Starting in September of this year, I decided to attempt to read the Bible in 90 days. In 2010, for some reason (I don’t remember why) I bought The Bible in 90 Days. It’s an NIV large print Bible that has an introduction and explanation about how to read the Bible in 90 days. In brief, to do so is simply reading 12 pages a day. That being said, this Bible itself is no different than a normal NIV large print Bible except that on the twelfth page it would say, “Begin Day [A], Start Day [B]” as a guide. I never read it, nor even considered it.
But as we were reorganizing some books in our home this past September, I came across the book once again. I did not do a normal year-long Bible reading plan this year—even though I did this for the past few years—and so when I came across this 90 day Bible in September, I thought it was perfect timing. First, I was reading less than last year. Second, I realized that, being September, if I did the 90 days I could still finish by the end of the year. So without much thought, I began. I started on September 16th and ended on December 14th, reading the Bible from front to back in 90 days.
I want to give some thoughts about the process in this post. I do this mainly for myself. I had never read the Bible so quickly, nor so much Bible day in and day out before. I don’t think it’s an amazing feat or anything—it wasn’t that much reading—but for me it was a unique, memorable process. So, I took some notes about the process during the 90 days, and here’s my thoughts about it all.
1. I was certainly able to ‘study’ the Bible this way. To say it another way, I didn’t miss much content, which I expected to do quickly reading so much.
I now think this widespread belief is a fallacy—or at least a misunderstanding. The idea is that since one is reading so much (and so quickly), it’ll be too much. It’ll just go in and out. Now that can be true, but it can be true of slow reading too—even when you’re ‘taking time.’ (And notice, ‘time’ in the ‘take your time’ statement actually means more ‘days’ and ‘periods,’ not ‘time.’ For it probably takes the same amount of time to read the Bible whether you read in 10 minute chunks or 100 minute chunks.) I actually found the opposite to be true. By reading the Bible swiftly in 90 days, I think I understood more content—and I don’t think it is because i’m a great reader or retainer of information. Rather, because reading became such a habit, because I was able to see connections from things I just read from other places in the Bible, and because I was almost forced to get into the flow each time I read, I think I retained more content than ever. (See thoughts #2 and #3 for more on this.) Moreover, I think this way of reading the Bible even achieves a unique form of ‘studying.’ For example, who has ‘studied’ and ‘understood’ Isaiah more: the person who read it in smaller chapter chunks for two months, or the person who read the whole book in five days? I don’t think there’s one right answer. I’ve done both. Each has its advantages. I think we often default to thinking that going ‘slower’ and ‘taking our time’ automatically means more understanding. But that’s just not necessarily true. Slowly reading allows you to see a certain depth, like in individual verses (which is precious for sure), but reading it in bigger chunks allows you to immerse yourself more in the text and see deep connections and unities in the book which you don’t see when you read it over months. The point: Both are depth; both are studying; they’re just different. This leads to thoughts #2 and #3.
2. More than ever I was able to immerse myself and get into a groove in Bible reading.
This might just be how I work, but doing it this way allowed me to get into the atmosphere of the Word more than when I only used to read 2-4 chapters a day for my yearly Bible reading plan. I think the reason is this: When reading only 2-4 chapters, there is that same grunt to get into it, but then once you do, the reading is done for the day. But with this, when I read much more per day, it still took the same amount of time to get into it, but then I still had like 8-10 pages left. The best comparison I can think of is to running. Many runners say—and I agree—that the first three miles are the hardest. Physically and mentally you are warming up and getting into the groove. It’s a real thing. Then after those three miles, you hit a sweet spot, where, as long as you’re in decent shape, running is enjoyable and totally different. That’s how this was daily in my Bible reading. As stated in the point above, I think this dramatically helped my retention of content. But this also bring me to thought #3.
3. This was the by far the most enjoyable Bible read through I have done yet.
See the above two thoughts for the reasons why, namely, I understood more content and I enjoyed how I was able to immerse more this way. I felt like I was seeing the Bible as a more cohesive whole and was relishing it uniquely. Because I was reading chapters and books so close together, it didn’t seem like a fragmental, jumbled book at all. Instead, it all went together, I was understanding more content, and I was getting into the flow more often while reading. All of this made it by far the most enjoyable Bible reading experience yet.
