One of the most transformative things I ever did was read through the entire Book of Genesis – slowly – with the help of several commentaries back in 2003. I’d never done that before. I had read commentaries before for school and I had read through the whole Bible, but I had never intentionally chosen a book of the Bible for intense study and meditation over the course of an entire year – and it turned out to be one of the most spiritually affecting experiences that I’ve ever had.
I made use of 3 commentaries that year – 2 that I had used and marked up in seminary and 1 new one that I read from cover to cover as part of the experiment. I also attempted to journal – although my engagement with that part of the process was extremely inconsistent.
There is something about soaking for an extended period of time in a single book of the Bible that changes the rhythms and patterns of your thinking and feeling. The story gets inside you in a way that it just doesn’t when you are reading 3-4 chapters a day. There is also something significant about the use of commentaries. Reading a commentary is like reading a book of the Bible with an older and more insightful Christian friend. You benefit from their maturity and perspective and you are forced to wrestle with difficulties that you might otherwise skip over. Martin Luther referred to this as “the external word”.
When we simply read the Bible on our own we can force our own preferences and preconceptions upon the text – but when the text is read to us by an outside other – we are forced to hear things we would not otherwise choose to listen to. Rarely will we allow ourselves to be wounded by a text; we will naturally skip, skim, obfuscate or ignore such impositions – but when the text is being wielded by another, then the piercing force of the Word, simply cannot be avoided.
That is the primary benefit of using a commentary when reading slowly through a book of the Bible.
Of course it is very important to choose your reading companions wisely. Many commentaries undercut faith by their overly critical approach. A commentary that caters to the prevailing mood of the academy is unlikely to feed and nourish a hungry soul. I’ve found the Tyndale Commentary set to be a reliable and accessible guide to both Old and New Testament books of the Bible. I’ve also enjoyed using The Bible Speaks Today – edited by Motyer and Stott – for these types of devotional journeys.
A pastor will want to have a selection of more robust and academic commentaries on hand when preparing his sermons, but as companions for a devotional reading of a whole book of the Bible I’ve found these two series to be the cream of the crop.
If you haven’t decided on a devotional plan for 2020 allow me to recommend some old friends:
- Derek Kidner on The Book of Genesis
- Francis Andersen on The Book of Job
- J. Alec Motyer on The Book of Isaiah
- Leon Morris on Luke
- John Stott on Acts
- Edmund Clowney on 1 Peter
The slow and prayerful reading of these books of the Bible has been greatly used of God to shape, correct, inspire and mold my Christian character. I would heartily recommend them to you – along with these faithful companions.
In addition to this practice of slow reading I began reading through the whole Bible every year back in 2012. Whereas slow reading takes you deep into the heart of God, fast reading helps you see the bigger picture. Both are necessary and the two complement each other. Reading one book of the Bible over the course of a year is like walking your way through a forest. You see the plants, the moss on the tree and you hear the sound of the birds building nests within their branches. Reading the whole Bible over the course of the year is like hopping into a hermeneutical hot air balloon and looking at the forest as a collective whole.
Each experience adds value and reality to the other.
For my whole Bible reading discipline I’ve been using the RMM Bible Reading Plan; named after pastor and author Robert Murray M’Cheyne. If you want to read more about the features and benefits of the RMM plan check out this article. The short version is that it is customizable to your reading speed and supported by a host of print and on-line resources.
To learn about other Bible reading plans see here.
As a pastor I recognize that I am afforded more time to read the Bible than the average working person. That being said, I do most of my Bible reading on my own time, early in the morning before I go to work. However, it would take about an hour a day to complete the 4 chapters generally required to read through the whole Bible in a year while also studying and meditating your way slowly through another single book. If you don’t have that kind of time I would recommend taking a 2 or 3 year approach to whole Bible reading. Doing it at this pace takes only about 10 minutes a day which would then leave 20 minutes for slow, meditative reading through a single book.
Whether reading the Bible fast, slow or both in 2020 I would recommend starting off with a clean copy of the Scriptures. For the last 6 years, I have been using an ESV Journaling Bible to record my thoughts, reflections and prayers and this past June I was able to give a completely filled and personalized copy to my oldest daughter as a keepsake. I am now working on a second Bible for my son. To learn more about how to do that see here.
Finally, if you do intend to begin a Bible reading habit in 2020 I would love to help get you started on your way. In 2017 I began a podcast program called “Into The Word”. In each 15-20 minute episode we read and explain one whole chapter of the Bible. We’ve covered more than 15 whole books and 293 chapters thus far and if God permits, we plan on covering another 6 books and over 100 chapters in 2020.
If you are beginning your Bible reading journey with the Book of Genesis see here.
If you are starting with Matthew see here.
I’d love for you to join us as we explore “the strange new world of the Bible” together.
And may God alone be glorified!
Pastor Paul Carter
To listen to the most recent episodes of Pastor Paul’s Into The Word devotional podcast on the TGC Canada website see here. You can also find it on iTunes. To access the entire library of available episodes see here.
N.B. An earlier version of this article was published on Tim Challies website; you can find it here.