Finding a Book’s Overall Message – Tools & Techniques (How to Read the Bible, Ep. 1)

Kirk and Dan are gearing up to do a short series on Ecclesiastes. But before they do, they wanted to take a step back and ask, “What’s the benefit of getting a Biblical book’s big picture?” and “How do we do that?”

(This episode and the following will serve as an initial contribution to what will become an ongoing collection of episodes on How to Read the Bible.)

Access the episode here (available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, and more).

See all other episodes in this series.

Bible Reading Plan (Updated)


EDIT: Due to requests, below are versions of my semi-chronological reading plan updated for subsequent years.

The New Year approaches. And with it, a slew of recommended reading plans to the read the Bible in a year.

Why read the Bible?

Now… There’s certainly no mandate from scripture, “THOU SHALT READ THE BIBLE IN ITS ENTIRETY EVERY CONSECUTIVE YEAR.” In fact, no where in scripture will you even get the command, “You must read the Bible daily.” However, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t.

As followers of Christ, we are to be “a people of the book.” Scripture, the preserved record of God’s self-revelation, is our access to understanding God’s will and his gracious self-disclosure. If we are to follow Christ, to know and love God, we must be students of his Word.

Some of us, due to past experiences with legalistic approaches to Bible reading (e.g., daily Bible reading = spirituality and putting yourself in God’s good graces) may balk against anything that resembles such approaches. But abuse of a good discipline doesn’t invalidate the goodness of the discipline itself.

And as those who live after the invention of the printing press, with easy access to printed Bibles that we can own for ourselves, that we can afford, that are in languages we understand — we’d be amiss to neglect such regular, habitual reading of God’s Word. It’s passing up, not just a Christian duty, but a Christian privilege.

Why read the Bible in year?

Again, certainly nothing in scripture requires it. However, over the centuries, many Christians have found value in reading the Bible for both “breadth” and “depth” — that is, reading the Bible in large chunks to get the “big picture,” the main idea, the “forest”; and digging into smaller sections of scripture to digest the details, the “trees,” the nuance, the particulars, and allow more time for concentrated meditation. It’s good to have a regular habit of doing both, since both provide their own value.

Reading the Bible in a year can be a good way to read the Bible “for breadth.” It’s not the only way; but it’s a good option. Just imagine… If you read the Bible every year for 50 years, that means that by that time you will have read every portion of the Bible at least 50 times! That alone is reason to consider this method. That is time well spent, time you certainly won’t regret.

And it doesn’t even take as long as you might think (see here, here, and here).

My reading plan

I’ve made a Bible reading plan for myself to follow this coming year. You can download a PDF or Word file of it here for your own use, if you like.

This 6-day (Monday-Saturday) plan follows a semi-chronological order of the Bible, and has the following benefits and rationale.

