My high school youth group was encouraged not only to have a “quiet time” each day, but also to “read the Bible through.”
I remember how intimidating this challenge was for a group of teenagers. Back then, for me to read one chapter of Leviticus or Deuteronomy was like taking a sedative. Nonetheless, I accepted the challenge.
Now, all these years later, I have made it a regular practice to read, or listen, through a variety of translations of the Bible.
One of the blessings of growing up Baptist is that I was taught to love and appreciate the Bible as a uniquely inspired volume, “a treasure of divine instruction.” (Baptist Faith and Message 1963, Article I).
There are multiple ways to approach the Bible, and not all of them are good.
It is possible to weaponize the Bible, using it to attack others by stringing together “cut and paste” verses to bombard those who do not live according to its teachings.
Some politicize the Bible, using it to endorse their candidate, to affirm their party platform or to legitimize their agenda.
And some are content to romanticize the Scriptures, reducing it to slogans and platitudes and speaking of it affectionately without allowing this two-edged scalpel to biopsy their own souls.
Healthy churches encourage their members to read and study the Bible regularly, immersing their lives in its teachings, allowing it to inform and transform their worldview.
Healthy churches hold a high view of Scripture, proposing that the Bible defies antiquity and speaks with fresh relevance into the issues of our day.
Healthy churches teach and preach a curriculum anchored in the whole body of Scripture, not a redacted canon of favorite verses.
One good way for a church to help its members deepen their faith and develop a theological foundation is to promote the discipline of reading through the entire Bible.
There are many benefits of reading the Bible through. Here are 12 that have enriched my life and faith:
- Helps us understand the Bible in context. We are better equipped to interpret whole passages, rather than merely citing our favorite verses in a way that disconnects them from their original stories.
- Heightens our awareness of the major themes of the Bible. Salvation, grace, redemption, suffering, perseverance and hope are just a few examples of the refrains we encounter from Genesis to the Revelation.
- Highlights the diversity within God’s family. The various characters in the drama of Scripture illustrate that an assorted human cast comprises a vast spiritual family.
- Introduces us to various genres of literature. In the Bible, we encounter prose and poetry, history and prophecy, parable and proverb, commandment and beatitude. And each typology serves as a vehicle of communication offering specific clues on the interpretation and application of a given text.
- Equips us with interpretation skills. As we grow more familiar with the text, we are better able to discern between the descriptive passages and prescriptive teachings. By becoming better acquainted with the ancient community of faith, we may readily extrapolate the implications and applications for our own emerging culture.
- Invites us to wrestle with difficult texts. Serious students of the Bible must contend with seeming incongruities and perplexing paradoxes. It is either naïve or dishonest to pretend such challenging passages do not exist. Scripture is durable. Don’t be afraid to grapple with the tough texts.
- Deepens our appreciation for those human instruments who gave us the Bible. In reading the whole canon, we grow in gratitude for the writers, editors, scribes and scholars who penned, edited and preserved the biblical texts across the ages.
- Expands our worship repertoire. As we encounter the rich variety of liturgies, prayers and instrumentation included in Scripture, we more naturally value psalms, hymns and spiritual songs as our native tongue for worship.
- Builds a reservoir of wisdom and knowledge. As we “hide the word in our heart,” we are collecting a repertoire of spiritual wisdom to help us navigate all the seasons of life.
- Opens our minds to new ideas. We are inspired toward relevant and contextual applications of Scripture for our day. And we are much more likely to welcome the Spirit to work in new ways among us and much less likely to approach church life with a “back to Egypt” mentality.
- Deconstructs our preferences and prejudices. We are called to move beyond our own assumptions and presuppositions and to realign our lives with newly discovered truth and insight.
- Encourages us to be lifetime students of the Bible. Reading the Bible through enhances my appetite for a deeper investigation, compelling me to continually probe its content and reflect on it claims.
There are many read-the-Bible-through plans available online. Even if you are not a faithful reader, you can become an avid listener. Most Bible apps have audible options, which allow us to listen to the Bible through.
If you want to be a more devoted follower of Jesus and a more knowledgeable student of the Bible, embark on the journey of reading through the Bible in its entirety. And don’t skip the difficult sections. You may unearth a cache of spiritual treasure there.
Barry Howard serves as pastor at the Wieuca Road Baptist Church in Atlanta, and as a leadership coach / consultant with the Center for Healthy Churches. He served previously as an EthicsDaily.com board member.