Turning to Scripture should be an intuitive response for Christians when we feel anxious about the world we live in. Yet the American Bible Society’s annual State of the Bible 2020 report found an alarming trend: A mere 9 percent of Americans read their Bible each day in 2019—the lowest number in ABS’s decade of research and decreasing more in the first few months of the pandemic. But if 2021 carries even a fragment of the uncertainty we experienced in the past year, we need Scripture for guidance and reassurance even more. In my years of leading in-person Bible studies and an online Bible reading group, I’ve found sometimes we need practical ideas for getting started or picking the Bible back up again. Here are ten ways to read the Bible with fresh eyes in the new year.
1. Add a new translation to your bookshelf.
If you’ve primarily read one translation for many years, find a new one. After reading the New International Version (NIV) for years, I added the Christian Standard Bible (CSB). A friend recommended I get my hands on a Revised English Bible (REB), an English-language translation published by both Oxford and Cambridge publishing houses, so I use that one now as well. I’ve long turned to Eugene Peterson’s The Message paraphrase when I’m confused about what a passage says. Familiar verses grow in meaning as a differently translated word or two give me pause. Parallel Bibles—where you see two to four translations side by side—are excellent for reading the Bible in this new way as well.
2. Read Scripture out loud.
While it may seem simple, reading the Bible out loud can actually move us closer to the way Scripture was first presented to its original audiences. Many churches follow this methodology, making their way through the Bible in a three-year period. When we read Scripture aloud, phrases are emphasized and we can better sense the rhythm of a passage (although some cadence does remain lost in translation). Reading Scripture out loud together in a small group also can add to the variety, and hearing different inflections, or even different translations, can generate good discussion about word choice. The first time we tried this in my Bible study, I chose Isaiah 1: “When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening. Your hands are full of blood!” (v. 15). God’s anger and frustration, communicated through the prophet, came to life for the women in a more powerful way. To further enhance this method, you could invite people from various faiths and church traditions to read with you.
3. Listen while driving, cooking, or walking.
This method is especially good for nonreaders or people who have trouble finding a consistent time to read their Bibles each day. It’s amazing how quickly one can progress through the Bible using an audio resource. The internet and Bible apps allow for numerous translations and even accents, which make this method particularly appealing for many people. Listening to David Suchet on YouTube, Johnny Cash’s reading of the New Testament on Audible, or Streetlights on Spotify is a fun way to mix it up. A warning as you try this method for yourself: When my husband and I began listening to audiobooks during extended road trips, I found it difficult to listen to a narrator without my mind wandering. If you find your mind drifting, try to focus on one or two key points from the passage.
4. Take a year to read the Bible chronologically.
Several years ago, upon the recommendation of a friend, I picked up a chronological Bible. We decided to read it at the same time, inviting others to join us in a private Facebook group. To this day, we read through the Bible annually in the order scholars deduce the events occurred. This method has had a major impact on my understanding of Scripture. Beloved verses and passages became part of the ongoing story of God’s redemptive plan for all he has created. Reading about the kings alongside the prophets, comparing the accounts of the Gospels, and understanding the happenings of Acts in conjunction with the letters to the churches helped fill gaps in my understanding.
5. Use a commentary or study-aid tools.
Use a new-to-you commentary to aid in researching the passage or book you’re reading. Commentaries go further than a study Bible in offering historical background and cultural context, and they help tie together the narrative of Scripture in a holistic way. Other multimedia resources, such as She (He) Reads Truth, The Gospel Coalition’s free courses, or BibleProject’s videos and studies, can complement our daily reading of the Word.
6. Read a whole book in one sitting.
If reading an entire book of the Bible sounds intimidating, try starting with a shorter book like Philippians. Reading an entire Pauline epistle offers insight into what was happening in the ancient city at the time. It gives us a sense of all the people Paul met in these churches and how similar they are to people who might be in our own churches. I spent a summer afternoon reading Mark in one sitting and could more clearly see his sense of urgency for the spread of the gospel. His heart for evangelism jumped off the page in a fresh way. One variation on this idea is to read the books of one author all at once. (For example, for a closer look at John, read his gospel, his three letters, and Revelation.)
7. Use a Reader’s Bible.
Reader’s Bibles have removed the chapters and verses, so they read more like a novel with one single column and few distractions. Some find this format helps them read for greater lengths of time. The original text didn’t have the breaks, so it gives an individual a feel for how early Christians would have read Scripture. Friends who use a Reader’s Bible comment they especially like reading poetry and prophecy this way.
8. Reflect on a psalm a week.
Rather than read a different psalm each day, select one to read each day for a week. As you read, notice what phrases in the psalm stand out to you, giving you a stronger sense of the author’s emotion. I often read Psalm 51 as a daily prayer, and I’m amazed at what verses stand out to me, many times based on what’s going on in my own life. I’ve yet to find a better way to start my day than asking God to “create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Ps. 51:10).
9. Read the parables of Jesus back to back.
Omitting any text in between, read the parables of Jesus. Let him be the master storyteller that he is. Jesus knew the best way for his audience to understand a spiritual teaching was to tell them a story. In Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus, Lois Tverberg points out that “Jesus’ frequent parables about fishermen and farmers don’t evoke a visceral response in us, as they did in his agrarian world.” We better identify the lessons in these stories by homing in on them. Who was in his original audience? What did their daily lives look like? How is ours different? What lessons can we apply today in our world? Considering the cultural and social contexts of parables can help us see the text in a new way.
10. Write out whole books.
Writing out passages will help you read the Bible in a new way. You might find that patterns begin to emerge. You might see how words or phrases are repeated for emphasis. Days, months, or even years later, you will have pages to go back to in your own handwriting, further connecting you to Scripture. I first wrote out Scripture like this with the Book of James. It struck me how often James’ words would point me back to the teachings of Jesus. James wrote about faith as a way of life, and I noticed this in a way I hadn’t before I wrote it down.
The Bible is God’s inspired Word for us. While we decide on our New Year’s resolutions and Bible reading plans, may we turn to Scripture first. As Jen Wilkin wrote: “The inspirational words of humans are a paltry substitute for the inspired words of God.” Whatever 2021 brings, the Word is a rich source of insight and hope as we read, listen, and meditate on it.