Reading Through the Bible in a Year

Reading Through the Bible in a Year: The quintessential evangelical New Year’s resolution.

We have mostly not read it all the way through. Statistics suggest only a quarter of professing Christians have done it, Genesis to Revelation, the first glimmer of created light to the final, resounding Amen.

It is a big book, intimidating, but this year, many of us will try. Again.

We’ll launch ourselves headfirst into the small print, the red letters. Into the genealogies and ritual sacrifices and miracles and prophecies and beauty and horror and love. We’ll follow a plan. We’ll get it done in 365 days.

And the internet is chock full of resources—sites that allow you to choose how you want to do it: from beginning to end, chronologically, historically, thematically. They’ve broken it into manageable chunks, bite-sized portions of your favorite translation. You can track your progress, received a daily email, listen to it while you run, get the App.

Here is the truth about me: I take my Bible in small doses these days.

I used to have one of those Bible covers with the handles so that you could lug it around like a suitcase—and I did—bringing it classroom to high school classroom, opening it on my desk, absorbing the language.

But over the years, it became heavy, weighed down with baggage. A boy once read me verses on modesty and suggested that my Old Navy sweater did not meet their standards. A high school friend mentioned that she’d never really liked me but had befriended me only because the Bible says to love one another.

I attended a Christian college, and my required Bible classes coincided with a growing rift I felt between myself and evangelical culture at large. I have known judgment cloaked in biblical language; I have met cruelty dressed as Scripture.

My relationship with this Book is complex—pure love tinged with grief and pain, with boredom, with cynicism sharp as glass.

I understand the desire to follow a yearly schedule, to be resolute, to have a goal. (I am, after all, the queen of New Year’s resolutions.) And yet, of the Bible, I think Why the rush?

I am suspicious of the word through in this phrase read through the Bible in a year, as if once we make it to the other side of these pages, we will have arrived somewhere. Answers. Certainty. Some kind of epiphany.

Except that faith is not a tunnel but a labyrinth, constantly winding and unwinding, circling the unknown. We read through the Bible; we end up right back where we started.

I am reading. A little here, a little there. I approach the Bible carefully, tentatively. Yesterday, a Psalm. This morning, a poet’s take on a verse in Matthew. For my journey, I need the luxury of time—freedom to linger on a beautiful line or to engage with a difficult thought.

At the end of this year, I will not have read the entire Bible. But maybe I will have encountered one new thing. Maybe I will understand something about grace.

Maybe I’ll have spent some time idling at the feet of Jesus, twirling blades of grass between my fingers while he speaks about an upside down kingdom, about the meek inheriting the earth, about something brand new that has come.

27 thoughts on “Reading Through the Bible in a Year

  1. Have we, especially those of us commissioned to “feed the flock” on the “word of God,” missed the mark? In our efforts at knowing the Bible, obeying the Bible, doing and not merely hearing the Bible, have we missed its intent? The Bible has not been given for us to know IT, but for us to find HIM. Seek, grope, find. It is not information to know, commands to obey, or principles to apply as much as it is truth to be believed about a Savior with whom to be intimate. I was trained to conquer “the word,” but I’ve come to believe that “The Word” must conquer me. And the Bible is a tool to posture me for that adventure.

    1. Agreed. I remember hearing Bible professors warn against making the Bible an idol. Knowledge is easy. Mystery is difficult.

  2. Good thoughts, Addie. I usually cringe a little when people tell me they’re reading through the Bible in a year. It sometimes feels a little ego-driven, something they’re setting out to conquer or accomplish. We can either read the Bible for information or transformation–Evangelicals never taught me how to read for the latter (for that I need some help from Catholics, but that’s another story). That’s why reading the Bible in a year rubs me wrong–true transformation is slow and a text needs time to absorb into our inner landscape. I tend to stay with a single passage of Scripture until I feel released to move on. I’d rather spend a year in one book of the Bible and have it truly inside of me, alive and breathing, than hydroplane through the whole thing.

    1. Love the metaphor of hydroplaning and your thoughts on transformation. (I want you to write a book about the nuns.)

      There just seems something a little off about reading the Bible on a schedule. There is something about it that smacks of control. I’d like to learn how to read with a quiet heart, to hear when there is something more for me to learn, to know when I need to stay in one place. Contemplation instead of conquering.

  3. Addie, we met at the D’s Christmas party, briefly (I was the fan of yours that didn’t know you personally). Just wanted to say thanks for writing this. It was nice and calming to hear for me.

