There has long been a trend for pastors and religious leaders to recommend a one-year Bible reading program, which we would not recommend for the serious student of God’s Word. At best, a one-year reading program will help its reader to know a few Bible stories, and introduce them to a several Bible characters, as well as coming away with many principles to help in their walk with God. Instead, we recommend a five-year Bible Reading / Study Program. With this Bible reading / study program, the reader will know far more of the Bible stories, the background behind those stories, what the author actually meant by what he wrote, and be able to explain hundreds of Bible difficulties[1] that exist from Genesis to Revelation, and far more.

Psalm 1:2 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

but his delight is in the law of Jehovah,
and on his law he meditates day and night.

We should begin every study by thanking God for his Word, i.e., the Bible, and his helping us to understand it. We may read the Bible from cover to cover fifty times in our life, each time taking one year, which will give us a very basic understanding of the Bible stories and accounts within it. However, we not only want to know what is in it, but we also want to be able to (1) understand it, (2) to share it and (3) to defend it. For this, we need to study it from cover to cover three to five times in our life, each time taking about three to five years, depending on the business of our family life.

Imagine that our spouse has spent several hours making us dinner. The sweat and toil of overseeing so many things going on at one time: several on the stovetop, in the oven, and in the microwave, and having it all are done at the same time. Now, imagine the pain of heart, if we sat down, and rushed through the meal, to get away to something that interests us more. God spent 1,600 years, with forty plus authors, throughout atrocious times of six world powers that persecuted his people, to bring us sixty-six books that came together to make but one book. He does not want his servants rushing through that well-prepared spiritual meal. One of God’s authors makes just that point,

Joshua 1:8 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.

Does Joshua expect us literally to meditate in a study of God’s Word day and night from Genesis to Revelation? No, but it does mean that we should give our time to God so that we are studying at a pace that will allow for some serious meditation. When we study the Bible in a meditative way, it will allow us to take notice of what the author truly meant, and how that meaning can influence our lives today. A good commentary, like the Holman Old and New Testament commentary volumes, will enable us to investigate the Bible verse-by-verse, even investigating many important words, the historical setting, hard to understand passages, all for the purpose of applying it in our lives, striking us in a deeply personal way. Getting the sense of God’s guidance gives us resilient incentive to put it into practice.

Bible Hebrew Language Bible scholar, Lee M. Fields writes,  “‘Deep’ Bible study is no guarantee that mature faith will result, but shallow study guarantees that immaturity continues.” – Hebrew for the Rest of Us, (p. xiii)

Before We Begin Our Study Program

We need to study a book on Biblical interpretation. Therefore, the Bible student should study the following books during the program. However, Roy B. Zuck’s Basic Bible Interpretation and Andrews’ INTERPRETING THE BIBLE should be studied first.

  • Basic Bible Interpretation by Roy B. Zuck
  • INTERPRETING THE BIBLE: Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics by Edward D. Andrews
  • THE EVANGELISM HANDBOOK: How All Christians Can Effectively Share God’s Word in Their Community by Edward D. Andrews
  • CONVERSATIONAL EVANGELISM [Second Edition] by Edward D. Andrews
  • THE CHRISTIAN APOLOGIST: Always Being Prepared to Make a Defense [Second Edition] By Edward D. Andrews
  • BASICS OF BIBLICAL CRITICISM: Helpful or Harmful? [Second Edition]

Books that one needs in this five-year Bible reading program are New American Standard Bible (NASB) 1995 by The Lockman Foundation.[2] A translation that supersedes even the English Standard Version (ESV) and the New American Standard Bible (NASB) as to literalness and trustworthiness is the upcoming Updated American Standard Version (UASV)[3] One will also need the Holman Old and New Testament Commentary Volumes.[4] If one’s finances are limited, buy these Holman Commentary volumes one at a time. Doing it that way means that we would only have to buy one volume every two to four months. One will also need to buy the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary. In addition, we will need The Big Book of Bible Difficulties: Clear and Concise Answers from Genesis to Revelation (2008) by Norman L. Geisler and Thomas Howe. One will also need The IVP Bible Background Commentary (Old and New Testament Volumes), which may be expensive. Therefore, if you can buy them one at a time, or get them used on Amazon.com, this would be best for those on a limited income. Lastly, every Christian needs to know how to interpret the Bible correctly. For this Bible study program, the first book should be Basic Bible Interpretation by Roy B. Zuck.

