First, many of the books of the Bible are stories. They are meant to be read as stories, and you understand them better if you read them that way. Others, such as Paul’s letters, are not stories, but if you read one of them in one sitting, you get a good sense of the overall flow of Paul’s argument, and the main points of his argument.
So the new year is here again. You’re going to read through the Bible again this year. But maybe this time you’re looking for something a little different. There are a number of good Bible reading guides available online. See, for example, those discussed here.
However, I’m going to suggest something different. This year, try reading the Bible in chunks. By this, I mean that you should try reading whole books at one sitting, rather than the 3-4 chapters per day that most Bible-in-a-Year plans suggest. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, many of the books of the Bible are stories. They are meant to be read as stories, and you understand them better if you read them that way. Others, such as Paul’s letters, are not stories, but if you read one of them in one sitting, you get a good sense of the overall flow of Paul’s argument, and the main points of his argument.
Admittedly, some books of the Bible are not meant to be read at one sitting. Books such as Psalms and Proverbs are meditative literature, meant to be read slowly, and pondered while being read. Others, such as Jeremiah and Genesis, Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles, are too long to be read in one sitting, unless you have a big chunk of time. Still, even those may be read in larger portions, rather than piecemeal as they are often read.
The following chart (at the very end) gives you an idea of how long it will take to read the books of the Bible. It is based on the number of words in the KJV (the Bible version for which the most statistics are easily available), and on the number of words the average person reads per minute (250). Thus, the time-to-read number is approximate, affected by the Bible version you use, and the speed at which you read. Just for information, reading the whole Bible at an average rate would take about 52.5 hours.
My suggestion is first that you set aside up to 30 minutes per day for reading your Bible. You may say you don’t have 30 minutes per day. My answer is, yes, you do. Give up that episode of Duck Dynasty or Honey Boo Boo. Or quit watching the news. Or take some time from your leisure reading.
Second, read as if you were doing your leisure reading. In other words, don’t stop to try to understand difficult portions, or to wonder about apparent contradictions. The point of this approach to reading the Bible is to get an overview; to get a grasp of the book as a whole, not a grasp of the details.
Third, after you’ve done the reading, maybe make a couple of notes about things that struck you, so you can remember them. Then you can spend the day ruminating on them.
Fourth, don’t feel like you have to spend all 30 minutes. If, for example, you’ve read 1 John, that should be enough for the day. This is not a race to see how quickly you can get through the Bible.
Perusing the list, you should notice that 37 of the 66 books of the Bible may be read in 30 minutes or less. I suggest you tackle these first, in whatever order you wish. Check them off when you’ve read them so that you don’t repeat before you have finished the whole thing. With regard to the larger books, divide them into 30-minute (or less) chunks. Nehemiah, for example, should take around 42 minutes. Divide it into half. One day read the first six or seven chapters, and read the rest the next day. The longest books (Psalms, Jeremiah, Genesis, etc.) may be divided into, at most, six large chunks. Again, read these in any order you wish, but finish one book before you go on to the next.
Here’s to happy Bible reading in the new year.
- Genesis (38,262 words): 2 hrs, 33 min
- Exodus (32,685): 2 hrs, 11 min
- Leviticus (25,541): 1 hr, 42 min
- Numbers (32,896): 2 hrs, 12 min
- Deuteronomy (28,352): 1 hr, 44 min
- Joshua (18,854): 1 hr, 15 min
- Judges (18,966): 1 hr, 16 min
- Ruth (2,574): 10 min
- 1 Samuel (25,048): 1 hr, 40 min
- 2 Samuel (20,600): 1 hr, 22 min
- 1 Kings (24,513): 1 hr, 38 min
- 2 Kings (23,517): 1 hr, 34 min
- 1 Chronicles (20,365): 1 hr, 22 min
- 2 Chronicles (26,069): 1 hr, 44 min
- Ezra (7,440): 30 min
- Nehemiah (10,480): 42 min
- Esther (5,633): 23 min
- Job (18,098): 1 hr, 12 min
- Psalms (42,704): 2 hrs, 51 min
- Proverbs (15,038): 1 hour
- Ecclesiastes (5,579): 22 min
- Song of Songs (2,658): 11 min
- Isaiah (37,036): 2 hrs, 28 min
- Jeremiah (42,654): 2 hrs, 51 min
- Lamentations (3,411): 14 min
- Ezekiel (39,401): 2 hrs, 38 min
- Daniel (11,602): 46 min
- Hosea (5,174): 21 min
- Joel (2,033): 8 min
- Amos (4,216): 17 min
- Obadiah (669): 3 min
- Jonah (1,320): 5 min
- Micah (3,152): 13 min
- Nahum (1,284): 5 min
- Habakkuk (1,475): 6 min
- Zephaniah (1,616): 6 min
- Haggai (1,130): 5 min
- Zechariah (6,443): 26 min
- Malachi (1,781): 7 min
- Matthew (23,343): 1 hr, 34 min
- Mark (14,949): 1 hr
- Luke (25,640): 1 hr, 43 min
- John (18,658): 1 hr, 15 min
- Acts (24,229): 1 hr, 37 min
- Romans (9,422): 38 min
- 1 Corinthians (9,462): 38 min
- 2 Corinthians (6,046): 24 min
- Galatians (3,084): 12 min
- Ephesians (3,022): 12 min
- Philippians (2,183): 9 min
- Colossians (1,979): 8 min
- 1 Thessalonians (1,837): 7 min
- 2 Thessalonians (1,022): 4 min
- 1 Timothy (2,244): 9 min
- 2 Timothy (1,666): 7 min
- Titus (896): 4 min
- Philemon (430): 2 min
- Hebrews (6,897): 28 min
- James (2,304): 9 min
- 1 Peter (2,476): 10 min
- 2 Peter (1,553): 6 min
- 1 John (2,517): 10 min
- 2 John (298): 1 min
- 3 John (294): 1 min
- Jude (608): 2 min
- Revelation (11,952): 48 min
Benjamin Shaw, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Hebrew & OT and Academic Dean at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. He blogs periodically at GPTS Rabbi where this article first appeared. It is used with permission.