Choosing a daily Bible reading method

  • Matt Schneider
  • 11 March 2019

Because Scripture is the very word of God—“breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16)—as followers of Jesus Christ we ought to consider seriously the gift of daily Bible reading. Often people ask for God to speak to them, to give them signs, or to make himself known to them while ignoring regular Bible reading. This is unfortunate. If we want to hear from God, to know him more and more and to see his works in the world, we can do no better than regularly listening to him in Scripture for our entire lives.

Here are four approaches people generally take when reading the Bible for themselves on a daily basis. Any of them will work, but as we go down the list the approaches tend to become more effective over the long haul for the lifelong reader.

Follow your interests

Description: Just read the Bible, following your interests. Read as much or as little as you can in any one sitting—anything from one verse for meditation to multiple books for hours.

Benefits: You’re reading the Bible! This is much better than not reading the Bible. This approach can be a good way to begin, especially if you’ve never read the Bible before or if there are certain parts of the Bible that are unfamiliar to you and you’d like to spend some time studying these territories.

Problems: The main problem with this approach is that it tends to be less helpful as time goes on because there is no consistent system. Many people who take such an approach admit that they end up reading in fits and starts, and the habit ends up waning. The risk then is that the reader eventually stops reading the Bible for long seasons or altogether. For this reason, the approaches below tend to be more effective overall.

Cover to cover in a year

Description: Read three or four chapters of the Bible per day from Genesis to Revelation. Doing so will get you through the Bible in about one year.

Benefits: This can be a very helpful experience. Reading this way will allow you to get a sense of the overall scope of the Bible without getting bogged down in the details. For this reason, just keep reading, even if you don’t understand.

Problems: Because the Old Testament makes up about three-quarters of the Bible, you will end up spending most of the year on it and only a few months in the New Testament. Also some chapters are very long, so reading three or four chapters can take up to an hour, depending on how quickly (or slowly) you read. It can therefore be best to take this cover-to-cover approach just once or twice in your lifetime and then use one of the approaches below since they will keep you constantly in both Testaments. 

A prescribed reading plan

Description: You can easily find prescribed reading plans online or in a study Bible (typically at the back). Most of these will have you reading chapters from both Testaments, typically three to five chapters per day, depending on a variety of factors and the methods of arrangement. Most of these are ‘Bible in a year’ plans, but you can also find ones that require less daily reading and take longer to complete.

Benefits: The primary benefit of plans is that they typically keep you in both the Old and New Testaments. We read the New Testament better when we not only understand the Old but also have it constantly in mind. The opposite is true as well: Christians must read the Old Testament through the lens of the New. Another benefit of this approach is you don’t have to figure out a plan for yourself; you simply follow a plan someone else created for you.

Problems: The main problem with a prescribed plan is that most of them go by specific dates of the year. If you do not read for more than a couple of days, you will fall very far behind. You could of course simply skip these passages, but such an approach might leave some unfortunate holes. For this reason, the approach below can be better for the daily lifelong reader of the Bible.

Two OT chapters, one Psalm/Proverbs chapter, one NT chapter

Description: Each day read four chapters from three categories: two chapters of the Old Testament (excluding the Psalms and Proverbs); one chapter of the Psalms or Proverbs; and one chapter of the New Testament. For each category, read consecutively (for example, for the New Testament read from Matthew to Revelation).

Benefits: Like the approach above, a benefit of this is that you are reading both Old and New Testaments on an ongoing basis. However, the major benefit this approach has over a prescribed reading plan is that you are not locked into particular dates, so you can begin and end whenever you like. If you miss a day, you can just pick up where you left off. Also, this approach will get you through the Old Testament once a year, the Psalms and Proverbs twice a year, and the New Testament one and a half times a year. This tends to offer a very nice cross-section on an ongoing basis.

Problems: This approach is probably best for someone who has already made a habit of reading the Bible daily for a while. It takes commitment and discipline, and it often involves more daily reading than any of the others here. For an average reader, when chapters are long, taking this approach can occasionally require 45 to 60 minutes of reading. This is a significant time commitment if you are also praying each day when you read—which you should be doing.

Other Suggestions

  • Commit to reading at a particular time of the day. First thing in the morning is typically best, since if you put reading off for the rest of the day you are likely to drop it altogether. Reading at night is better than nothing, but you are liable to be drowsy and distracted.
  • Don’t despair if you miss a day, but try not to miss more than one day. Missing several days might become a new habit. Instead, you want to make Bible reading the habit.
  • Feel free to modify the approaches above, which are generally for getting through the Bible in about a year. If you are content with getting through the Bible more slowly, simply read fewer chapters. If you have a lot of time on your hands, bump up the load and read the Bible multiple times per year. People in prior generations were known to get through the Psalms alone each month, some even once per week!
  • Don’t just read the Bible, but also pray along with your reading. Pray before you begin, asking God to help you by his Spirit, to speak to you, and to change your heart and mind to be more in accord with his will and purposes for your life and the world. Pray again after you read, based on what you have read, highlighting themes from what you read to direct your prayers.
  • Don’t rely on published devotionals or other Christian works alone for your daily times of devotion. Unless you are first of all reading Scripture and praying, you should not be reading any other religious or spiritual material. Such publications ought to be a supplement to regular Bible reading and prayer. When you have this solid foundation, only then will reading other publications become helpful, and you will be better able to detect any problematic teachings.
  • The ultimate goal is not to finish reading the Bible but to be always reading the Bible. The first time you read the Bible all the way through is an accomplishment worthy of celebration. However, the next day, you ought to be reading the Bible again.
  • Consider what takes up much of your spare time. If reading the Bible on a daily basis sounds onerous, you may do well to take stock of how much time you are spending on other activities. For example, how much time do you give to social media, television and movies, video games, surfing the Internet? If you are spending several hours on these things but hardly reading the Bible, do not simply add the Bible to your life but rather replace some of the time spent on these other activities with Bible reading and prayer.
  • Read the tedious bits. If we’re honest, some parts of the Bible can be a difficult slog. This stereotypically includes the genealogies, but there are other long swaths of the Bible that can be tough going, especially when you are starting out. However, you should read these. They are still God’s word, and you may be surprised at what you notice over time with repeated exposure and cross-referencing other parts of the Bible. This is one more benefit to the two final reading approaches above: you will never be reading more than one or two chapters in any one sitting from a difficult section.