“Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ,” said St. Jerome. So let’s look at this foundational step toward a devotional life: a daily devotional reading of Scripture.
I’ve already discussed choosing a translation here, and choosing a Bible here, and there’s nothing I’d change about that, really. If you’re a Protestant, I know the NIV is very popular right now, but the NASB (New American Standard) ranks better on translation accuracy, is also a pleasure to read and is easy to navigate. There are still the die-hard King James adherents, but even in the nearly-200 years since what we know as the KJV was updated, language has undergone enormous shifts which can be misleading: I once heard a preacher give a sermon on “The Prodigal’s other son” — he didn’t realize the Prodigal Son (not Prodigal’s son) was about the younger son, or that a “prodigal” is another name for a money-waster. “Suffer the children to come unto me” is another example, as “suffering” means something completely different there than in our modern usage. No, if you’re going to read the Scriptures, you’d better know the words it contains, so unless you’re a language or literature scholar, I’d bypass the KJV.
So how to begin? A lot of people follow a Lectionary schedule, and read the passages marked for the day’s Mass readings. This is a good place to begin –
However, I believe we need to have a sense of Scripture in context, of a Book as a whole, which is how it was written — which means we need to engage in a Book study. Each Book of the Scriptures (and Bible comes from the word biblia, which is the root for most European language’s word for library: bibliothèque) was written independently of all the others.
So I’d recommend you choose a Book of Scripture, begin with Chapter 1, Verse 1, and read it through. Start with one of the Gospels, perhaps, or one of the shorter books of the New Testament. And get a sense of the whole message contained in each Book.
I suggest you read the Psalms and Wisdom Literature separately. The Divine Office, or Liturgy of the Hours, is built from the Psalms; you might read a Psalm a day (or a part of a long Psalm), and a chapter or a set number of verses in your other reading.
For the time being, I recommend avoiding, in the Old Testament, the Books of Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy (which are the Law, the Census, and speeches of Moses), while you get a stronger sense of the drama of the Historical narratives (Genesis, Exodus, Joshua-Esther). The Wisdom literature and Prophets are easier to keep focused on, too. As you are becoming grounded, you can read a few verses of Leviticus, Numbers, or Deuteronomy as an introduction, or for research — I just suggest you postpone reading straight through those, for the present; because they’re not narrative, they can be discouraging — just what you do NOT want to encounter, early on in your reading!
In the New Testament, I would likewise suggest waiting before tackling Revelations.
I also recommend you pace yourself. I believe it’s better to read for comprehension and retention, and a “Read the Bible through in a year” program just doesn’t lend itself to those.
Reading the Bible doesn’t have to be daunting or intimidating or mysterious; in fact, it’s quite a thrilling endeavor.