Ways of Reading the Bible by Felix Just, S.J., Ph.D.
So you want to read the Bible? That’s great!
But where do you begin? And how do you proceed?
Since the Bible is not like most other books, simply starting at the beginning and trying to read all the way to the end (from Genesis to Revelation) is probably not the best way to proceed for most people. If you attempt this, you might find the books of Genesis and Exodus rather familiar and/or interesting, but you'll probably get confused by Leviticus, may get bored plowing through Numbers, and might quit even before finishing Deuteronomy.
If you are a Christian, you might be tempted to skip the Old Testament and jump right into the Gospels. But this also is not the best approach, since you might be disturbed by the many discrepancies between the four Gospels, bewildered by the complex theology of Paul’s letters, confused by the imagery of Hebrews, and again quit before you get to the end of Revelation.
So how should you go about reading the Bible? No one plan is best for everyone, but different people might find various methods helpful, especially since each reader may have a vastly different goal (spiritual, academic, social, etc.) in reading the Bible. Thus, some people may choose to read short selections from the scriptures daily or weekly, following the Lectionary or liturgical cycle of their Church. Others might wish to follow a one-year plan (or a multi-year plan) for reading every book of the Old and New Testaments, but not necessarily in biblical order. Still others will want to read one biblical book at a time in depth, either on their own, or with the help of commentaries, or in a Bible Study group, or in an academic course.
By now there are many resources, both online and in print, which can help you read, pray, and/or study the Bible. This webpage is not intended to be comprehensive, but merely to provide some suggestions and resources, especially for your own spiritual nourishment or small prayer groups. Below is also an introduction to Lectio Divina, an ancient method of reading and praying with the scriptures that is being rediscovered today.
Plans for Choosing Which Biblical Texts to Read
1) Liturgical/Lectionary Approach:
Many people find it good to read the short biblical selections that are used at daily and/or Sunday Mass, as found in the Lectionary for Mass.
Most other online reading plans and printed "One-Year Bibles" are based on Protestant editions of the Bible, which do not include the Deuterocanonical books considered canonical by Catholics and Orthodox Christians (for explanation of the differences, see my Comparative Chart of Various Editions of the Bible).
The One-Year Bible OnLine - four readings suggested for each day: one each from the OT, the NT, the Psalsms, and the Proverbs (from Tyndale House Publishers)
Zondervan Bible Reading Plan - suggests a variety of different "reading plans" for beginning, intermediate, and advanced readers of the Bible; see esp. their "Three-Track Plan": Track 1 provides a brief introduction to the Bible; Track 2 covers a sample 186 chapters of the Bible; Track 3 is a three-year plan for reading the entire Bible (again, the Protestant OT, not including the Deuterocanonical books); some of this material is also online at ChristianBook.com
3) Christo-centric Approach:
One could also read one biblical book at a time, but focusing on Jesus and seeing the relation of all the books to Jesus.
Begin with one of the Gospels, for the basic story about Jesus (start with Mark, the oldest & shortest Gospel).
Then read some NT letters, followed by another Gospel; then the Acts of the Apostles, and more NT letters; then also some OT books, to learn about the history, culture, and theology of the Jewish people.
You may want to read OT or NT books around the time when they occur in the Lectionary for Mass (see above).
There are many good published commentaries on each book or section of the Bible, to help guide your study and reflection: