of excellent literature published by leading evangelical publishers.
But I should not be reading three non-inspired books—no matter how instructive and edifying—for every book of the Bible I read.
5. It will force you to navigate those tricky, less traveled roads of Scripture.
Reading the entire Bible annually will force you to work through books and passages that might not normally attract your gaze: Numbers, Song of Solomon, Amos, Philemon, and yes, for those of us who suffer from acute allergies to all things end-times, chapters 6 to 22 of Revelation. The Spirit inspired every word of Scripture for our edification (Rom. 15:4). Let us read them.
Where to Begin
There are numerous excellent plans available to help you read systematically through the Bible in a year. Over the years, I have used Tabletalk magazine’s annual plan, Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s classic plan which takes the reader through the New Testament and the Psalms twice and the OT once. Don Carson’s modified version of M’Cheyne’s calendar is available at that link as well.
Another approach I have used to great benefit is the ESV Study Bible’s plan. Here is another plan that has the reader visiting a different literary genre—epistles, law, history, Psalms, poetry, prophecy, Gospels—each day of the week.
Walking through the Bible in a year should not replace daily meditation on and memorization of Scripture. And no, it won’t necessarily make you more spiritually mature—spiritual growth is not a mechanical process—but it certainly won’t hurt. After all, the Spirit of God uses the Word of God to conform us to the Son of God (John 17:17). Ultimately, you’re reading the Word to be transformed in heart and mind; don’t reduce it, then, to a cold, detached, clinical exercise.
I encourage you to go read it in 2016—all of it.