How to Read Both Sides of the Bible

Copyright 2014, Grace to You. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
This article originally appeared here at Grace to You.

There is nothing more basic to Bible study than Bible reading. Imagine trying to interpret a middle chapter in the allegorical Pilgrim’s Progress without knowing the larger story, or studying the significance of World War II without a good understanding of World War I. Proper Bible study cannot be built on a scattered compilation of pet verses or a narrow study of a particular doctrine—it must be grounded in a comprehensive understanding of broad biblical themes and history. And the only way to obtain that is faithful, diligent Bible reading.

Ironically, many people engage in studying the Bible without ever reading it. They may read a lot of books about the Bible, but there is no substitute for reading Scripture on its own. My suggestion is that you follow a deliberate reading plan that will take you all the way through both the Old and New Testaments.

The Old Testament

A healthy goal for all Christians is to read through the Old Testament once a year. There are 39 books in the Old Testament, and if you read about 20 minutes a day, you should be able to get through it in one year.

As you do this year after year, you’ll be building comprehension as you read. I would also suggest, as you read, that you make notations in the margin to mark places that you don’t yet understand. As you continue to re-read the Old Testament, you will begin to check those notations off as you gain increasing understanding of the portions that once confused you. Whatever remains unanswered can be used for individual study with a commentary or other sources to find the meaning.

It is unrealistic to expect to exhaustively learn the meaning of every Old Testament verse. Such an unattainable goal will only cultivate a sense of intimidation for such a large reading program. Trust the Holy Spirit to do His illuminating work as you persist with your daily schedule. You will gain an ever-expanding knowledge of the material.

The New Testament

Paul described the New Testament as the unveiling of the Old Testament (Colossians 1:25–26). He alluded to the Old Testament insofar as it illustrated and elucidated and supported the New Testament.

The message of the New Testament is the culmination of revelation. It is that which embodies and engulfs all that was in the Old Testament. In a sense, the New Testament will summarize for you the content of the Old Testament, as well as lead you further into the fullness of revelation. It is for this reason our major thrust in Bible study should be reading the New Testament.   

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John MacArthur
John MacArthur is the pastor-teacher of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, as well as an author, conference speaker, president of The Master’s College and Seminary, and president and featured teacher with the Grace to You media ministry. He has written nearly 400 books and study guides, including The MacArthur Study Bible.