Reading the Bible may be a bad thing. Here’s why.

Mar 31, 2020 | Apologetics, Article, Christian Living, Podcast

When it comes to reading the Bible, there is no shortage of optional plans, methods, and routines to choose from. But what if your version of reading the Bible is not contributing to your Christian growth, and stunting it instead?

I have little doubt that, growing up, you received advice that sounded something like: Read your Bible cover to cover once per year. Every morning read another few verses. Et cetera.

This always seemed challenging to me. And though I have done it a few times now, somehow, I never quite felt like I did enough.

There was always one more day to go, and it really felt more like a chore to slog through than it should have.

These days, I’m becoming less and less convinced that this advice was sound.

Reading the Bible straight through with the goal of completing in one year has a few liabilities:

  • As mentioned above, it can feel like a chore.

  • The Bible is not written to be read straight through.

  • It can be difficult to make important textual connections when reading the Bible linearly.

I recently came across a helpful piece of advice from Sean McDowell, which admittedly served as the impetus for writing this piece. Questioning whether quantity should be our goal, Sean asks:

But why should that be our goal? Why should our Scripture reading be about how much we read? There is undoubtedly value in daily Scripture reading. My point is not to minimize this important discipline. But honestly, how much do people really retain after the “Bible in a year plan”? My suspicion is that it may be less than we think.

Sean is really on to something here.

There is a glaring lack of depth to the biblical literacy of most Christians today, sad to say. It doesn’t take much to realize this.

And yet, many Christians that I’ve known seem to have a daily Bible reading habit! Why the disconnect? What is the problem?

I think the problem is a wrongheaded idea of the goal behind reading the Bible daily.

Why Read?

The Bible is God’s special revelation to mankind. In it, we learn truths about the nature of God, the nature of reality, and the nature of our ultimate destiny.

Quite literally, it is the single most important collection of literature on the planet. Its creation was the result of divinely superintended production and preservation. There is nothing like it.

The goal of reading the Bible, then, is to know the Divine Speaker behind it.

And the problem is that merely reading it has quite a casual connotation. It is something that requires a much deeper and much closer inspection. It needs to be studied. Its depths need to be plumbed.

Now, I’m not necessarily saying a casual read-through is uncalled for. Sean puts it nicely:

If the goal is primarily to get through the Bible [in a] year, then this is a great plan.

But he’s absolutely correct to question whether that should always be the goal. Perhaps that is the goal for your family Bible time, for example.

Personally, though, I cannot tell you how many times I’ve received almost supernatural insight from carefully considering just one or two verses over and above a mechanical read-through.

Studying the Bible > Reading the Bible

Embracing an attitude of study and reflection may serve us better than a robotic commitment to reading. I say this for a few reasons:

  • Studying allows for connections to be made. There are no accidentals or incidentals in the Bible. If it’s there, it was placed there for a purpose. Even if the purpose seems small! By the way, many things that sound “strange” to our ears often get glossed over. I have found that if I dig deeper into those strange stories or motifs, I learn more than I could have imagined possible.

  • Studying forces a commitment to critical thinking. This one might seem strange, but it seems to me that if one takes the time to carefully approach the Bible in its context, according to the appropriate literary genre, historical setting, etc., it will force one to slow down and think more carefully and critically. This is because natural questions will arise that beg for the student to answer them.

  • Times are hard, and getting harder. My brothers and sisters here in the West seem to know little of the persecution that happens to Christians worldwide. There will come a day when ownership of God’s Word is a dangerous privilege, rather than an expected right. You will not know God’s Word by reading it. Intimate knowledge requires study, thought, and interaction.

My #1 Practical Tip for Reading the Bible Well

I want to be clear that I do not endorse a particular method for studying the Bible over another.

There are so many helpful tools and ideas. For example, you may reserve your study to a tool like Logos Bible Software by Faithlife.

Or, you may prefer to use a heavily referenced study Bible—or, you may intentionally choose a Bible without even so much as a cross-reference!

Rather, I think my point can be captured in just two words: Slow down.

Many readers know I love a good aphorism. This one may sound a bit cheesy, but I guarantee it’s memorable: Slow down your speed when the Bible you read.

This one tip will help you practically apply my thoughts here to whichever method you choose. One book at a time, over and over. Following the cross-references of an idea. Using a thematic approach. Reading chronologically. Reading cover-to-cover.

All of these approaches will be dramatically more effective if you simply slow down, think carefully and critically, and intentionally look for connections between books, writers, and themes in the text.

Don’t just “read.” Study slowly and soak up God’s truth.

Meet Steve

Meet Steve

Hi, I’m Steve, an author, speaker, and Bible teacher with a heart for exploring God’s Word and God’s world.

I’m interested in the surprising connection between creation, theology, business, and storytelling. We explore those themes and more on this blog.

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