The first Bible reading would be Genesis 4:1-26. The student would begin by praying that God would provide understanding, and help apply his Word and grow in knowledge. The student then meditatively reads those verses. After that, use the Holman Old Testament Commentary on Genesis by Stephen J. Bramer. The student would read the corresponding chapter to the Bible verses. Then, examine the section in the volume Deeper Discoveries. The Deeper Discoveries section helps the reader to understand the most important words, phrases, backgrounds, and teaching of each chapter. After completing this portion of the study, pick up The Big Book of Bible Difficulties: Clear and Concise Answers from Genesis to Revelation. We want to see if there are any Bible difficulties, which fall within this section of Bible reading, Genesis 4:1-26. The students will have seven Bible difficulties to read the concluding portion of the study. I have added one of the difficulties identified by Andrews so that students can see they are written to be easily understood.

Genesis 4:3 Why was Cain’s offering unacceptable to God?

There are two aspects of Cain’s offering, which found him unapproved before God: (1) his attitude and (2) the type of offering.

Eventually, Cain and Abel came before God with their offerings. “Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering to Jehovah.” (Gen 4:3, ASV) “Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions.” (Gen 4:4, ESV) It is likely that both Cain and Abel were close to 100 years old t the time, as Adam was 130 years old when he fathered his third son, Seth. (Gen 4:25; 5:3)

We can establish that the two sons became aware of their sinful state and sought our God’s favor. How they garnered this knowledge is guesswork, but it is likely by way of the father, Adam. Adam likely informed them about the coming seed and the hope that lie before humankind.[5] Therefore, it seems that they had given some thought to their condition and stand before God, and realized that they needed to try to atone for their sinful condition. The Bible does not inform us just how much time they had given to this need before they started to offer a sacrifice. Rather, God chose to convey the more important aspect, each one’s heart attitude, which gives us an inside look at their thinking.

Some scholars have suggested that Eve felt that Cain was the “seed” of the Genesis 3:15 prophecy that would destroy the serpent, “she conceived and bore Cain, saying, ‘I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD.’” (Gen 4:1) It might be that Cain shared in this belief and had begun to think too much of himself, and thus the haughty spirit. If this is the case, he was very mistaken. His brother Abel had a whole other spirit, as he offered his sacrifice in faith, “By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts.” (Heb. 11:4)

It seems that Abel was capable of discerning the need for blood to be involved in the atoning sacrifice while Cain was not, or simply did not care. Therefore, it was the heart attitude of Cain as well. Consequently, “but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.” (Gen 4:5, NIV) It may well be that Cain had little regard for the atoning sacrifice, giving it little thought, going through the motions of the act only. However, as later biblical history would show, Jehovah God is not one to be satisfied with formal worship. Cain had developed a bad heart attitude, and Jehovah well knew that his motives were not sincere. The way Cain reacted to the evaluation of his sacrifice only evidenced what Jehovah already knew. Instead of seeking to improve the situation, “Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.” (Gen 4:5) As you read the rest of the account, it will become clearer as to the type of temperament Cain had before God.

Genesis 4:6-16 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

6 Then Jehovah said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? 7 If you do well, will there not be a lifting up?[6] And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”

Cain said to Abel his brother. “Let us go out into the field.”[7] And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him.

Then Jehovah[8] said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” And he said, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” 10 He said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. 11 Now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 When you cultivate the ground, it will no longer yield its strength to you; you will be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” 13 Cain said to Jehovah, “My punishment is greater than I can bear! 14 Behold, you have driven me today away from the ground, and from your face I shall be hidden. I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” 15 So Jehovah said to him, “Therefore whoever kills Cain, vengeance will be taken on him sevenfold.” And Jehovah put a mark on Cain, so that no one finding him would slay him.

16 Then Cain went out from the presence of Jehovah, and dwelt in the land of Nod,[9] east of Eden.

The last section of the study opens the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Background Commentary to read the chapter from this, as well. This may seem overwhelming for one study period. When we first sit, and see how many verses are in the chapter that will be studied that day, open the books and see how long they are as well. If the material seems too long, break it into two or even three study sessions. In study session one, do the Bible reading and the corresponding Holman Commentary Chapter and Deeper Discoveries. In study session two, do the Bible difficulties from the Big Book of Bible Difficulties and the chapter Zondervan Illustrated Bible Background Commentary.

Basics in Biblical Interpretation

Step 1: What is the historical setting and background for the author of the book and his audience? Who wrote the book? When and under what circumstances was the book written? Where was the book written? Who were the recipients of the book? Did you find anything noteworthy about the place of the recipients? What is the theme of the book? What was the purpose for writing the book?

Step 2a: What would this text mean to the original audience? (The meaning of a text is what the author meant by the words that he used, as should have been understood by his readers.)

Step 2b: If there are any words in this section that one does not understand, or that stand out as interesting words that may shed some insight on the meaning, look them up in a word dictionary, such as Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words.

Step 2c: After reading this section from the three Bible translations, do a word study and write down what you think the author meant. Then, pick up a trustworthy commentary, like Holman Old or New Testament commentary volume, and see if you have it correct.

Step 3: Explain the original meaning in one or two sentences, preferably one. Then, take the sentence or two and place it in a short phrase.

Step 4: Now, consider their circumstances, the reason for it being written, what it meant to them, and consider examples from today that would be similar to that time, which would fit the pattern of meaning. What implications can be drawn from the original meaning?

Step 5: Find the pattern of meaning, the “thing like these,” and consider how it could apply in modern life. How should individual Christians today live out the implications and principles?

Biblical Interpretation Explained In Greater Detail

Step 1: What is the historical setting and background for the author of the book and his audience? Who wrote the book? When and under what circumstances was the book written? Where was the book written? Who were the recipients of the book? Did you find anything noteworthy about the place of the recipients? What is the theme of the book? What was the purpose for writing the book? The first step is observation, to get as close to the original text as possible. If you do not read Hebrew or Greek; then, two or three literal translations are preferred (ESV, NASB, and HCSB). The above Bible background information may seem daunting, but it can all be found in the Holman Bible Handbook or the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary.

Step 2a: What would this text have meant to the original audience? (The meaning of a text is what the author meant by the words that he used, as should have been understood by his readers.) Once someone has an understanding of step 1, read and reread the text in its context. In most Bibles, there are indentations or breaks where the subject matter changes. Look for the indentations that are before and after the text, and read and read that whole section from three literal translations. If there are no indentations, read the whole chapter and identify where the subject matter changes.

Step 2b: If there are any words in the section that one does not understand, or that stands out as interesting words that may shed some insight on the meaning, look them up in a word dictionary, such as Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. For example, if the text was Ephesians 5:14, ask what Paul meant by “sleeper” in verse 14. If it was Ephesians 5:18, what did Paul mean by using the word “debauchery” in relation to “getting drunk with wine.” I would recommend Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words by William D. Mounce (Sep 19, 2006) Do not buy the Amazon Kindle edition until they work out a difficulty. If you have Logos Bible Software, it would be good to add this book if it did not come with the package.

Step 2c: After reading the section from the three Bible translations, do a word study and write down what you think the author meant. Then, pick up a trustworthy commentary, like Holman Old or New Testament commentary volume, checking to see if you have it correct. It can be more affordable to buy one volume each time a project is assigned so that it is spread out over time. If one cannot afford each volume of these commentary sets, Holman has a one-volume commentary of the entire Bible. Also, check with the pastor of your church because he may allow you to take a volume home for the assignment.

Step 3: Explain the original meaning in one or two sentences, preferably one. Then, take the sentence or two and place it in a short phrase. If you look in the Bible for Ephesians chapter five, you will find verses 1-5 or 6 are marked off as a section, and the phrase that captures the sense of the meaning, is “imitators of God.” Then, verses 6-16 of that same chapter can be broken down to “light versus darkness” or “walk like children of light.”

Step 4: Consider their circumstances, the reason for it being written, what it meant to them, and consider examples from our day that would be similar to the time they lived, which would fit the pattern of meaning. What implications can be drawn from the original meaning? Part of this fourth step ensures the Bible student stays within the pattern of the original meaning to determine any implications for the reader.

An example would be the admonition that Paul gave the Ephesian congregation at 5:18, “do not get drunk with wine.” Was Paul talking about beer that existed then, too? Surely, he was not explicitly referring to whiskey, which would be centuries before it was invented. Yes, Paul refers to the others because they provide implications that can be derived from the original meaning.

Step 5: Find the pattern of meaning, the “thing like these,” and consider how it could apply in modern life. How should individual Christians today live out the implications and principles?

DIRECTIONS: Fill in the dates that you plan to read each group of chapters listed. Check them off as you complete each section. You can read the Bible books in order or select topics based on the categories shown. If you read one set of chapters each day, you will have read the entire Bible in one year. However, this book does not recommend such an approach. We suggest that you use the Holman Commentary volumes, as well as the Big Book of Bible Difficulties, and take 4-5 years to read the Bible.

+ Read days marked with a plus + to gain a historical overview of God’s dealings with the Israelites.

= Read days marked with a, equal sign = to gain a chronological overview of the development of the Christian congregation.

Date Book Chapter P

The Writings of Moses

Genesis 1-3
  4-7
  8-11
Date Book Chapter P
Genesis + 12-15
  + 16-18
  + 19-22
  + 23-24
  + 25-27
  + 28-30
  + 31-32
  + 33-34
  + 35-37
  + 38-40
  + 41-42
  + 43-45
  + 46-48
  + 40-50
Exodus ♦ 1-4
  + 5-7
  + 8-10
  + 11-13
  + 14-15
  + 16-18
  + 19-21
  + 22-25
  + 26-28
  + 29-30
  + 31-33
  + 34-35
  36-38
  39-40
Leviticus 1-4
  5-7
  8-10
  11-13
  14-15
  16-18
  19-21
  22-23
  24-25
  26-27
Numbers 1-3
  4-6
  7-9
  + 10-12
Date Book Chapter P
Numbers + 13-15
  + 16-18
  + 19-21
  + 22-24
  + 25-27
  28-30
  + 31-32
  + 33-36
Deuteronomy 1-2
  + 3-4
  5-7
  8-10
  11-13
  14-16
  + 17-19
  20-22
  23-26
  27-28
  + 29-31
  + 32
  + 33-34

Israel enters the Promised Land

Joshua + 1-4
+ 5-7
+ 10-12
+ 13-15
+ 16-18
+ 19-21
+ 22-24
Judges + 1-2
+ 3-5
+ 6-7
+ 8-9
+ 10-11
+ 12-13
+ 14-16
+ 17-19
+ 20-21
Ruth + 1-4

When The Kings Ruled Israel

1 Samuel + 1-2
+ 7-9
Date Book Chapter P
1 Samuel + 10-12
+ 13-14
+ 15-16
+ 17-18
+ 19-21
+ 22-24
+ 25-27
+ 28-31
2 Samuel ♦ 1-2
+ 3-5
+ 6-8
+ 9-12
+ 13-14
+ 15-16
+ 17-18
+ 19-20
+ 21-22
+ 23-24
1 Kings + 1-2
  + 3-5
  + 6-7
  + 8
  + 9-10
  + 11-12
1 Kings + 13-14
  + 15-17
  + 18-19
  + 20-21
  + 22
2 Kings + 1-3
  + 4-5
  + 6-8
  + 9-10
  + 11-13
  + 14-15
  + 16-17
  + 18-19
  + 20-22
  + 23-25
1 Chronicles  1-2
  3-5
  6-7
Date Book Chapter P
1 Chronicles
  8-10
  11-12
  13-15
  16-17
  18-20
  21-23
  24-26
  27-29
2 Chronicles 1-3
  4-6
  7-9
  10-14
  15-18
  19-22
  23-25
  26-28
  29-30
  31-33
  34-36

The Jews Return From Exile

Ezra + 1-3
  + 4-6
  + 8-10
Nehemiah + 1-3
  + 4-6
  + 7-8
  + 9-10
  + 11-13
Esther + 1-4
  + 5-10

The Writings Of Moses

Job 1-5
  6-9
  10-14
  15-18
  19-20
  21-24
  25-29
  30-31
  32-34
  35-38
Date Book Chapter P
Job 39-42

Books Of Songs And Practical Wisdom

Psalms 1-18
  9-16
  17-19
  20-25
  26-31
  32-31
  36-38
  39-42
  43-47
  48-52
  53-58
  59-64
  65-68
  69-72
  73-77
  78-79
  80-86
  87-90
  91-96
Psalms 97-103
  104-105
  106-108
  109-115
  116-119:63
  119:64-176
  120-129
  130-138
  139-144
  145-150
Proverbs 1-4
  5-8
  9-12
  13-16
  17-19
  20-22
  23-27
  28-31
Ecclesiastes 1-4
  5-8
  9-12
Date Book Chapter P
Song Of Solomon 1-8
The Prophets
Isaiah 1-4
  5-7
  8-10
  11-14
  15-19
  20-24
  25-28
  29-31
  32-35
  36-37
  38-40
  41-43
  44-47
  48-50
  51-55
  56-58
  59-62
  63-66
Jeremiah 1-3
  4-5
  6-7
  8-10
  11-13
  14-16
  17-20
Jeremiah 21-23
  24-26
  27-29
  30-31
  32-33
  34-36
  37-39
  40-42
  43-44
  45-48
  49-50
  52-52
Lamentations 1-2
  3-5
Ezekiel 1-3
Date Book Chapter P
Ezekiel 3-5
  7-9
  10-12
  13-15
  16
  17-18
  19-21
  22-23
  24-26
  27-28
  29-31
  32-33
  34-36
  37-38
  39-40
  41-43
  44-45
  46-48
Daniel 1-2
  3-4
  5-7
  8-10
  11-12
Hosea 1-7
  8-10
Joel 1-3
Amos 1-5
  6-9
Obadiah/Jonah
Micah 1-7
Nahum/Haggai
Zechariah 1-7
  8-11
  12-14
Malachi 1-4

Accounts Of Jesus’ Life And Ministry

Matthew 1-4
  5-7
  11-13
  14-17
  18-20
  21-23
Date Book Chapter P
  24-25
  26
  27-28
Mark = 1-3
  = 4-5
  = 6-8
  = 9-10
  = 11-13
  = 14-16
Luke 1-2
  3-5
  6-7
  8-9
  10-11
  12-13
  14-17
  18-19
  20-22
  23-24
John 1-3
  4-5
  6-7
  8-9
  10-12
  13-15
  16-18
  19-21

Growth Of The Christian Congregation

Acts = 1-3
  = 4-6
  = 7-8
  = 9-11
  = 12-14
  = 15-16
  = 17-19
  = 20-21
  = 22-23
  = 24-26
  = 27-28
The Letters Of Paul
Romans 1-3
  4-7
Date Book Chapter P
Romans 8-11
  12-16
1 Corinthians 1-6
  7-10
  11-14
  15-16
2 Corinthians 1-6
  7-10
  11-13
Galatians 1-6
Ephesians 1-6
Philippians 1-4
Colossians 1-4
1 Thessalonians 1-5
2 Thessalonians 1-3
1 Timothy 1-6
2 Timothy 1-4
Titus/Philemon
Hebrews 1-6
  7-10
  11-13

Writings Of The Other Apostles & Disciples

James 1-5
1 Peter 1-5
2 Peter 1-3
1 John 1-5
2 John/3 John/Jude
Revelation 1-4
  5-9
  10-14
  15-18
  19-22

[1] These so-called Bible difficulties are what Bible critics call errors and contradictions. However, they are not errors and contradictions, but rather difficulties because we are far removed from their time and culture, as well as their languages, which was Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.

[2] We want to use a good literal translation (ESV, NASB, HCSB, or LEB) because literal translations bring you closer to the original, while the interpretive translations (NIV somewhat, NLT, TEV, CEV), distance you from the originals.

[3] http://uasvbible.org/

[4] If you feel that you are a more advanced student of the Bible, you can replace Holman Commentary volumes with the Old and New Testament volumes of The New American Commentary.

[5] Adam’s family must have received God’s revelation about the necessity of sacrifice to create and maintain fellowship with God. The background to this was probably the sacrifice that God performed to provide the clothing to cover Adam and Eve’s shame (see Gen. 3:21). Anders, Max; Gangel, Kenneth; Bramer, Stephen J. (2003-04-01). Holman Old Testament Commentary – Genesis: 1 (p. 56). Holman Reference. Kindle Edition.

[6]  This is a shortening of the Hebrew idiom “to lift up the face,” which means “to accept” favorably

[7] Genesis 4:8: SP LXX It Syr inserts these bracketed words; Vg, “Let us go outdoors”; MT omits; some MSS and editions have an interval here.

[8] The Tetragrammaton, God’s personal name, יהוה (JHVH/YHWH), which is found in the Hebrew Old Testament 6,828 times.

[9] I.e. wandering