Why We Should Read the Old Testament: Part 3
By J with thanks to J*
This is part 3 of a three-part series encouraging you to read the Old Testament. Click here for Part 1 on how important the Old Testament is to understanding the Christian worldview. Click here for Part 2 on how to appreciate the difficult sections of the Old Testament.
I hope you’re feeling motivated to read the Old Testament now, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is a very big book, so let’s look at some strategies and resources that might help us read the Old Testament without getting stuck or giving up halfway.
Reading a Bible storybook is a good place to start if you have never read the whole bible. This suggestion is not just for children, though if you have children definitely involve them in your reading time! When we read a murder mystery, we persist to the end because we want to find the answer to the question: “who did the crime?”. When we read the Old Testament we should likewise be aware that we are trying to find the answer to the question: “who will save the world?” A good Bible storybook can act as a map of how this question is answered, and will help us persist when we read the actual Old Testament. That said, don’t just pick a storybook based on how cute and fluffy the animals are, but pick one that show you how each story points to Jesus. I highly recommend the following two resources:
The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every story whispers his name – by Sally Lloyd-Jones
The Big Picture Story Bible – by David R Helm
Of course you can just pick up the Old Testament and just read it from cover to cover, but most people find this intimidating. Reading plans are a great way to break up the Bible into manageable chunks of reading each day and ticking off your progress can provide positive reinforcement. Bible Apps like the Holy Bible by Youversion have a wide range of reading plans that can also be set to remind you at a specific time each day. Look for the reading plans that take you chapter by chapter through a whole book or several books.
Don’t forget, realistic expectations are important for being able to make it through a reading plan without giving up. Below are some suggestions that might help you avoid getting bogged down, especially if you’re reading the Old Testament for the first time:
Perhaps start by picking a reading plan for one book of the Bible rather than the whole Bible.
Perhaps aim to read the narrative sections from the Old Testament history books (Genesis to Esther), skimming over the genealogies and laws.
Perhaps schedule some flexibility and read five days of the reading plan each week rather than reading every day.
Perhaps find a friend to read with, this offers accountability, but also someone you can share your questions and thoughts with.
Perhaps use an audio Bible so that you can do your daily reading while washing the dishes. Holy Bible by Youversion and other apps have free audio Bibles.
If you are feeling up for it, below are some well-known reading plans that will get you through the whole Bible. The links take you to a printable plan, but Bible apps like Holy Bible by Youversion have these reading plans built in.
Blue Letter Bible Chronological Plan - read through the whole bible in 365 days with all the chapters arranged according to the historical order of events
The Discipleship Journal Bible Reading Plan – read five days each week to read through the whole bible in a year, the four readings each day come from the gospels, epistles, wisdom literature and other Old Testament books
Robert Murray M‘Cheyne’s Bible Reading Calendar – four readings each day two from OT and two from NT allows you to read through the Old Testament once and the New Testament and Psalms twice in 365 days
Don’t forget, the point of this sort of reading is to be familiarised with large portions of the Bible rather than a careful study, so don’t feel like you need to understand every sentence of every chapter. When you have read the whole Old Testament you may not understand the finer points of every detail, but you should have a greater idea of the context behind Biblical quotes and events.
Sometimes important questions do jump out to you as your reading, here are some helpful resources that will build your ability to understand more of the Old Testament:
Ask your pastor – yes, I do believe you are allowed to ask your pastor questions about the Bible!
Get a study bible – while they won’t answer all your questions, they will fill in some of the gaps regarding historical and cultural background that can help you understand what is going on. Some good study Bibles include: ESV Study Bible and NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible. If you create an account and sign in at esv.org the Global Study Bible can be accessed for free.
Watch The Bible Project videos - each book of the bible has an animated overview of the main plot or point of the book. These can be very helpful to get an overview of each book before diving in to read it yourself