4. I was struck that the Bible isn’t that big.
Obviously, ‘big’ is a relative term. At around 800,000 words, of course the Bible is ‘big.’ And yet, as I was reading through it in large chunks each day, I was struck how quickly it went, and how un-detailed so much of it is. Here’s what I mean: This is God’s communication to humankind—sometimes that reality is hard to take in—and yet, I was able to read it pretty easily in 90 days. A mere 90 days! Moreover, when you’re reading it, it isn’t exceptionally specific. It focuses on some characters in depth, but for the most part, it is swiftly going through history. And even then, it’s swiftly going through the history of just one nation, Israel. And even with them, their history is scattered, individual people are rarely mentioned, their kings sometimes only get one paragraph for their whole lives, and there’s so many unanswered questions. Then when it comes to the psalms, prophets, and wisdom literature, these aren’t so detailed either. Sure, some prophets wrote some pretty large books, but for the most part they’re saying similar things—and this section takes up about a third of the whole Bible! Then comes the New Testament, which has four accounts of Jesus’ life (but mostly just his last few years), a very quick telling of the founding of the early church, a handful of letters, and then a strange, short, final apocalyptic book. Then just like that, God’s forever, finished communication to humankind is ended. The end. 800,000 words. It’s honestly startling. So of course, the Bible isn’t ‘small’—in a sense. I don’t mean to sound arrogant by saying ‘it isn’t that big.’ But I honestly was struck a few times while reading by the un-detailedness and shortness of it. I—a small, not-that-smart human being—was able to read God’s eternal communication to us pretty easily in a mere 90 days.
5. I was struck that the Bible can be excavated forever.
The Bible isn’t that big, and yet, I was struck that it could be gloriously dug into forever. On almost every page a new thought struck me—a connection, an application, a thought about me, or God, or his world. They kept coming. There was always fresh glory to see, even as I was reading it swiftly and in large chunks. This was wonderfully coupled with my feeling that the Bible wasn’t so big. For on the one hand, the Bible was not as detailed as I thought. But on the other hand, it kept surprising me with its endless treasure to be sought and savored. It is a limited book—God could’ve written much more than a 800,000 word book; yet, it is limitless in its glories—which is no surprise since its main character is an infinitely glorious God.
6. I saw clearly that there’s vast differences between the various genres, but the finest gold (to me) was the epistles.
I already knew that there were various genres in the Bible, but reading them so quickly and side by side, I started to appreciate their differences. But I say “the finest gold (to me) was the epistles” because it was so thrilling when I finally arrived at the epistles. A day of twelve epistle pages took me longer to read than any other genre due to its density, but they were the clearest, most systematic and straightforward of all the genres. Yes, some things in them can be confusing (Peter even admitted so!; 2 Peter 3:16). But after reading the whole history of Israel and their prophets, about the arrival of the Messiah, and about the start of the early church, it was like gold-mining when I finally arrived at the explanation-saturated epistles.
7. I was able to notice clearer connections between books.
By using page numbers to start and end rather than chapter numbers, I was reading books back to back. I’d often finish a book and then get significantly far into another one all in the same day. Doing it this way, I was able to see more clear connections in the ending of one book and the beginning of another. This was clearly the case for Old Testament historical books, as one book would pick up (or not!) where the previous left off. But this was also true in the New Testament. One major example I can think of was from the ending of Acts and the beginning of Romans. At the end of Acts, Paul finally makes it to Rome and stays in Rome “proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance” (Acts 28:31). Then, in the first paragraph of Romans (which was on the same page in my Bible), he explains the “gospel of God” concerning “Jesus Christ our Lord” who was a “descendent of David” (Romans 1:1-4). Now, I realize that Romans was written prior to Paul making it to Rome in Acts. I also realize that the canonical book orders are not inspired—we even have a different order in our Old Testament than the Jews (and Jesus) did in their Hebrew Bible. I get all that. Yet still, I was able to see connections between books like this which helped me further appreciate the unity of the Bible.
8. Formatting and translation matter—the ESV is a better translation, but the NIV formatting is excellent and superior.
The more I read, the more I valued the NIV formatting, but still retained a preference for the ESV translation of words when I knew the ESV translation of a verse. Concerning the formatting, the NIV used more paragraphs, more block indentation with speeches and letters, and more of a list format with lists. This was especially appreciated in the Old Testament, particularly the historical books and prophets. The paragraphs were smaller, more like a regular book; certain speeches, prayers, or letters were indented, which helped with seeing where they began and ended; and when it came to censuses, or genealogies, or land allotment, the NIV’s formatting was exceptional. All of these things led to better understanding. There’s a new push for single column Bibles for this same reason—and I appreciate this push. But in my opinion, the NIV superior formatting is even more important than the single column. I loved it. But as for translation of words, content, and Bible-study ability, I came to see more and more that the ESV is by far a better translation. The NIV makes too many interpretative decisions to avoid ambiguity (although the ambiguity exists in the original languages), and it often leaves out important conjunctions in the New Testament (this to me is the most frustrating issue with the NIV). In sum, I wish I could get the the ESV translation with the NIV formatting! But since I have to choose one, I’ll definitely choose content-clarity over formatting-clarity—but I truly did love the NIV formatting.
