Why read the Bible?
Read daily and thence gather food for your soul
—Spiritus Paracletus, 43
The Holy Bible is like a mirror before our mind’s eye. In it we see our inner face. From the Scriptures we can learn our spiritual deformities and beauties. And there too we discover the progress we are making and how far we are from perfection.
–Pope St. Gregory
Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ
The Church ‘forcefully and specially exhorts all the Christian faithful . . . to learn ‘the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ’ (Phil 3:8) by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures. . . Let them remember, however, that prayer should accompany the reading of Sacred Scripture, so that a dialogue takes place between God and man. For ‘we speak to him when we pray; we listen to him when we read the divine oracles.”‘
–Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2653
What is the Bible Timeline Reading Plan?
There are many reading plans available to help you read the Bible. This one, which was developed by Jeff Cavins, takes you straight to the heart of the Scriptures by isolating the main story that runs through the Bible. In just 90 days, you can get the “big picture” of what the Bible’s all about and read about the main people and events for yourself.
Based on Jeff Cavins’ The Bible Timeline Bible learning system, the reading plan divides the story up into 12 main time periods and then guides you through just 14 of the 73 books of the Bible, several chapters a day, for 90 days.
Daily reflections introduce the time periods and provide context for each reading.
What books of the Bible will I read?
Of the 73 books of the Bible, the Bible Timeline reading plan focuses on just 14 of the “narrative books” (also known as “historical books”). When you read these books in order, they take you through the history of salvation from start to finish:
Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Joshua, Judges, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, 2 Kings, Ezra, Nehemiah, 1 Maccabees, Luke, and Acts of the Apostles. The idea is to read these books first in order to get the “big picture”: a narrative context in which to read the remaining books.
What are the Bible time periods?
The Bible Timeline divides into 12 historic time periods that will be introduced as you come to them in your reading:
- Early World (Genesis 1-11)
- Patriarchs (Genesis 12-50)
- Egypt & Exodus (Exodus)
- Desert Wanderings (Numbers)
- Conquest and Judges (Joshua, Judges)
- Royal Kingdom (1,2 Samuel; 1 Kings 1-11)
- Divided Kingdom (1 Kings 12-22, 2 Kings 1-16)
- Exile (2 Kings 17-25)
- Return (Ezra, Nehemiah)
- Maccabean Revolt (1 Maccabees)
- Messianic Fulfillment (Luke)
- The Church (Acts)
Tips for reading
Set aside a regular time and place to read. Allow a good half-hour or more so you can pray and respond to the questions as well.
Pray before you read that the Holy Spirit will open your heart and mind to His word. You might use the simple prayer from 1 Samuel 3:9: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”
Consider doing more than simply reading to “get the story,” and prayerfully enter a conversation with God. Follow these simple steps to praying Scripture:
- READ through the assigned chapters. What one thing stands out to you?
- REFLECT on that portion. What does it say to you?
- RESPOND to God in prayer.
- REST for a moment in God’s loving presence.
If you are new to the Bible and find that this is a lot to take in, read the encouraging words of the following prayer from St. Ephraim.
Prayer of St. Ephraim
Here is a beautiful prayer from St. Ephraim on the inexhaustible riches of Scripture – and profound words of encouragement to those who find they are overwhelmed.
Lord, who can grasp all the wealth of just one of your words? What we understand is much less than we leave behind; like thirsty people who drink from a fountain. For your word, Lord, has many shades of meaning just as those who study it have many different points of view. The Lord has colored his word with many hues so that each person who studies it can see in it what he loves. He has hidden many treasures in his word so that each of us is enriched as we meditate on it.
The word of God is a tree of life that from all its parts offers you fruit that is blessed. It is like that rock opened in the desert that from all its parts gave forth a spiritual drink. He who comes into contact with some share of its treasure should not think that the only thing contained in the word is what he himself has found. He should realize that he has only been able to find that one thing from among many others. Nor, because only that one part has become his, should he say that the word is void and empty and look down on it. But because he could not exhaust it, he should give thanks for its riches.
Be glad that you are overcome and do not be sad that it overcame you. The thirsty man rejoices when he drinks and he is not downcast because he cannot empty the fountain. Rather let the fountain quench your thirst than have your thirst quench the fountain. Because if your thirst is quenched and the fountain is not exhausted, you can drink from it again whenever you are thirsty.
