Reading the Bible in 2016: Knowing What to Read

In my last post, I said that if you want to make your 2016 Bible reading worthwhile, then you need know how to read. You need to read successively, thoughtfully, and prayerfully. Today, I want us to consider what to read. I’ll suggest a plan for beginners and then several plans for non-beginners.

A Beginner Reading Plan. If you are unfamiliar with reading the Bible, or haven’t had a steady plan for a long time, let me suggest starting with the Gospel of Mark. Simply watch Jesus. Note what he does. What he says and how he says it. It is 16 chapters, so you could reasonably expect to get it done in two weeks. Though you could slow way down and stretch it to a month. Mark is quick, punchy, and action-oriented. It is for the non-readers among us!

After Mark, go to the Old Testament and read the first book of the Bible: Genesis. Genesis means “beginnings.” In Mark, you read “the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ” (Mark 1:1). In Genesis you’ll read the beginning of history. Genesis is 50 chapters and often reads like an adventure story, but it a narrative with a lot of details. It might take you 2-4 months to work through.

Now, let’s go to a third beginning: the beginning of the church in Acts. Acts is the history of how the church started and grew after Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to heaven. It has 28 chapters and because of its fast-paced you might be able to read a couple chapters a day and get through this book in four weeks or less. It is theological history, but there is not heavy theological doctrines expounded. Again, this reads like an adventure story—because it is!

After you’ve read through Mark, Genesis, and Acts, let me suggest you go to Ephesians (only 6 chapters) to acquaint you with the reality of what this gospel of Jesus has accomplished for and in us and what God calls his church to be.

Next, let me point you to Exodus. Exodus is 40 chapters and is dense—it has a lot of laws. But it also has a lot of drama, dialog, and real-world problems because of sin. If you come to understand the basic themes and ways God works in Genesis and Exodus, much of the rest of the Bible will become more and more clear as time goes on. Exodus is an important book.

Reading Mark, Genesis, Acts, Ephesians, and Exodus, as a beginner, might take you the whole year. And that is a perfectly okay way to start, or re-start, reading the Bible.

Non-beginners. If you are familiar with the Bible, whether you have been a Christian for a short or long time, you may want something more systematic and, dare I say, rigorous. Let me suggest one option I’m doing and then provide a few links to good plans.

This year, each day I am reading two to three Psalms per day (at various times throughout the day, morning, noon, and the last while I feed my infant son his last bottle of the day!), two Old Testament chapters (other than Psalms), and one New Testament chapter. I’m simply starting with Genesis and Matthew and will proceed through the Old and New Testaments as the books are ordered. I start with a Psalm, praying through it as a read. Then I read the OT and NT readings, making notes as I go, and then I write out a prayer or simply pray orally as I read. Including reading, you can do this in as little as 20 minutes or as long as you want. This plan will take you through the OT and NT once and the Psalms seven times (if you read three chapters per day). Also, since this plan is not based on specific readings for specific calendar days, you should not feel pressure to finish by December 31! The bigger goal is letting the Word shape you, not simply “getting through it.”

Here are a few other plans I’d recommend.

Now let me be clear: not every Christian must read the Bible every year! It is a good thing to do from time to time, but not required. If you’ve never done it, give it a shot. If you did it last year, you are free to try something else! If you are the latter, I’d recommend simply reading through whole books of the Bible at a time, alternating OT and NT books so you just don’t get stuck in one testament. Remember that the whole Bible is God’s word!

Finally, check out this great FAQ on reading through the Bible.

Happy reading in 2016!

Thoughts on Greek from Not-So-Greek-Scholar

greek text
I have been immersed in the study of the Greek language for the past year and, by God’s grace, I will continue to be immersed in it over the years. In light of that, here’s a few short non-technical thoughts about what I have learned outside of parsing words, verbal roots, and examining sentence structure.

  1. Greek, just like any other language, isn’t something you master after reading a textbook or hearing lectures. It takes time. A long time. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
  2. Because biblical Greek is just that–biblical–the goal is not to master it. Read that again. If my identity is in learning a language, even an important one, I will be severely dissatisfied  The point of studying a biblical language, just like any other spiritual discipline, is to be mastered by the Master. Greek isn’t an end in itself. It is a means to being conformed into Jesus’ image.
  3. Greek scholars are smart. I appreciate their hard work, devotion, and endurance in their translating and teaching.
  4. Leap-frogging from that, your New Testament–ESV, NIV, TNIV, NASB, NLT–is highly reliable (your Old Testament is reliable as well, don’t worry). So, don’t be that guy or gal in a Bible study that says, “Well, the Greek really says…” There may be some nuances here and there that should be emphasized. Yes, we can draw out things in preaching and teaching to give a richer sense. But by and large, the Bible within arms reach of you right now is gift. Enjoy it.
  5. One more leap: because this is true (#4), be thankful if you have a Bible in your own language. What a grace of God that people can read the Bible in their own language and do not have to rely on “experts” to do it for them! That should elicit worship and awe in our hearts to God.
  6. Greek is beautiful and you can learn it. Audit a class at your local Bible college or seminary. If you like learning at your own pace, try out the new Bible Mesh Biblical Languages courses (they offer Greek and Hebrew). If you are in the Omaha or Lincoln area, check out Miqra, where I took my classes.

