Just yesterday, I finished reading the entire Bible in a year—11 days early, in fact! It has been quite an experience.
Being me, I of course went a bit overboard, putting together a spreadsheet to divide up the readings very evenly (all things considered). And I added in the apocrypha, since I’d never read most of it. Oh, and I read the New Testament in Greek.
I used the ESV Bible, Reader’s Edition for the Old Testament, the Westcott and Hort Greek New Testament* for the, uh, New Testament, and the NETS (New English Translation of the Septuagint) for the apocryphal books. These are all excellent resources that I can highly recommend. I should also mention that I used the Anki flashcard app for Mac, Android, and iOS with the Greek New Testament Vocabulary deck for several months to beef up my Koine Greek vocab and keep flipping back and forth between text and dictionary to a minimum. This is also a great tool, provided it’s used as a supplement and not a primary source of information.
Why did I do all this? Well, most people already don’t spend as much time as I do reading the Bible; I’ve read from it a lot. But although I’ve read every book multiple times, it has mostly been through jumping around, getting a small picture of a lot of details, and not often the big picture perspective that is so important. I decided near the end of 2015 to change that, and the answer seemed obvious; so I began planning for this process.
You can find dozens of Bible-in-a-year plans and schedules on the internet, but I wanted to make my own, especially since I was adding quite a bit of material to the standard, and also wanted to make sure I didn’t drown in Greek once the NT came around. So I started working on my vocabulary, and at the same time dividing up the OT and NT (and apocryphal books) into 366 (2016 being a leap year) chunks of roughly equal length. I wanted to make it pretty easy to keep the schedule, and also to generally have good starting- and stopping-points each day, so I consulted some numbers, came up with a verses-per-day metric for both Testaments, and then set to work choosing logical, sequential readings that approximated that average and evened out at the end of the year. I allotted slightly shorter daily readings at the beginning and end of the year, as well as for denser (or more linguistically challenging) books like Jeremiah, Luke, and Revelation, and made up for that time in books with shorter chapters, simpler Greek, or just easy reads like Ruth, Jonah, and 2 Thessalonians. My schedule amounted to roughly three chapters of OT and one chapter of NT per day.
So, what did I learn? Well, the answer to that should be divided into administrative lessons, and spiritual lessons. Let’s tackle the administrative stuff first. It took a while, but I eventually learned that daily readings weren’t a great idea, for me. For many people, they might very well work fine, but my family and I do enough traveling and have enough full-day commitments that eventually I started constructing schedules of my schedule (e.g. on the 20th, do the readings for the 28th and 29th…), and then binge-reading through several days of already increased readings to get well ahead and give me time to rest from daily readings while on a trip, or even just over the weekends. If I did this again anytime soon, I’d take all weekends off, and every 5th or 6th full week, too, and make up the difference with longer readings in general.
The Apocrypha was probably a bad idea, at least at this time, for me. Sure, it was sometimes interesting, and I’ll revisit some of these books in the future, but it’s so obviously flawed, and some of its books are so unbearably verbose (I’m looking at you, Sirach—you rarely know what you’re talking about and yet insist on talking!) that I wish I’d saved them for another time. This would have cut out 45 days’ OT readings, meaning I could have then cut back the average OT reading by just over 12%. Better to read the apocrypha when you’re not trying to keep a rigorous reading schedule already.
Reading the NT in Greek was great (although I realize most people can’t do this…at least, not yet!). It helped me gain a better appreciation for the authors’ differing styles, and also clarified the common translations of passages that I’d wondered about in the past, but never taken the time to evaluate. If you do know Greek, then I encourage you to do this!
On the spiritual side, there wasn’t anything earth-shattering; I’m not going to tell you that you’ll never truly understand the Bible unless you do what I did (by the way, whenever someone does try to sell you a similar, look closer. Perhaps it’s true, but more likely it’s snake oil). What I gained was a great sense of cohesion. I learned through the efforts of some good teachers to read each book of the Bible first as a work unto itself, and only after doing a thorough, close study with blinders on to take into consideration how it interacts with all the other books of the Bible. That’s a good lesson, but I may have carried it too far, and given too little consideration to common features between books. The broad survey approach made it blatantly obvious to me in many cases I’d never realized before that one author is referring to another, or that both refer to a common source, even if that source is simply what God told two writers in two sets of circumstances to write some of the same things; that in itself carries some lessons for us.
With so much of the text already in my short-term memory at any given time I opened up to read, it astonished me how often I found myself comparing one text to another substantially similar one in way’s I’d never seen before. I wish I had taken more and better notes on these as I read, but even the few I did take provided much material to study and share, some of which will not be exhausted for months to come, I’m sure.
We take for granted that God has a plan, but it’s nice to be so clearly reminded of it once in a while. In our daily lives, it often feels as if things are spiraling out of control, the future is a giant question mark, and we as individuals and as a species teeter on the brink of disaster more often that not. But going through several millennia of God’s plans shows that they always work out well in the end, in spite of man’s best attempts to mess things up. That’s a great comfort, and a great encouragement to fit ourselves into God’s plans as we understand them now.
Overall, I benefited greatly from reading the whole Bible (+ extra credit!) in a year. The Bible was more on my mind every day, which helped improve my outlook and keep me thinking about spiritual things in the first place. The volume of reading meant that more material was fresh in my mind as I continued to read, and so I made connections I’d never made before. Plus, I have the satisfaction of having done it, a better knowledge of Koine Greek vocabulary and usage, a working knowledge of several apocryphal books I didn’t possess before, and a fuller picture of God and his plan.
I’ve put together a new schedule for 2017, based on some of what I learned, and some assumptions about what will benefit others, as well. I won’t be reading the whole Bible again in 2017—I’ve got some deeper studies and tasks on my plate—but I encourage you to consider it. You don’t have to use my schedule. You don’t have to use anyone’s. You don’t even have read both Old and New Testaments this year—for that matter, you don’t have to stick to a year, or keep any schedule at all. But open up your Bible more often, and read more than you must. Have you ever heard anyone express regret over spending so much time in the Scriptures?