I vividly recall two pivotal conversations with pastors shortly after I surrendered to gospel ministry in the late-1990s. The conversations were pivotal because in them I was exposed to two divergent approaches to ministry and the Lord used them to convince me that I must saturate my mind with Scripture

In one conversation, I asked a longtime pastor how many times he had read the Bible in its entirety from Genesis to Revelation. His reply: “Never, but I hope to someday.” I was stunned. I thought, but did not express verbally, “Then how do you know what you believe about the Bible and other important doctrines?” Being a very green rookie minister, I thought that perhaps my question was a bit cheeky. I thought that until I had the second conversation a few weeks later.

In the second conversation with another longtime pastor, a godly man who retired a few years ago as pastor of my home church in Georgia, I posed the same question and got an answer that remains instructive to me many years later: “I try to read through the Bible every year. After all, I have given my life to teaching and preaching God’s Word and so I had better know it.” That day, I became convinced that I should read through the Bible regularly and, since it was the end of the year, I began my first read through the Bible in a year venture. I was happy that I did.

During my lengthier-than-I-first-intended career as a seminary student, I followed the same practice and after a few years, I had read through the Bible several times. The results have been massively helpful for both my walk with the Lord and the teaching and preaching ministry he has given me. Two decades later, I have challenged my own congregation, Christ Fellowship Church of Louisville, to read through the Bible this year.

I have become convinced that every student of the Bible, particularly those who are or will be charged with teaching it as a vocation ought to consider this practice. There are many, many benefits of reading through the Bible every year, and here are five ways I have been helped:

  1. Reading through the Bible annually helps you learn the overarching metanarrative of Scripture. After reading through the Bible a few times, the historic/redemptive storyline will become second nature. For example, in the OT, it will help you greatly to know that the kingdom of Israel was divided around 930 B.C., after which time the Northern and Southern kingdoms had different kings and began to spin off into serious idolatry. With some incredibly meaty study helps (such as the ESV Study Bibleor Reformation Study Bible), you will soon learn where everything in the OT belongs on the timeline of ancient history. Pretty soon, you will see that the Bible is all about Christ and will become keenly aware why it is important to read Leviticus alongside Hebrews.
  2. Reading through the Bible will improve your ability to interpret and exegete Scripture.This is a natural consequence of reason number one. The better you know the Bible’s storyline, the more aware you will be of both the near and far contexts of each pericope, the less prone you will be to engage in eisegesis. With the whole of redemptive history as your framework, you will see why it is not compelling to preach slaying the giants in your life or five smooth stones of ministry success from David’s encounter with Goliath. It will rescue you from preaching/teaching a bare moralism.
  3. Reading through the Bible will keep you habitually in the Bible.You cannot read through the Bible quickly. It will force you to spend many hours in God’s Word and that is always a fruitful endeavor. If you commit to read through the Bible every year, there will be precious few days, if any, when you find yourself out of Scripture.
  4. Reading through the Bible will ensure that you are engaging God’s Word at least as frequently as you are engaging other solid Christian books.I love the Puritans and the Reformers. I have to resist buying every piece of excellent Christian literature published by leading evangelical publishers, but I should not be reading three non-inspired books, no matter who solid and instructive they are, for every book of the Bible I read.
  5. Reading through the Bible will force you to navigate those tricky, less traveled roads of Scripture.Reading through the Bible annually will force you to read books and passages that might not normally attract your gaze: Leviticus, Numbers, the Song of Solomon, Amos, Philemon, and yes, for those of us who suffer from acute allergies to all things end times and exhibit tendencies toward pan-millenniallism, chapters 6-22 of Revelation. The Spirit inspired ever word for our edification. Let us read it.

There are many good plans, but the one I’d recommend this year is a new Bible reading initiative from The Gospel Coalition, where I serve as senior editor. It is built around the McCheyne reading plan and includes many helpful daily resources such as a daily newsletter from D. A. Carson.

Walking through the Bible in a year should not replace daily meditation upon and memorization of Scripture. And no, it won’t necessarily make you more spiritually mature — spiritual growth is not a mechanical process — but it certainly cannot hurt (the Spirit uses the Word to grow us). Ultimately, you are reading God’s Word to be transformed in heart and mind, and it should never be reduced to a cold, detached, clinical exercise.