It started with my search for a devotional to add to the Bible app I keep on my phone.
Something Scripture-heavy, with maybe a one-or-two paragraph lead-in, since I like having a way to contextualize the Scripture I want to focus on for the day. Wide-ranging, that covered a variety of books. Maybe something topic-specific. And as I searched, I noticed something: there are a slew of devotionals dedicated to reading the entire Bible in a year.
It occurred to me that I have never read the entire Bible in a calendar year. I have read the entire Bible. But never specifically in one year. And never as part of a concerted goal to do so. For my part, I believe that every Christian ought to read the entire Bible at least once, for a myriad of reasons: we ought to know our holy book cover to cover, for one thing, and reading the entirety of the Bible helps you contextualize the smaller bits and pieces of Scripture within a greater whole. But whether you read the entire Bible in a year, or half a year, or eighteen months or two years is all the same to me. Friend, if God compels you to live in Romans or the Gospels or, heaven forbid, the prophetic books for a three- or four-month span at the expense of reading the entire Bible over the course of a year, then I am certainly not going to disparage it. Go where God leads.
What I have often wondered, though, is why the one-year span matters so much. I couldn’t really find any particular reasoning for it when I researched, other than that a year is a nice, neat figure and a good start and end date, and some reasoning that following the timeline of a year mirrors the way in which the New Testament church read Scripture. Maybe it’s an easy way to get motivated. Maybe people simply like the idea of a project. And sometimes, I suspect, people want to be able to say “I read the entire Bible this year” for the same reason they post end-of-the-year tallies of books read or marathons accomplished: they want to note an accomplishment. It’s Christian humble-bragging, if you will.
So what’s a believer to do?
If you’re the sort of Christian – and be honest about this – who is never, ever going to read the entire Bible unless you have a devotional framework to make you do it, then give it a go – try reading the Bible over the course of a calendar year. If you’re the sort of Christian who is desperate for consistency in your Scripture-reading life and you feel uncertain of your Biblical knowledge, try reading the Bible over the course of a calendar year. If you long for the entire head-to-tail beginning-to-end epic grandeur of God’s great Story, read the Bible from beginning to end over the course of a calendar year.
And if God just tells you to do it and you don’t know why? Read the Bible over the course of a calendar year.
Here’s why not to read the Bible over the course of a calendar year:
- because you think doing so will magically unlock the secrets of the Bible
- because you think doing so will teach you everything you need to learn from it
- because lots of other Christians do it
- because you want to tell other people you did it
- because you think it will make you a ‘good Christian’ in some vague, amorphous way
- because, like shaving and learning how to drive, it is a rite of passage
In other words, when it comes to these things I think it’s wise to check our motivation. Sometimes I worry that we as believers can get too wrapped up in benchmarks and accomplishments and arbitrary markers of achievement that we apply to our own Christian walk. If we’re not careful, those benchmarks can be a stone over which other believers stumble if they feel they’re somehow not meeting expectations when those expectations really are arbitrary: human dates imposed randomly on a goal.
The Bible is God’s living Word. We are to feed on it constantly and consistently, allowing it to change us and guide us and teach us as we spend our worldly lives here. Compared to that, the Bible-in-a-year feels a bit like a drop in the bucket: we’re on the Bible-for-a-lifetime plan. If you feel compelled to read the entirety of Scripture in a year, then I hope you do so – and I hope that what you learn in the process is a gift to you and to others that you are able to share it with. And if you feel compelled to read the Bible in another way, then I hope you do so – and I hope that what you learn in the process is a gift to you and to others that you are able to share it with.
What matters is that however we’re in it, we’re in it daily. Deeply. With great commitment and devotion. And that, over the course of our lives, we learn as much of it as we can as intimately as we can.
So, yeah, read the entire Bible. But if you don’t feel led, don’t sweat the time frame.