How To Read the Bible as Part of Your Devotional Time
Many people don’t feel very comfortable in their knowledge of the Bible. It is also a long book. How much of the Bible should a person read in their devotional time?
The answer is that a good devotional time does not worry about reading a certain quantity of the Bible. It is more concerned with quality. One chapter a day or even a half chapter, read reflectively is a good goal to strive for. The point is not primarily to glean information, though if you have never read the Bible, there will be a lot of new information for you to learn. The more we understand the stories of the Bible, the more the overall account of it will make sense. But the real goal is for the words of scripture to speak to our hearts and lives. This is the goal of reading scripture. If we read the Bible slowly and reflectively, we will discover that its words speak hope, guidance, and challenge into our hearts. We discover God speaking to us through his Word. To read the Bible slowly and reflectively is called reading the Bible devotionally.
What if a person has not ever read the Bible very much? Where should one start in reading it? Would you tell them to start at the beginning?
My suggestion is to start in the New Testament. If you are not familiar with the Bible, it has two sections or testaments. It begins with the Old Testament. This is the story of the Jews in the time before Jesus. The Old Testament begins with the story of creation in Genesis and concludes with the prophet Malachi, sometime in the fourth century B.C. The Old Testament tells the wonderful stories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It tells about Joseph and his coat of many colors. It contains the story of the Exodus from Egypt under the leadership of Moses and their entrance into the Promised Land under Joshua. After an extended period of time being led by judges, the stories of the kings begin. There is Saul, then David, then Solomon. After Solomon there is a long period of both good kings and bad kings. But finally because of the peoples’ sins, God sent the nation into exile in the kingdom of Babylonia. After about 70 years, the people came back to the land to rebuild Jerusalem and the nation. After the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem, the Old Testament ends with the promise of a coming day of the Lord’s mercy and judgment. It is this event which the New Testament will write about in the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus. There are many kinds of literature in the Old Testament: narrative, poetry, wisdom, and prophecy. The story of the beginning of the nation of Israel is a fascinating story. It is also one whose telling can be confusing and difficult, especially in certain sections of the Old Testament.
For this reason I suggest that you do not start reading the Bible in the Old Testament if you have never read it before. The easiest place to start is with the New Testament, especially if you have never read much of the Bible. The best place to start in the New Testament is with one of the gospels. I would suggest the gospel of Mark. It is fast-paced and not too long. In the space of sixteen chapters it takes you through the entire life and ministry of Jesus. From Mark you will get the essential elements of who Jesus was and what made people so intrigued by him. Start with Mark. Read a chapter a day, or even half a chapter. You will begin to get a picture of the person of Jesus. Ask God to help you understand what you read. If you do not know where Mark is in the Bible, open to the table of contents and look it up by page number. If you do not have a Bible, go to a local bookstore and buy one or purchase one online. I like the ESV version, which stands for the English Standard Version, or the NRSV, which stands for the New Revised Standard Version, or the NIV, which stands for the New International Version.
After the book of Mark, read the book of Acts. This tells the story of the early church beginning immediately after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. It goes through the first thirty years of the Christian church and will acquaint you with the person of Peter, but most of all with Paul. Paul is important because he wrote a great deal of the New Testament. You need to understand a little about Paul to understand to whom and for what reasons he wrote to various letters to the churches. After completing Acts, go back and read another gospel. Matthew might be a good one to read next. It is longer but also has more detail. It has some important things that Mark does not have like the account of Jesus’ birth and a set of Jesus’ teaching which we call the Sermon on the Mount. After Matthew, read Romans. Then I would read the other books of the New Testament in whatever order you choose. If you read one chapter a day, you will finish the New Testament in under a year. If you have never read the Bible, it will be a great accomplishment in the upcoming year. Make it a goal to read the New Testament in the coming year. You will be surprised how much your faith will grow.
Once you have finished the New Testament, you can start on the Old. I would suggest you read the narrative sections first. Read Genesis and the first half of Exodus. Then read Joshua through Esther. This will give you the details of the history of the people of Israel. Once you have finished this, read sections in the rest of the Old Testament. If you read 2 chapters a day in the Old Testament, you will complete it in about a year’s time. It will be well worth it, but do not start here. Save it until you have finished the New Testament.