  4. I’m not going to read it “through” this year.

    I’ve NEVER read it “through” in a year.

    I think my wife is trying to this year. I’m pulling for her. But it’s not me.

    1. I like how you put “through” in quotations. Twice. 🙂

      I’m sure that going through it in a year can be a good thing. I tried once many years ago and stalled out at Leviticus. (Though I read the whole thing in Bible school over two semester, so I suppose that counts. Kind of.)

      I hope it ends up being a great thing for her…but I also hope that if she feels like it’s too much she can stop without feeling guilt or failure. I’m pulling for her too. 🙂

  5. I used to just read it at random. Open up to a page and read a chapter here and there.

    Then I was challenged to read the whole book. I did some math (there really wasn’t an Internet back then), and I took off. It felt like a pretty brutal pace, but I found it fascinating to fly through this huge, time-spanning book in chapters at a time.

    In college, we had two required classes that let us read the whole thing in two semesters with historical context and explanations and other classes that taught us how to study carefully (something akin to the idea of lectio divina, though my Protestant school wouldn’t ever have called it that).

    Eventually, I found that I couldn’t really gallop through anymore. Too many passages meant something. Sometimes I just really needed to read and reread a particular book. Often I had to stop and think and ponder. I had questions, things to pray about. I needed to talk to people about some things. Sometimes I would get trapped by a single chapter for months. And I realized that was okay.

    There are several books I’ve read over a dozen times, and the way I interact with them has changed as I age. Each time through, there are new things I discover and old things I am happy to see again and things that still baffle me.

    I’ve loved all the ways I’ve wrestled with and read the Bible. Some books are tedious; some fly by. I’ve forgotten more than I remember. Some things seem to be there just to make me stop and ask why on numerous levels. For me, reading the Bible in any of the ways I’ve done it is kind of like conversing with God, and I think He’s probably okay with that. : )

    1. I love this little abridged history of your life with God via Bible reading. Very cool. And I agree–I don’t really think God much cares about the methods we use (though the evangelical culture at large might have us believe that he does.) I think that, like you said, it’s about conversing. About love. And that looks different during different times of your life.

  6. I remember being at a church party and as an ice breaker you had to find people to sign off on different things that were true of them, i.e. “have never been outside the U.S”. One of the squares was read through the Bible in a year. I remember feeling such shame. It’s not that I hadn’t tried but I always got stuck along the way or needed to stop the “reading” to stay awhile and of course, doing that made it hard to stay on course. I know the guilt load is as much me putting it on myself as it is the christian culture, as I struggle to know and experience the freedom God has given us NOT to perform.

    However, without a time table, I have been listening through the Bible on CD whenever I am in the car, alittle everyday depending on how much car time I have. I have been blown away, challenged, touched, confused, left wondering why and have found myself thinking on it all day. My picture of God is definitely jumping outside my box and at times, I don’t quite know what to do with it. I am so thankful for the people in my life that I can interact with about it.

    Last summer, I had a 10 hour car drive alone and listened to all four of the gospels back to back…..I don’t think I will ever look at Jesus the same as I did before that. Thanks for reminded me again, there is no right or wrong way, it’s not a box to be checked off, it is a God to discover and love. What a gift to have His Word.

    1. I love that. I definitely think that reading in different ways at different speeds can allow us to see things in different ways–particularly when we strip away guilt and expectation.

    2. Just read a chapter in the book I’m reading (Kathleen Norris’ Amazing Grace, which is fabulous) where she talks about the value of hearing the Bible read aloud and the tragedy that in the modern Protestant church, Bible reading is strangely absent.

      The chapter is full of insightful thoughts like this: “Hearing so much of it [the Bible] read aloud led me to better appreciate its wildness and diversity, and contributed to a new understanding of the variety of scriptural interpretations that has marked the Christian church from its beginning.”

      I was so moved by this chapter and these thoughts, and I immediately thought about your comment on this post–about listening through the Gospels in the car. I’ve never much thought about the value of listening–actually physically listening–to a reading of the Scripture. But I may have to give it a try. 🙂

  7. I do feel we have a responsibility to expose ourselves to the entirety of Scripture. More than that, I believe we must do the work – alone, together, or with the help of the community of faith – of understanding why the different voices and sections are there and how each is integral to the overall message. We can mock the mechanisms, but if we don’t accept the greater challenge we prove ourselves the fools.

    1. True. I guess I’m not suggesting that we cherry-pick the pretty parts and never interact with the more difficult sections of the Bible. I like what you said about doing the work “alone, together, or with the help of the community of faith.”

      While reading through the Bible in a year might be a good “alone” discipline for some of us, it doesn’t really allow a lot of space (and by space, I mean time) for us to integrate the voices of others, to study in community, to listen and discern.

      Last time I tried, I got stuck at Leviticus. I think if I’d had time to seek out some voices on the things I was reading and not understanding, it might have been a different experience for me. But I had to move on, get to the next chapters, follow the prescribed timeline.

      1. Leviticus is a slog. Numbers is . . . also a slog. And then there’s Deuteronomy . . . Those are a big hang-up when studying alone in my experience, and they can make one reading on the timeline feel like one is just putting in time to get it done. Then one feels guilty (as if we need to lay more burdens on ourselves) . . .

  8. I attended a men’s gathering last Saturday at which a former banker/farmer shared his story of leaving it all to go on a missions-business venture in central Asia among the Taliban, etc. His visits resulted in the common story of “hungry-for-the-word” believers in darkness and the need to translate the Bible into their language.
    While I agree that the written Scriptures in everyone’s language is optimal, I don’t believe it to be imperative. Let me go out on a limb here: He spoke of their passion and a high conversion rate, and then grieved over the tragedy of their not having the Bible. I, on the other hand, observe the North American Evangelical community having the veritable plethora/smorgasbord of biblical options/tool/resources and a lack of passion and a pitifully low conversion rate. Is it just me, or is there a correlation? We think we’re automatically better off when we’re “resourced” and that us sophisticated North Americans have so much to offer. Yet compared to “the 3rd world” we are the impoverished when it comes to real kingdom impact. Learned, yes. Full of life, not so much. Our spiritual heritage was, and always has been, it seems, mostly an orally transmitted message. Among the most fruitful in the world, that’s what they are doing — “I don’t know much, but what I do know is this: I once was blind and now I can see!” And we think they need us!? They are growing exponentially…true “movement” stuff. And we’re dying, but we’re incredibly resourced and proudly biblically literate.

    1. Actually, I would contest that our country is highly biblically illiterate. I work in English departments, and people have been noticing the increasing trend of biblical illiteracy in the population as a whole. It’s given rise to college classes on the Bible as literature because people (specifically non-Christian people) are realizing that folks reading great works of western literature are missing huge amounts of context and brilliant allusions and all manner of the points of the great works because they lack knowledge of the Bible that so informed the authors and/or their cultures.

      I wish it were just the non-Christians who were biblically illiterate, but, frankly, it’s the Christians, too. We have the Book (multiple copies in different translations, even); maybe we just have so much other stuff that we don’t really put in the time to read it and savor it and get to know it and become literate.

      I wrote a collection of poems based off stories in the Bible and bits of theology, and I was told by a pastor (and other believers) who looked at it that it would need the Bible passages referenced because she wasn’t actually familiar with them. In fact, everyone (including people I thought were biblically literate) said they didn’t understand where some of the poems were coming from even though I didn’t really think I picked anything that obscure to riff on. That kind of broke my heart.

      So many people put their lives on the line to get ahold of the word of God around the world every day, and we take for granted that it’s available everywhere even if we never crack it open. May God help us love and treasure His words as deeply as those who want but can’t get ahold of them.

  9. I, too, have come to a fresh and quite different approach to “the Word” (sorry for both using quotations and for referring to the Bible as “the Word”!). I spent 25 years of my life as a professional minister who personally and professionally devoured the Bible. I would guess for 10 of those years I read the Psalms, Proverbsa and entire New Testament once a month and the rest of the Old Testament each year. I learned its content (obviously!) and inevitably discovered insights for use both personally and professionally. In fact, I have discovered since leaving the profession four years ago that I read the Bible more to find my next sermon topic than to encounter God.

    I now approach it in small doses, too, and in a random kind of way. I was raised to not only respect the Bible but unfortunately, to also worship it as if it was itself part of the Godhead (quadrinity). I was a literalist and a responsible prof texter (if such a thing exists). Thankfully by God’s grace my relationship with Scripture has eviolved (yikes! Can I say that?) to a more powerful and productive place. I read the words with a freshness that allows new encounters and cleaner insights.

    I have been freed of bibliolotry.

    1. I can absolutely understand how that could happen…particularly in your line of work. So much pressure to come up with something relevant and interesting. Thanks so much for sharing a bit of your story here!

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