But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God. – Matthew 4:4
Jesus’ reply to Satan in Matthew 4:4 implies that Christians should be nourished by the Word of God on a daily basis. Living and eating bread are daily activities, and so should be the consumption of spiritual nourishment from the Word. For such daily study of the Scriptures the Bereans were commended in Acts 17:11. We cannot live by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God if we have not read every one of those words, or if we do not continue to read God’s words on a regular basis.
Throughout the Bible it is assumed that God’s people will read and know God’s Word, and yet reading the Bible is something that many Christians neglect to do. Some even feel that it is a matter of secondary importance to more “practical” issues or more “practical” books. Some people think the Bible is boring, and many will only read a paraphrase or rewrite of the Bible such as The Message, rather than an actual translation of what God said. But reading the Word must precede everything else in the spiritual life of the believer. Every Christian is first saved by hearing the Word (Rom 10:13-17), and the evangelist cannot be successful without it. The Word tells us how to pray. The Word of God is the primary tool that the Spirit of God uses to guide, convict, and teach us; such things as inner feelings and experiences are very much of secondary importance to the Word. Thus, believers cannot be filled with the Spirit or led by the Spirit without the Word. The Word tells us what love is, and how to love. It tells us what to believe, how to act and think, how a church should operate, and how to raise a family. It accurately reveals the whole history of the world, from beginning to end, and puts it in proper perspective. Thus, the study of the Word is the only means by which a Christian can grow in knowledge and in spiritual wisdom and understanding (Col 1:9)—all of which is essential for a proper Christian walk.
As a student of the Bible and a teacher of the Bible, by far my most helpful training in knowing and interpreting the Bible has been my own personal Bible reading and Bible study. Last year, 2014, was the fourteenth consecutive year that I have read the Bible from cover to cover. This has given me a knowledge of the Bible that I never could have gained from studying in the classroom. As I have studied theology and the writings of countless scholars in seminary, my analysis of their claims has constantly been framed by statements made in the Bible, rather than by a philosophical analysis or debates over archeology and methodology. Reading the Bible has enabled me to think of verses that are relevant for whatever the issue at hand may be, whereas if I had not read the Bible so many times I would not be aware of all the cross-references and connections.
I do not like most of the plans that I see today for reading through the Bible in a year. The length of each day’s reading varies widely, so that some readings are very short and some are very long. Also, most plans have one reading from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament each day, and sometimes a Psalm. This breaks up the continuity of the reading and hinders focused reflection. I like reading the Bible the way God inspired it—book by book, beginning in Genesis and ending in Revelation. You can download the Bible Reading Schedule that I use here. Reading the books in the sequence they appear in the Bible allows one to follow God’s dealings with the human race as God’s plan unfolds sequentially through the ages. When you read the Bible in order, you begin each new year by reading Genesis, which tells how everything began, and you end each year by reading Revelation, which tells how everything ends. But if three chapters a day (on average) seem too much for you, I also have on my website a Bible Reading Record which allows you to check off chapters of the Bible one at a time as you read them.
Reading the Bible is obviously more profitable if one understands it, or has a guide to interpret it. Now that I have published my own Interpretive Guide to the Bible, this is of course the first resource that I recommend; it is available on my website here, or on my Amazon author page here. Many people use study Bibles to help with interpretation, but in my opinion these are a poor “crutch.” Because the study notes are right next to the biblical text, people tend to just read the notes right away rather than first thinking about the text on their own.
The most accurate English Bible translation is the 1901 American Standard Version, which is one of the few Bible versions out there that consistently relies on the oldest manuscripts for translation of the New Testament. It is also public domain, free of copyright restrictions, and free of headings supplied in the text by a translator or editor. The most accurate translation in modern English is the New American Standard Bible. In Spanish, the two most accurate translations are the 1960 Reina-Valera and La Biblia de las Américas. I personally do some of my Bible reading in the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek (i.e., not in a translation). My knowledge of the Spanish language has been greatly aided by my reading of the Bible in Spanish, and I can recommend reading the Bible in another language as a great way to improve one’s abilities in that language. But improving language knowledge is only of secondary importance to the transformation of one’s life and thought by hearing and obeying the Word of God.