9. It greatly solidified my belief in the relationship between the covenants, the promises of God, Israel, and the church.
I particularly was keeping my eye out for all this while reading through the Bible this time. I became convinced of Progressive Covenantalism a couple years ago (a middle ground between Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology, although closer to Covenant Theology). But many questions—specifically about the promises of the Old Testament to the people of Israel, how they’re fulfilled in the New Testament, and about any hint of the ‘future’ of ethnic Israel to come—still remained. I of course didn’t find anywhere near all the answers while reading through the Bible. But I did come to a much more solidified belief in the connections between the covenants, and especially in how the promises toward Israel work in the New Testament. I think this was clearer than ever because of how quickly I was reading the Bible. I’d read the many restoration promises in the Old Testament prophets (and there’s many more than just the classic ‘New Covenant’ texts!), and within a week I was reading how the apostles saw them fulfilled in the coming of Christ. I was able to see what texts they quoted, or just hinted at, and how they saw them fulfilled in Christ. Without getting into too much detail, I believe more now than ever that Christ is the fulfillment of Israel, and that those in him (the true Israel) are in the church, which is the new covenant people of God. All those restoration promises to Old Testament Israel are fulfilled in Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20)—not in some future ethnic Israel fulfillment—because he is the antitype of Israel (eg. Hosea 11:1; Matthew 2:15). He is what the whole nation of Israel was always pointing to. Therefore, the church does not replace Israel. Instead, Israel—as with so many types in the Old Testament!—was always a shadow of Christ. All those in Christ now receive the promises of Israel because they are in him, the true Israel. As a result, I more now than ever do not think there is a ‘future’ for ethnic Israel, although they still had a special place in God’s redemptive plan and are uniquely loved ethnically (see Romans 3, 11). (I also, while reading the Bible like this, was able to read Romans 11 in a clearer way than ever.) But I also do not think the church replaces Israel. I think this explanation alone makes sense of a) all the Old Testament restorative promises, and b) how the many New Testament writers apply those promises to Christ and the current people of God in Christ. (I plan on writing much more about this on this site in the year to come, Lord willing.) Reading the Bible so quickly I think helped solidify this belief and these connections.
10. The only negative: It was so time consuming that it was prayer consuming.
This was the only negative I can think of. My morning routine apart from these 90 days was usually reading parts of a book, then reading some of the Bible with prayer. During these 90 days, however, I got the coffee and started the Bible reading right away with much less prayer. In order to read it all, I felt like I had to do this due to time constraints, and I often still didn’t read entire the days section by the time my morning was over. As a result, the solitude time of prayer lessened; it was simply filled with more reading. Sure, much of that reading was sprinkled with prayer of course, but it was much more taking in God’s Word than talking to God himself. As a result, I do think that this amount of Bible reading is probably too much to maintain day in and day out for years. I think it was great for a three month stint. But at least for me, it was too demanding to keep up this amount forever. My prayer life would suffer too much. But I don’t think it was wrong or very hurtful to have this three month period where I listened to God considerably more than I spoke to him.
Will I Do It Again?
Will I do I again? There’s an easy answer: Absolutely. I mean it when I say it was my favorite Bible read through ever and that I was able to see such unique connections and unity. So, without a doubt, I’ll do it again. How frequently? I’m not sure. I am thinking about trying to read it half as fast (so in 180 days) maybe next year. I think then I’d gain many of the same benefits, but not have the downside of it negatively affecting my prayer life. I’m not sure though; we’ll see.
In conclusion, I’d recommend reading the Bible in 90 days to anyone. I am not a fast reader—I promise you that. I read about 180-250 word per minute. But it’s worth the discipline and intentionality to go on this journey. And I truly do think most people can do it.
I deeply loved the experience. It was a joyful habit. I will do it again. Yet, as shown in thought #5 again, I by no means think I gained a hold or expertise on the Bible by doing so. I appreciate God’s redemptive plan more now; I love his Word more than ever now. But I’ve only scratched the surface. I will excavate it forever and ever. Praise God that he gave us such a gloriously inexhaustible Book.
With my 2018 reading finished, see the next post about my writing plans in 2019.