But if when your thirst is quenched and the fountain is also dried up, your victory will bode evil for you. So be grateful for what you have received and don’t grumble about the abundance left behind. What you have received and what you have reached is your share. What remains is your heritage. What at one time you were unable to receive because of your weakness, you will be able to receive at other times if you persevere. Do not have the presumption to try to take in one draft what cannot be taken in one draft and do not abandon out of laziness what can only be taken little by little.
Bible Timeline Prayer
The following prayer is based on the 12 Periods of the Bible Timeline and helps you take its message to heart. The section appropriate for each set of readings is included with the daily reflections.
In the Early World, you created the heavens and Earth and tested Adam and Eve in the garden.
Help me today to choose the life you offer.
In the time of the Patriarchs, you called Abraham and promised his children land, a royal kingdom, and worldwide blessing:
Help me to trust in your promises today.
Egypt and Exodus
You freed your people from slavery in Egypt so they could worship you:
Free me from sin so I can serve and worship.
You taught Israel to walk in faith through 40 years’ wandering in the desert:
Help me to trust in you today, O God.
Conquest and Judges
You led Israel triumphantly into the Promised Land. They failed to teach their children, and instead did what was right in their own eyes:
Help me to keep my eyes on you and teach others what is truly right.
You established a kingdom on your servant David and promised him an eternal throne:
Establish your kingdom in our midst.
Israel split into rival kingdoms and fell into idolatry:
Help me to choose your kingship over other loves.
You punished first Israel, then Judah, with exile. Prophets brought a message of hope:
In my exile due to sin, show me the way home.
You brought the exiles back to Canaan; they rebuilt the Temple and Jerusalem and were taught once more from your Law:
Rebuild my broken heart and life as I return to you.
Mattathias and his sons stood up against the threats of Hellenization:
Help me resist worldliness in the culture and follow only you.
You sent your only Son, Jesus Christ the Messiah, to fulfill all your promises:
Give me new life in him.
The Church carries on your work in the world:
Make me a faithful ambassador of your love.
What if I have questions?
Most people have questions when they read the Bible, particularly if they’re new to it. For the purposes of this reading challenge, try to just read to get familiar with the general story line. Write down your questions and save them for later if you can.
Your priest or deacon may be able to help you with your questions, or you might try one of these resources:
A good Bible dictionary is an indispensable resource that can answer many basic questions. We recommend the following:
- Catholic Bible Dictionary, editor, Scott Hahn
- Dictionary of the Bible, by John McKenzie, SJ
An Atlas to help you find your way around the Holy Land (Hammond’s Atlas of the Bible Lands is good. The Then and Now Bible Maps are also a great resource.)
A general book on Scripture for Catholics: For information on such issues as biblical authorship, inspiration, principles of interpretation, differences between Protestant and Catholic versions of the Bible, or biblical terms and practices: The Bible Compass: A Catholic’s Guide to Navigating the Scriptures, by Dr. Edward Sri.
Commentaries that are faithful to the Church, like the Navarre Bible or the Ignatius Study Bible, or the new Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture.
A book with brief overviews of every book in the Bible: there are several good Catholic ones, including Inside the Bible, by Kenneth Baker, A Guide to the Bible by Antonio Fuentes, and Peter Kreeft’s You Can Understand the Bible: A Practical and Illuminating Guide to Each Book in the Bible.
Church Documents on Scripture
Anyone studying the Bible as a Catholic should also be familiar with the various encyclicals dealing with Scripture (we especially recommend reading the paragraphs cited from the Catechism and also Verbum Domini and/or Dei Verbum as a starting point). These all may be purchased from Catholic bookstores or accessed free of charge on the Vatican website and elsewhere on the web:
- Catechism of the Catholic Church Nos. 50 – 141
- Verbum Domini (The Word of the Lord), Pope Benedict XVI (2010)
- The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church, Pontifical Biblical Commission (1993)
- Dei Verbum (Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation), Vatican Council II (1965)
- Divino Afflante Spiritu (On Promoting Biblical Studies), Pope Pius XII (1943)
- Spiritus Paraclitus (norms and guidelines for Scriptural exegesis set out by Pope Benedict XV in 1920
- Providentissimus Deus (On the Study of Holy Scripture), Pope Leo XIII (1893)