  • I’m not a huge fan of strict chronological reading plans. In order to put things in their proper chronological order, they often have to insert certain books into the middle of other books, thereby splitting them apart. So, for example, Job often gets inserted somewhere in the middle of Genesis, many of the prophets interrupt 1-2 Kings, the four gospels get blended, and Paul’s letters intersperse your reading of Acts. Now that’s not all bad; it has its value. But here’s my thing — the Biblical books were meant to be read as wholes. The point of the Bible is not so much about tracing the details of Biblical history along their chronological occurrence. If that was what we needed, God could have just cut to the chase and given us a chronological timeline of things. But God gave us individual books, each with its own unique message that contributes to the whole. So, in short, I don’t like splitting up the individual books. However, there is nonetheless value in following the general order of things in redemptive history so as to attend to the “overarching story.” Therefore, this reading plan I’ve composed follows a semi-chronological order of the Bible, at least in the Old Testament. That is, without splitting up books, it follows the general flow of the Old Testament’s story. (However, because the only “storied” parts of New Testament are the gospels and Acts, I organized the New Testament a bit differently than I did the Old Testament.)
  • Most reading plans have you read Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John immediately one after the other. But I find it difficult to give them each my full attention when I read them one after the other, since they have many similarities. So I’ve split them apart and spread them across my New Testament reading.
  • In so doing, I’m able to keep Acts with Luke (note: Luke and Acts are both written by Luke, and were intended to be read together as a part 1 and part 2).
  • I’ve also kept all of John’s writings together. In this plan the gospel of John is followed by John’s epistles (1, 2, and 3 John) and the apocalypse (Revelation) he received, allowing one more easily to perceive the themes that carry over.
  • I chose Mark as the first gospel to be read, rather than Matthew, since Mark was likely the first gospel to be written and a probable basis for the others. Also, since Mark’s gospel is the briefest, reading his first, before the others, will allow one to better read Mark on his own terms and appreciate the Matthew and Luke’s added flavors later on.
  • I’ve organized the Old Testament prophets by their relationship to the exile — pre-exile, exile, and post-exile — and placed them in the reading plan according.
  • 1-2 Chronicles cover much of the same events as we find in 1-2 Kings. Therefore, to avoid the possible experience of feeling monotony, as well as to give the Chronicles their own distinct hearing, I’ve distanced them from Samuel-Kings. Furthermore, the original Hebrew ordering actually placed 1-2 Chronicles as the final book in its canon. In this position, the Chronicles serve as a great, cliff-hanger-type close to the Hebrew Old Testament. They serve to summarize the story up until this point, but also direct us to look for closure beyond the Old Testament. The Old Testament, in other words, as explained by the chronicler, is a yet unfinished story.
  • Finally, as many reading plans do, I’ve taken the Psalms out of the regular sequence and interspersed them to accompany one’s reading throughout the year. This is because the Psalter was not intended to be read straight through like a book, like the other books of the Bible. Rather, it’s a collection of meditative songs that in some respects, unlike other parts of the Bible, stand on their own and can be read individually.
  • This plan follows a 6-day schedule, allowing one to take Sundays off (as I’ve scheduled it) to focus on one’s time in the Word with their church family (or, I suppose, to catch up if you’ve missed a day or have gotten behind 😊).

Other reading plans

There are plenty of other Bible reading plans out there. See Ligonier’s list of Bible reading plans for 2019. In 2014, Justin Taylor put together this post with a lot of helpful information and links to Bible reading plans. Or you can search The Gospel Coalition for more up to date plans.

Abridged Bible Reading Plan

The following is an abridged Bible reading plan I developed in ministry at South City Church.

This plan is not intended to replace reading through the entire Bible; but, rather, is to serve as a more accessible starting point for those who are unacquainted with scripture. The hope is that those who use this plan would gain a basic understanding of scripture’s central message along with its key themes, structure, and movements, and, after having done so, would be better equipped to read through the scriptures in their entirety.

Download PDF of Abridged Bible Reading Plan.

Screen Shot 2018-01-07 at 3.32.58 PM.png


RECOMMENDED: On Recovering a Practice of Devoting Ourselves to the Public Reading of Scripture (Article by Scott Newling)

I just read/listened to this article by Scott Newling, “Devoted to the public reading of Scripture,” advocating a recovery of the actual practice of devoting ourselves to the public reading of scripture in our churches.

As 1 Timothy 4:13 says,

Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture….

Scott Newling says,

Let me be blunt: when we reduce the Bible reading in order to privilege something else in our meetings we are shifting the congregation’s understanding of what church is. When we choose not to read some bits because we deem them inappropriate, we forget that God wrote them—and that in his wisdom he knew what he was doing when he did. When we choose not to read parts because they seem irrelevant or unclear, we teach our congregations and ourselves that God’s word isn’t eternal or understandable. When we choose to not read the Old Testament because it is ‘unfamiliar’—how else are we going to get familiar with it? The non-Christian world certainly isn’t going to help us. If we find Scripture to be boring, it’s not God’s fault, and the solution isn’t to silence God! If we find a part boring, we must ask God to give us interest in it, because we love him and want to know what he has to say. The Bible is well aware that some bits are harder to understand than others (2 Pet 3:16-17). But where did we get the idea that the solution to this is to stop reading?

When we choose to reduce Bible readings for something else, do we then in effect say that our means, our words, are better than God’s to grow people?

I loved this article. It reflects a lot of my own convictions on the matter and thoughts I’ve been having for a little over a year now.

You can check it out over at Matthias Media’s The Briefing. Click here.