In his must-read book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, Donald Whitney offers two chapters on Bible Intake. In the first of those two chapters he lists (1) hearing, (2) reading, and (3) studying as three key ways to imbibing, ingesting, and embracing God’s Word. With those disciplines in mind, let me offer a few verses to support them and then apply them to the Via Emmaus Bible Reading Plan (or any other plan).
Listen to the Word
Maybe it seems like reading the Bible should begin with the discipline of reading. But this read-first mentality only shows how literate our society is. To be sure, literacy is nothing but a blessing, and Christian missionaries have always brought schools with them to help converts read the Bible. But still, such literacy may actually obscure what Scripture says about hearing God’s Word. Additionally, it tends to forget that countless (most?) Christians have heard, not read, God’s Word. And actually, it is hearing that Scripture most frequently commends and commands. Consider a few verses.
First, Romans 10:17 says that faith comes by hearing and hearing from the word of Christ. Second, Jesus declares in Luke 11:28, “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” Third, Revelation 1:3 describes the blessing of the book in terms of reading God’s Word “aloud,” not just reading it in the quiet of our dens. Certainly, there is blessing in reading the Bible in our prayer closets, but God’s Word is given to be read aloud with the people of God. And this means it is meant to be heard.
Making this point even more clear are two passages about corporate gatherings. The first is found in Deuteronomy 31:9–13, where Moses reiterates the necessity of hearing God’s Word in the gathered assembly.
9 Then Moses wrote this law and gave it to the priests, the sons of Levi, who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and to all the elders of Israel. 10 And Moses commanded them, “At the end of every seven years, at the set time in the year of release, at the Feast of Booths, 11 when all Israel comes to appear before the Lord your God at the place that he will choose, you shall read this law before all Israel in their hearing. 12 Assemble the people, men, women, and little ones, and the sojourner within your towns, that they may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, and be careful to do all the words of this law, 13 and that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, as long as you live in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess.”
There is a world of wisdom in these words. The public reading of God’s Word teaches the next generation what God has said and it teaches them how to respond to God’s Word. In our corporate services we stand in reverence of God’s Word and we also “sit under” God’s Word. In both practices, we remind ourselves and show our little ones why God’s Word matters. And thus we should gather not only to hear preaching, but to hear God’s Word read. This was true in Israel and it is true today, which brings us to our second passage.
In 1 Timothy 4:13 Paul applies Deuteronomy 31 to the new covenant assembly. “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.” Again, the public reading of Scripture means the public hearing of Scripture. And I cannot underestimate how important this command is and why gathering for church is a non-negotiable, even in the days of omicron. (On that, see this and this).
Reading Scripture in the privacy of your own home does not replace the need for the public reading and hearing of God’s Word. While our culture trains us to see the world in images, Christ’s disciples must be trained to see God with our ears. And thus, we are called to actively listen to God’s Word. This is true, first and foremost, in church. But it also applies to listening to the Word on our own. The connection is found in the medium. If are called to listen to God’s Word at church, we can and we should listen to the Word as we are able. And today, countless Bible apps make it possible to hear God’s Word wherever we are. More on that practice below.
Read the Word
If God’s Word is to be heard, it must also be read. This is implicit, and sometimes explicit, in all the passages just mentioned above. But it is also something that Scripture encourages to everyone who can read. Applying Luke 12:48 (“to those who have been given more, more is required”), if you can read, then it is incumbent that you do read.
I suspect that at the judgment seat of Christ, no Christian will lament the time they spent reading Scripture. But many might regret not reading the Bible more. Billy Graham did. In a LifeWay interview with the late evangelist, Graham reflected on his ministry and said, “I would spend more time studying the Bible and meditating on its truth.” More fully, he said,
I would also spend more time in spiritual nurture, seeking to grow closer to God so I could become more like Christ. I would spend more time in prayer, not just for myself but for others. I would spend more time studying the Bible and meditating on its truth, not only for sermon preparation but to apply its message to my life. It is far too easy for someone in my position to read the Bible only with an eye on a future sermon, overlooking the message God has for me through its pages.
