Becoming so heavenly minded that we are of some earthly good.

How to Master the English Bible

It’s a new year and the time where many Bible students embark on the ever so popular “read-the-Bible-in-a-year” journey. I think having a Bible reading plan or attending theology online courses is a good idea, but I wasn’t too keen on doing the normal one-year-plan so I started searching for what would work best for me. This post by Justin Taylor has just about every Bible reading plan available and is a great resource.

The plan I decided on for this year comes from one of the most famous Bible teachers of the 20th century, James Gray. He wrote a book in 1904 called How to Master the English Bible, which is intended to teach students to master the Bible, not just study it. Here is the four step process he outlines:

1. Choose a book of the Bible.

2. Read it in its entirety.

3. Repeat step #2 twenty times.

4. Repeat this process for all books of the Bible

I’m thinking about adjusting this process to only reading each book ten times instead of twenty but we’ll see (hopefully I don’t short circuit the whole “mastery” part by only reading each book ten times). I’m starting with the book of John and thinking of doing Philippians next.

I like this approach because of the focus it encourages and the fact that I get to read big chunks of the Bible instead of isolated chapters each day. But even more importantly is the fact that I am excited about it and so my motivation to read the Word has increased! If you want to read James Gray’s testimony related to this process here it is (Pages 15-20 of How to Master the English Bible):

That which follows grows largely out of the writer’s personal experience. For the first eight or ten years of my ministry I did not know my English Bible as I should have known it, a fact to which my own spiritual life and the character of my pulpit ministrations bore depressing witness. Nor was I so fortunate as to meet with more than one or two brethren in the ministry who knew their English Bible very much better than I knew mine. They all declared that the theological seminaries did not profess to teach the English Bible. They taught much about the Bible of great importance for ministers to know, such as the Hebrew and Greek tongues, the principles of exegesis and interpretation, the history of the text, and the proofs and illustrations of Christian doctrine; but, in the words of one of the ministers referred to (which have appeared in print), ‘while we had some special lessons in one or two of the epistles, several of the psalms, in some of the prophecies, and in a few select portions of the gospels, other and vastly important parts of the Bible were left out altogether. We had nothing on the book of Revelation, no elaborate study of the Mosaic ritual and its profound system of types, and especially were we left uninitiated into the minute and wonderful coordination of parts in the various books of the Old and New Testaments, which disclose a stupendous divine plan running through the whole, linking them all together as an indissoluble unit and carrying with them an amazing power of conviction.

The seminaries have assumed that students were acquainted with the great facts of the English Bible and their relation to one another before matriculation, but so competent an authority as President Harper declares that “to indicate the line of thought and chief ideas of a particular prophet, or the argument of an epistle, or to state even the most important events in the life of our Lord, would be impossible for the average college graduate.” It is such an unfortunate state of things which, to a certain extent, accounts for the rise and maintenance of those excellent institutions, the Moody Bible Institute in this country and Spurgeon’s College in London, with their almost countless offspring and imitators everywhere, creating as they have a distinct atmosphere of biblical and evangelistic teaching and preaching. It is commonly supposed, it may be said in passing, that these institutions cater to or attract only men or women of very limited educational attainments, but in the case of the first-named, at least, an incidental census taken recently disclosed the fact that one-third of the male students then on the rolls or who had lately left were college-trained; one may safely hazard the opinion that in the woman’s department the proportion of the college-trained students would have been still larger.

The first practical help I ever received in the mastery of the English Bible was from a layman. We were fellow-attendants at a certain Christian conference or convention and thrown together a good deal for several days, and I saw something in his Christian life to which I was a comparative stranger –a peace, a rest, a joy, a kind of spiritual poise I knew little about. One day I ventured to ask him how he had become possessed of the experience, when he replied, “By reading the epistle to the Ephesians.” I was surprised, for I had read it without such results, and therefore asked him to explain the manner of his reading, when he related the following: He had gone into the country to spend the Sabbath with his family on one occasion, taking with him a pocket copy of Ephesians, and in the afternoon, going out into the woods and lying down under a tree, he began to read it; he read it through at a single reading, and finding his interest aroused, read it through again in the same way, and, his interest increasing, again and again. I think he added that he read it some twelve or fifteen times, “and when I arose to go into the house,” said he, “I was in possession of Ephesians, or better yet, it was in possession of me, and I had been ‘lifted up to sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus’ in an experimental sense in which that had not been true in me before, and will never cease to be true in me again.”

I confess that as I listened to this simple recital my heart was going up in thanksgiving to God for answered prayer, the prayer really of months, if not years, that I might come to know how to master His Word. And yet, side by side with the thanksgiving was humiliation that I had not discovered so simple a principle before, which a boy of ten or twelve might have known. And to think that an “ordained” minister must sit at the feet of a layman to learn the most important secret of his trade!

Since that day, however, the writer has found some comfort in the thought that other ministers have had a not unlike experience. In an address before the National Bible Society of Scotland, the Rev. Dr. Stalker speaks of the first time he ever “read a whole book of the Bible straight through at a sitting.” It was while as a student he was spending a winter in France, and there being no Protestant church in the town where he was passing a Sunday, he was thrown on his own resources. Leaving the hotel where he was staying, he lay down on a green knoll and began reading here and there as it chanced, till, coming to the epistle to the Romans, he read on and on through to the end. “As I proceeded,” he said, “I began to catch the drift of Paul’s thought; or rather, I was caught by it and drawn on. The mighty argument opened out and arose like a great work of art above me till at least it enclosed me within its perfect proportions. It was a revolutionary experience. I saw for the first time that a book of Scripture is a complete discussion of a single subject; I felt the force of the book as a whole, and I understood the different parts in the light of the whole as I had never understood them when reading them by themselves. Thus to master book after book is to fill the mind with the great thoughts of God.”

About Josh Monen

Josh is a Christian, entrepreneur and writer from Ridgefield, WA. He's married with three kids: ages 4, 2 and 1. Before he met God, Josh was a drug addict with a $500/day cocaine addiction that almost killed him. Today he's seeking a real authentic relationship with God and others.


  1. Matt Perkins

    That is a great testimony of the transformation God will work in a man through an intimate acquaintance with His word. It was certainly true at Asbury Seminary that we learned much about the Bible without really learning the Bible. If I could change one thing about my seminary experience it would be that I would learn the Bible more on top of the what I learned about doctrine and church history and that kind of stuff. I think the things I learned about were good and important but when it comes to intellectual pursuits which directly bring intimacy with God I don’t think there’s anything better than just straight study of the Bible. Reading through a book in one sitting is one of the best strategies I’ve found for studying the word and I’d imagine that doing it multiple times would only be better. God bless you bro and I hope you keep up the regular blog posts.

  2. Josh

    Thanks for the comment Matt. Even though I didn’t go to seminary I can feel the pull to just study the Bible intellectually and not allow it to change my heart. And with all the “Christian resources” available today it is too easy to learn about God instead of spending time with God. I agree that those other areas of study are important but as you said they are no replacement for growing in intimacy with God through His Word.

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