Over Christmas break, I read the entire Bible in 25 days. The closest I have come to doing this in the past was reading the New Testament over a similar length of time. Reading the entire Bible in 25 days may seem like an unattainable goal, but there are some who have read the Bible in one week. However, it marked a major milestone for me, and here are some things I learned from the experience.
1. It is very doable.
First, it is eminently doable. In one of my Bibles, it amounts to an average of 58 pages per day. If you think about it, that’s not an impossible task. An adult with an average level of education can read 58-60 pages in two to three hours. Many can even read faster than that. If spending about two hours daily reading Scripture seems burdensome, think of how blithely many Christians will watch a two-hour video or spend two hours of internet surfing in order to relax after a day at work. The psalmist prayed that the Lord would turn his eyes from looking at things that are worthless (Psalm 119:37). Perhaps if God answered a prayer like that for us, it would give us more time to read His words.
2. The longest books can be read in one sitting.
Second, even the longest books of the Bible are readable in one day, even in one sitting. For example, in sheer number of words, Jeremiah is the longest book of the Bible with about 33,000; Genesis is second, and Psalms, third. On previous occasions, I have read Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel each in one sitting. It took me just under two hours to read Isaiah, just over two hours to read Ezekiel, and about two and a half hours to read Jeremiah. Admittedly, you will not capture or understand every detail of the book but that is not your goal in reading the entire book in one sitting. (More about that later.) But my point is this: if even reading Jeremiah or Ezekiel in one sitting is possible, how much more so the Gospel of Matthew, or any one of the four Gospels. In fact, after reading Jeremiah in one day, reading the Gospel of Matthew in a day seemed easy by comparison. And yet, how often have we been put off by the length of the Gospel of Matthew, convincing ourselves that due to its lengthiness we could never sit down and read it at one time or in one day in its entirety?
3. Reading a book in its entirety is incredibly valuable.
Third, I was struck by the overwhelming value of reading an entire book of the Bible at one time. I can’t use enough adjectives for this experience: invaluable, fantastic, necessary, indispensable, important, life-changing, and all-encompassing. Many of our interpretational problems would be solved by reading an entire book of the Bible before weighing in on one of its verses. Persuasive, but deceived, religious figures have used verses in Isaiah to point to themselves—the “man from the east,” for example (Isa. 41:2)—when a full reading of Isaiah, or even just fully reading Isaiah 40-48, would make clear that the man in view is Cyrus the Great, the Persian world leader of the sixth century BC.
4. You make important Scriptural connections that would otherwise go unnoticed.
In addition, reading an entire book allows you to see connections you might otherwise miss. I am thankful for a Bible with chapters and verses. Imagine trying to point people to your text in Jeremiah without these.
But the truth is that sometimes these chapter divisions keep us from noticing the larger unfolding story or sequence of connected thoughts in a given book. This is partly due to the way we often base our Bible reading on chapter divisions. A daily Bible reader typically reads a certain number of chapters a day. He might, for example, read Genesis 37-40. Or he might be reading in multiple parts of the Bible every day and thus read Genesis 37, Psalm 5, Proverbs 6, and Matthew 7. There is nothing inherently wrong with such an approach. I spent much of 2019 reading 10 chapters a day, each chapter coming from a different book of the Bible, and it was a great blessing to be reading all over the Bible every day. But allow me to play devil’s advocate a little bit here. Think of a person who reads Genesis 37-40 for his daily Bible reading, shuts his Bible, and goes on his way. What he may not realize is that he was on the cusp of Joseph’s story arc transition from his downward spiral to his incredible exaltation. I think it is safe to say that the author (and Author) of Genesis did not mean for the reader to pause lengthily after reading 40:23. The suspense of the story itself ought to carry the reader into the next chapter. How much more so is this true if that same reader then continues the next day by reading Genesis 41-44! Four chapters of daily Bible reading is great—and more than many Christians accomplish—but the grand revelation of Joseph to his brothers takes place in Genesis 45:1. Everything in Genesis 44 (and the chapters preceding) has built up to this stunning moment when Joseph’s brothers find themselves unexpectedly and terrifyingly in the presence of the brother they sold into slavery. Furthermore, what you may also miss by not reading the story as a whole is the growing “Judah theme” in the Joseph story. God is working in and through Joseph in Genesis 37-50, but He is also working on Judah, making him into the leader from whom the Davidic Messiah will ultimately emerge. The Judah theme is most easily seen if you read the entire story.
These examples come from Genesis, but Revelation, the last book of the Bible, affords similar examples of missed connections that can occur when we read isolated chapters. A good example is Revelation 5. A fascinating drama in and of itself as the Lamb takes the scroll with the seven seals, it is tightly connected with the vision of God’s heavenly throne room in Revelation 4. Revelation 6 is similarly connected. Too often, we refer to Revelation 6 as the “seal judgments,” as if they are a stand-alone phenomenon. Actually, the Lamb who received the scroll with the seven seals in chapter 5 (from the hand of the One seated on the throne in chapter 4) is the One opening the seven seals one at a time. Allow me one more example. Revelation 13 begins with the emergence of the Beast and ends with the mark of the beast on the hand or forehead of his followers. But if you keep reading into Revelation 14, you find that the followers of the Lamb have a mark (the Father’s name) on their foreheads too. The juxtaposition of these two chapters (or two sets of followers) is literarily intentional and so easily missed if we do not take in the entire book of Revelation as a whole. Both sets of followers are identifiable to their respective leaders. (By the way, Revelation may have 22 chapters but it is actually less than 10,000 words in length. That’s about the length of a 20-page book, which is very readable in one sitting.)
Limits on our time demand that for most of us we read a certain number of chapters a day. We, most likely, cannot read the entire book of Genesis every time we come to it. But let’s be sensitive to the material in the book more than to the chapter divisions of the book, and attempt to pause in our reading at natural pauses in a book’s storyline. And, at least once in a while, shoot to read the book in its entirety.
5. Your day becomes filled with the reading of Scripture.
Another thing I discovered is this: I found myself reading Scripture at odd moments of the day when I would no doubt have been doing something else. I am not saying that I would have been doing things of no value, but I would not have been reading Scripture. Why? Because I would have gotten my Scripture intake that morning, spent time in prayer, and then moved on into my day. But when you have a goal of reading the entire Bible in a short amount of time, you do not always finish in the morning. So at odd moments of the day, while standing in line or waiting for others to get ready for a family errand, you find yourself reading Scripture.
I take away from this that I would read more Scripture if I had a goal of reading more Scripture. One of the best ways to be productive or to do productive things is to have the pressure of a goal. No one likes pressure but the truth is that reasonable pressure is good for us. Pressure is what motivates us to do things we know we should do but are too lazy or unmotivated to do unless under the constraints of a goal (or a boss or a deadline). Those who shoot at nothing are sure to hit it!
6. Learning to concentrate and read quickly becomes a necessity.
Reading large amounts of Scripture is also a good way to learn to read more quickly or to remind yourself that there is a place for reading more quickly. When you sit down on a given morning with only two hours to read the entire book of Ezekiel, you push yourself to read more quickly, perhaps even more quickly than you thought possible. You make yourself concentrate, which is frankly a skill increasingly rare in our distracting modern world.
Obviously, not all reading of Scripture should be fast. The Puritans distinguished between plow-work and deeper spade-work. We need both types of Bible study. I have to admit I prefer reading less Scripture in order to be able to do more spade-work. One year when I started my Bible reading at Genesis, I planned to read several chapters, and only made my way through the first three verses of Genesis 1. Forty-five minutes later, I came up satiated with all the truths I had seen in just those three verses. On the other hand, I am convinced that laziness or complacency in my Bible reading has led me to feel satisfied with reading a few chapters a day, knowing that I am on pace to read through the whole Bible within the calendar year, when the truth is I could have very easily upped the amount of what I was reading.
What I am trying to say is this: under the guise of pursuing “deeper Bible study,” I have excused away hours of time in which I could have been reading far larger quantities of Scripture. In the future, I want to make sure that I do both (plow-work and spade-work).
In truth, plow-work leads to spade-work. As I read quickly—taking in, for example, in a single day the entire Lucan corpus (his Gospel plus the book of Acts)—I came across things that I wanted to come back to for future study. On occasions like that, I would sometimes put a question mark or a brief comment in the margin to jog my memory in the future.
7. Planning to read more Bible during down times is best.
One last observation is this: reading the Bible in a short amount of time works best during a down-time in your daily schedule. It is doable, as I observed above, by reading two to three hours per day. But some days are better “reading” days than others. All of us over a 25- or 30-day period will have days when our minds are more distracted than on other days (which will slow down our reading) or days in which our time to read is shorter or punctuated by interruptions.
Planning to read a large portion of the Bible works best during vacation, or some other down-time in your daily routine, when you know you will have more time to read because your schedule is more under your control. There is an additional benefit: vacation often becomes a time when we spend less time with the Lord than normal. Too often, unintentionally, we end up vacationing away from the Lord. We can even feel that “vacation” provides an excuse to indulge our more carnal side a little. So we binge on social media, gaming, or movie-watching. Consequently, we come up dripping at the end of our vacation from the pool of the world’s delights, having temporarily satisfied some of our baser lusts but feeling (and knowing!) we are more distant from the Lord and more deadened to His voice than we ought (or meant) to be.
Having a goal of reading large portions of Scripture during vacation mitigates that tendency. It does not mean you can have no fun on vacation. My wife (who joined me in the 25-day Bible reading challenge) and I both found ourselves spiritually refreshed after vacation. We had enjoyed a change of pace from our regular work week. We had vacationed in a beautiful place in the mountains. We had enjoyed time with family. We had played games and even watched some videos. But we had not vacationed away from our Lord. We had instead enjoyed many precious moments feasting on His Word. What a welcome change it was from walking in the counsel of the ungodly, standing in the way of sinners, and sitting at the seat of the scornful—the typical fare served on social media and most of twenty-first century entertainment!
Want to do your own Bible Reading Challenge?
Below are links for both a 25 Day Bible Reading Plan and a 40 Day Bible Reading Plan.
Also, read this excellent article on binge-reading the Bible by Joel Arnold.
Tim and Laura
Timothy and Laura Berrey are missionaries with Gospel Fellowship Association. They share a passion for missions which has taken them to several countries in Africa, Asia, and Europe. They currently minister in the Philippines.
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