As we approach the New Year, many believers are considering Bible reading plans. This is good and right, since God calls His people to be men and women, boys and girls of His word. However, many believers feel the failure of their Bible reading over the past year and sometimes mistakenly think they can somehow make up for the deficiencies of the past year through quantitative Bible reading. It is important for us to remember that in studying Scripture, quality is actually more important than quantity. In light of this, it will do us good to shift gears to focus on putting into practice some principles by which we can benefit the most from our Bible reading in the New Year. Here are a few of the more important principles to keep in mind, no matter how much you seek to tackle by way of quantitative Bible reading:
1. Pray before you read the Bible. John Piper gives a good prayer memorization device for you to pray from the Psalms. Here is an amplification of his I. O. U. S. prayer:
- Incline my heart to you, not to prideful gain or any false motive. (Psalm 119:36) – Incline my heart to you, not to prideful gain or any false motive. That is, focus my affections and desires upon you, and eradicate everything in me that would oppose such a focus.
- Open my eyes to behold wonderful things in your Word. (Psalm 119:18) – Open my eyes to behold won- derful things in your Word. That is, let your light shine and show me what you have willed to communicate through the biblical authors.
- Unite my heart to fear your name. (Psalm 86:11) – Unite my heart to fear your name. That is, enthrall me with who you are.
- Satisfy me with you steadfast love. (Psalm 90:14). – Satisfy me with your steadfast love. That is, fulfill me with the fact that your covenant love has been poured out on me through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
2. Commit to a regular Bible reading plan.
This doesn’t have to be a “through the Bible in a year” approach. God doesn’t require you to read through the Bible in a year. You may benefit most by commiting to working through a particular book or books in differing degrees. I usually take one section of one chapter at a time. Sometimes I read three or four chapter in one book in a sitting. You may choose to read through the whole chapter (or more than one chapter in a sitting), but the goal is to get the most out of reading and meditating on each section.
3. Learn genres and covenantal contexts.
Familiarize yourself with the Old as well as the New Testament. Read the Law, the Prophets, The Wisdom Literature (Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon), the Historical Books, The Gospels, the Epistles and the Apocalypse. Focus on what covenant administration the particular section of what you are reading falls. For instance, most of the wisdom literature occurs in the context of the Davidic Covenant. This means that we should read wisdom literature in light of God’s promise to give David a seed to sit on the throne and rule forever. This king is Jesus. Therefore, the wisdom literature should be read in light of the promise of the Redeemer. The more working knowledge we have of what is taught in different genres and covenantal contexts of Scripture, the better equipped we will be to glean a maximum amount out of our continual study of Scripture. Two helpful books in this regard are Fee and Stuart’s How to Read the Bible Book by Book and How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth.
4. Remember the most important principles of Biblical Interpretation.
- “The Scriptures are their own interpreter.” The Reformers emphasized that the key to understanding the Bible is to let the Scriptures interpret the Scriptures. The Holy Spirit, who inspired the Scriptures, teaches us the right inter- pretation of the Scriptures as we prayerfully depend on Him and compare Scripture with Scripture. This is taught in 1 Corinthians 2:6-16 (see esp. v. 13).
- “Clearer passages help us rightly interpret the less clear passages of Scripture.” We want to know the New Testament as carefully as we can, so that we can then go back to the Old Testament and interpret it in the fullest light of God’s revelation in Christ. Augustine once said, “The Old Testament is the New Testament concealed and the New Testament in the Old Testament revealed.” Additionally, the more explicit statements in Pauline epistles help us interpret the more difficult statements in his letters.
5. Learn the flow of each book in the Bible.There are so many good helps for this.
Here are a few resources I frequently recommend:
A. The Old and New Testament.
- Reformation Study Bible (Introductions to each book)
There is perhaps no more important resource to which I could direct you than Reformation Trust’s (a publishing arm of Ligonier Ministries) Reformation Study Bible. The introductions to each book of the Bible give historical context, major themes, and help the reading know where Christ is taught in the book. It is an invaluable resources for quality study of Scripture.