If this was true for one of the greatest evangelist in church history, it is also true for us. Scripture calls us to feed on the Word of God (Deut. 8:3; Matt. 4:4) and to be instructed, reproved, corrected, and trained by every God-breathed word (2 Tim. 3:16). In short, it is impossible to commune with God the Word without the word of God. And because our knowledge God is dependent on his Word, we must read God’s Word. If you need more convincing, just read Psalm 119.
To return to Luke 12:48. If you can read, you must read the Bible. If you can’t read (or read well), then you must listen. Or, you could see reading as a discipline to improve. Similarly, if you can read Greek, Hebrew, or other technical works of theology, history, literature, etc., then you should use those skills to, to help you read the Bible. There is nothing more profitable than reading God’s Word, yet there are more profitable ways to read Scripture And Learning how to read better is part of that process. More on that below too.
Study the Word
Finally, disciples of Christ are called to study the Word. As Psalm 111:2 declares, “Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them.” Truly, we study what we love. Husbands study their wives; Little Leaguers study Shohei Ohtani’s stat lines; and artists study the pros and cons of Realists, Impressionists, and other painters. In short, God made humans to love with our minds.
And for those who want to grow in their love of God, then it must include study. The Levitical priests proved this in the way that Ezra studied the Law to do and teach the Law (Ezra 7:10). And the Bereans proved this when they compared the words of Paul to the ancient Scriptures (Acts 17:11). In short, disciples of Christ are by their very nature “learners,” apprentices of Christ and all of his teaching.
Such study does not replace reading or public hearing. How could it? But it does mean that studying God’s Word builds upon the foundation of hearing and reading the Word. And it is to this point, that a Bible reading plan can and should include a place for studying the Word. So with that in mind, let me offer a way of studying, reading, and hearing God’s Word in the coming year.
The Via Emmaus Bible Reading Plan
A couple years ago I outlined three tracks to read through the Bible in a year, two years, or three.
|Tracks||Old Testament 1
Law + Prophets
|Old Testament 2
Prophets + Writings
|August||1–2 Samuel||The Five Scrolls||Galatians–
As I have explained here
The idea of this plan is simple. Read, re-read, listen, study, memorize, and meditate on one (or two or three) books per month. If you do multiple tracks, you could read them sequentially, together, or at different times of the week (e.g., morning and evening, or week and weekend, etc.). However you plan your reading—and you should have a plan for reading that includes a place and time(s) to read—these tracks can guide you as you swim in the Bible. Then, over the course of 1, 2, or 3 years (depending on how many tracks you do), you will have read the whole Bible once, the Gospels twice, and the Psalms and Proverbs three times.
In general, I have encouraged those interested to pick one or two tracks in one year and then alternate the next year. This is what I have done too. So, for the last two years I’ve done one Old Testament track and joined that with New Testament reading. But this year, in light of the three means of Bible Intake listed above I am going to do all three tracks in three different ways.
I plan to listen to OT1, read OT2, and study the NT. Whereas before I listened and read the same book in the same month, I am going to mix it up this year and make sure I get through the whole Bible in the year, albeit through different mediums. Then, if this approach goes according to plan, I’ll switch up the tracks and do the same.
Now to make the pitch: If this way of listening, reading, and studying sounds appealing. Feel free to print out a half-sheet month-to-month guide and saturate yourself with Scripture this year. As I go along I will continue to put up blogposts that connect to the reading. So check back for more biblical content in the days to come. At the same time, if you come across helpful resources, feel free to share them too.
As we begin the new year, we will study those things in which we delight. May the Lord give us fresh grace to delight in him and in his Word, and may that delight drive us to know and love him more, and then to share him with others.
Soli Deo Gloria, ds