Why is the New Testament Reliable?

John Calvin

Let all those acute censors, whose highest pleasure it is to banish a reverential regard of Scripture from their own and other men’s hearts, come forward; let them read the Gospel of John, and, willing or unwilling, they will find a thousand sentences which will at least arouse them from their sloth; nay, which will burn into their consciences as with a hot iron, and check their derision. The same thing may be said of Peter and Paul, whose writings, though the greater part read them blindfold, exhibit a heavenly majesty, which in a manner binds and rivets every reader. But one circumstance, sufficient of itself to exalt their doctrine above the world, is, that Matthew, who was formerly fixed down to his money-table, Peter and John, who were employed with their little boats, being all rude and illiterate, had never learned in any human school that which they delivered to others. Paul, moreover, who had not only been an avowed but a cruel and bloody foe, being changed into a new man, shows, by the sudden and unhoped-for change, that a heavenly power had compelled him to preach the doctrine which once he destroyed. Let those dogs deny that the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles, or, if not, let them refuse credit to the history, still the very circumstances proclaim that the Holy Spirit must have been the teacher of those who, formerly contemptible among the people, all of a sudden began to discourse so magnificently of heavenly mysteries.

– Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1.8.11

The Purpose of Advent

The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. (1 John 3:8b)

If we are going to meditate on Advent throughout the month of December, we must know the reason we celebrate this season. It’s not about giving gifts or receiving gifts. As good as it may seem (and as warm as it may make you feel inside), Advent (the Christmas season) is not about making the holiday special for the poor or widows and orphans. It is not about serving others.

We anticipate and celebrate Christ’s Advent because he was ultimately born to die. In his first epistle, John writes it as plainly as it gets in Scripture: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (3:8b). That is a Christmas verse if I have ever read one. What are the works of the devil? Sin (see 1 John 3:8a). Christmas only makes sense from the top of Golgotha, where Jesus gave up his life for the sins of men and women.

Just before Jesus was born, an angel appeared to his earthly, adoptive father, Joseph. The angel said to Joseph “You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). From all eternity, God had planned to save a people from himself through the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of his Son (see Eph. 1:3-14).

Jesus appeared (i.e. was born) for the crucifixion and resurrection, God’s culminating salvation event when Christ would die for God’s people to satisfy God’s wrath and reconcile them to God and rise from the dead to provide justification before God and eternal life in his never-ending joyful presence. That is something worth celebrating this Christmas.


Ask the average Christian how they were saved and most will include, at some point in their story, that “I asked Jesus into my heart.” I’ve said it before, too. I think it’s okay to say with the right theological framework; however it is a very loaded phrase.

I am currently reading Graeme Goldsworthy’s Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics, and he talks about how this notion of salvation obscures the true biblical gospel. He calls “Jesus-in-my-heart-ism” ‘evangelical Catholicism’. He explains:

Many evangelicals use the evangelistic appeal to ‘ask Jesus into your heart.’ The positive aspect of this is that the New Testament speaks of ‘Christ in you, the hope of glory’ (Col. 1:27); of Christ dwelling ‘in your hearts through faith’ (Eph. 3:17), and the like. It speaks of the Christian as having ‘received Christ the Lord’ (Col. 2:6). But it also makes clear that Christ dwells in or among his people by his Spirit, for the bodily risen Jesus is in heaven. Furthermore, there are no examples or principles of evangelism or conversion in the New Testament involving the asking of Jesus into one’s heart. In many cases this practice represents a loss of confidence in faith alone, for it needs to resort to a Catholic style of infused grace to assure us that something has happened.

Now, when people are genuinely converted by asking Jesus into their hearts, and I have no doubt that there are many, it can only be because they have understood the gospel sufficiently well for this prayer to be a decision to believe that this Jesus is the one who lived and died for their salvation. Why, then, have I called this section ‘evangelical Catholicism’? An aspect of Catholicism that Protestants have rejected is the reversal of the relationship of objective justification to is subjective outworking or sanctification. Another way of putting this is that the focus on the grace of God at work in the historic gospel even of Jesus Christ is muted compared to the emphasis on the grace of God as a kind of spiritual infusion into the life of the Christian. The gospel is see more as what God is doing in me now, rather than what God did for me then…When the legitimate subjective dimension of our salvation begins to eclipse the historically and spirituality prior objective dimension, we are in trouble.

– Graeme Goldsworthy, Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics, p. 176.