- William Hendriksen’s Survey of the Bible
Hendriksen will give you the best short and long outlines of the books of the Bible, as well as an overview of the main point or theme of the book.
B. The Old Testament Prophets.
- O. Palmer Robertson’s The Christ of the Prophets
With Robertson’s book, you will need to learn to use it like a commentary. Find the particular Prophetical book that you are studying in his Table of Contents and then read that chapter before you read one of the Major or Minor Prophets.
C. The New Testament I recommend:
- J. Greshem Machen’s New Testament Introduction
As with Robertson’s book, learn to use this as a reference to the different books of the New Testament. You don’t have to read through the whole book. For instance, read the sections pertinent to whatever Gospel or Epistle you are studying.
6. Memorize as much Scripture as possible.
This will help you call to mind pertinent passages when you are reading through a text or a book. Write out verses or index cards and carry them with you through the day. This is one of the best helps to your getting to know the Scriptures well.
7. Study the Scriptures in their context.
As in reality, the key is “Location, Location, Location,” so in biblical interpretation the key is “Context, Context, Context.” For instance, if you were reading Matthew 4 – where Jesus is being tempted by the Devil in the wilderness, you would discover that the Devil prefaced each temptation with the words, “If you are the Son of God…” This is important because just before that event, in Matthew 3, when Jesus is being baptized in the wilderness, His Father spoke to Him from heaven and said, “You are my beloved Son…” When the Devil tempted Jesus, he was doing so trying to get Him to doubt the Father’s acceptance and affirmation of Jesus’ sonship. This principle of looking at what went before and at what comes after is key to everything in Scripture. That being said, there are some books, like the Proverbs, where certain things are not necessarily connected to what went before or with what comes after. This takes a great deal of meditation as you read a text.
8. Consider the grammar in each passage.
Pronouns (i.e. singular and plural ‘you;’ ‘we,’ ‘he,’ ‘she,’ ‘it,’ ‘they,’) are some of the most important words in the Bible. Paying attention to the pronouns will help you learn so much of the meanign of a passage. Recognize, however, that in the Hebrew and Greek texts, the ‘you’ may be singular or plural. For instance, in Luke 22:31, the first you is plural (i.e., “Satan has asked for you all – the disicples), the second is singular (i.e., I have prayed for you – Peter).
Consider the nouns and the verbs in the text. Knowing who is doing something or what is being done is paramount to a right understanding of Scripture.
9. Ask what this passage says about God and Christ; and, then how it applies to you.
The Bible is first and foremost God-centered. We, therefore, want to learn to read it in a God-centered way. We should focus on the revelation of the Triune God, and the work that He does among His people and in the world in the Old and New Testament.
Chief among God’s works is His work of redemption in Christ. In Luke 24 and John 5, Jesus said that all the Scriptures were about Him. 1 Peter 1:10-12 says the same thing as well. The better we learn the truth about Jesus (who He is, what He did at the cross and in His resurrection, and what benefits come to us through His saving work) the better we will be able to discover Him in Scripture. We need to take the work of Jesus and place it as a film over whatever text we are reading.
Finally, we need to seek to know how any given passage is to be applied to our lives. We should ask the following questions: “Does the passage call us to faith and repentance? Does it call us to carry out a specific act of faith in response to the Gospel? Does the passage tell us how we should live in light of the mercy that we have received from Christ?”
10. Work through a Bible reading guide.
One of the best, short Bible reading guides that I know of is the Family Worship Bible Guide. In just two or three paragraphs for each chapter of the Bible, Joel Beeke and other trustworthy theologians have given us a great help us understand some of the more important points of a passage.
Whatever approach you take to regularly studying God’s word in the New Year, commit to an intentional plan to glean the most out of whatever you study. Quality is more important than quantity. Seek to put into practice some of the basic principles outline above. Make use of the resources that willl help you better understand what you are reading. And may God send His Spirit to grant the blessing of inward spiritual illumination as we commit to reading, marking, learning, meditating on, believing, and putting His word to practice in the New Year.