I vividly recall two pivotal conversations that I had with pastors shortly after I surrendered to the gospel ministry in the late 1990s. The conversations were pivotal because in them I was exposed to two vastly different 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 had read the Bible in its entirety from Genesis to Revelation. His reply: “Never, but I hope to someday.” I was stunned. I thought, but did not express verbally, “Then how do you know what you believe about the Bible and other important doctrines?” Being a very green rookie minister, I thought that perhaps my question was invalid. I thought that until I had the second conversation a few weeks later.
In the second conversation with another longtime pastor, a godly man who retired a few years ago as pastor of my home church in Georgia, I posed the same question and got an answer that remains instructive to me many years later: “I try to read through the Bible every year. After all, I have given my life to teaching and preaching God’s Word and so I had better know it.” That day, I became convinced that I should read through the Bible regularly and, since it was the end of the year, I began my first read through the Bible in a year venture. I was happy that I did. During my lengthy career as a seminary student, I practiced the same thing and after a few years, I had read through the Bible several times. This year begins my 15th straight year of this practice and the results have been massively helpful for both my personal walk with the Lord and the teaching ministry He has given me.
I have become convinced that every pastor or teacher of the Bible (or seminary professor) ought to consider this same practice. There are many, many benefits of reading through the Bible every year and here are five:
- Reading through the Bible every year will help you learn the overarching metanarrative of Scripture. After reading through the Bible a few times, the historic/redemptive storyline will become second nature to you. For example, in the OT, it will help you greatly to know that the Kingdom of Israel was divided around 930 B.C., after which time the Northern and Southern kingdoms had different kings and began to spin off into serious idolatry. With some good study helps (such as an ESV Study Bible or Reformation Study Bible), you will soon learn where everything in the OT belongs on the timeline of ancient history. Pretty soon, you will see that the Bible is all about Christ and will become keenly aware why it is important to read Leviticus alongside the NT epistle to the Hebrews.
- Reading through the Bible every year will improve your ability to interpret and exegete Scripture. This is a natural consequence of reason number one. The better you know the Bible’s storyline, the more aware you will be of both the near and far contexts, the less prone you will be to engage in eisegesis. With the whole of redemptive history as your framework, you will find it no longer compelling to preach “slaying the giants in your life” from David’s encounter with Goliath.
- Reading through the Bible annually will keep you habitually in the Bible. You cannot read through the Bible quickly. It will force you to spend many hours in God’s Word and that is always a fruitful endeavor. If you commit to read through the Bible every year, there will be precious few days, if any, when you find yourself out of Scripture.
- Reading through the Bible every year will ensure that you are engaging God’s Word at least as frequently as you are engaging other solid Christian books. I love the Puritans and the Reformers. I have to resist buying every piece of excellent Christian literature published today by leading Reformed and evangelical publishers, but I should not be reading three non-inspired books, no matter how solid and instructive they are, for every book of the Bible I read.
- Reading through the Bible annually will force you to navigate those less traveled roads of Scripture. Reading through the Bible annually will force you to read books and passages that might not normally attract your gaze: Leviticus, Numbers, the Song of Solomon, Amos, Philemon, and yes, for those of us who suffer from acute allergies to all things end times and exhibit tendencies toward Pan-Millenniallism, chapters 6–22 of Revelation.
Walking through the Bible in a year should not replace daily meditation upon and memorization of shorter passages of Scripture. Ultimately, you are reading God’s Word in order to be transformed in heart and mind and it should never be a merely academic exercise. But, shouldn’t reading God’s Word, even in an academic setting, edify us? For the follower of Christ, should there ever be a cold, detached, clinical reading of God’s Word?