Thursday, January 10, 2013

In Praise of Reading Large Chunks of Scripture

I've made it my goal to read through the Bible as many times as possible this year.  I've only ever purposefully read through the entire Bible once.  I'm sure I have read through it several times collectively, but I've only sat down to purposefully accomplish the whole thing just once in my life.  The past four years have been tough, since every time my nose was in my Bible it was most likely for school.  Don't get me wrong, that was all good and well.  My OT class had us reading through large chunks like the whole Pentateuch in a week.  That's a lot of reading.  But now that school's over, I have the chance to read the Bible at my own pace, and in the manner I want to read it.  So right now I'm going through it, several chapters each day, with the goal of getting through the whole thing at least twice this year.  Considering the progress I've made in the first 9 days of 2013, I'm pretty sure it will be more than just twice.

If you've never sat down and read through the whole Bible, let me encourage you to do it, and to do it often.  There are several benefits to reading through the whole Bible rather than just snippets here and there.  Don't get me wrong: I'm not opposed to reading the Bible in snippets, or using some kind of devotional like Our Daily Bread.  But that's just not the complete picture.  Make an effort to read large chunks of scripture at one time.  One of my seminary profs. timed out how long it took him to read through each book of the OT and then gave us those times for when he assigned the reading to the students.  He wanted us to read the OT books in one sitting.  For example, if you are going to read Genesis from front to back, it will take you about three hours.  "Three hours!" you say, "I don't have three hours to sit down and read."  Maybe not.  But if you put the effort into it and actually tried to do it, I think you'd find it very beneficial.  Or is three hours just too long?  Then give Exodus a shot.  It'll only take you two hours and twenty-five minutes!

Since the beginning of the year, I've read through the entire gospel of John in two sittings.  I didn't time it, so I don't know how long it took me total, but I do know that it wasn't very long.  In the process of reading this gospel, though, I got a big picture idea of what John was trying to communicate, which is something you won't get from reading a few verses, or even a chapter.  There are multiple benefits to reading big chunks of scripture in one sitting, such as:

1. Context.  You'll get the context of what the author is writing about, something about who he is, what he is communicating, the people he's writing to, the point of his whole larger work, etc.  You'll also get a better understanding of the historical and cultural contexts when you read large chunks of the Bible.

2. The whole counsel of God.  Unfortunately, a lot of Bible reading practices are geared toward gaining one or two little nuggets of truth from a particular verse, and then illustrate those nuggets with a heart-warming story.  While there's nothing wrong with this approach, it misses the rest of what God's word has to say.  When we read all of God's word, and in as big of chunks as possible, we can begin to piece together the larger message of what God is saying in his word.  Rather than just a nugget here and there, we put all of those nuggets together to get a whole bar of gold.  For example, if you do all your Bible reading in the New Testament, you're missing out on all the backstory and staging for the gospels and epistles.  If you only focus on certain sections and certain verses, you'll be missing out on a lot of what God is saying.

3. Increased level of discipline.  Let's face it: reading the Bible all the way through takes intentional effort, and a lot of discipline.  But discipline is a good thing.  Train yourself to take in large chunks of scripture, and watch your spiritual life take off.

4. You'll get a better grasp of the grand story of the Bible.  The Bible is one main message.  In order to understand the message in its entirety you've got to read the whole thing.  If you neglect certain parts, you won't get the whole message.  Moreover, you won't have all of the historical facts right, which will affect your understanding of said message.  Read the whole thing, and know what is going on throughout its pages.

5. You'll grow spiritually.  This should be a given, but for some people Bible reading is a chore and not an avenue of spiritual growth.  This gets back to the point on discipline: discipline yourself to spend time in God's word, not for the sake of spending time in the word, but for the sake of meeting God in his word.  In this sense, our Bible reading takes on two distinct purposes: reading for understanding, and reading for the sake of dedicating ourselves to meeting God in his word.  We'll call these two types of reading "devotional reading" and "interpretive reading."  In devotional reading, we read because we know it's good for us, and we're devoted to what's good for us.  So we do it, even though some times we may not feel like doing it.  With interpretive reading, our purpose is to understand and apply what we read.  We need read our Bibles with both types of reading in view.

One very important thing to reading large chunks of the Bible is making sure you have a Bible you enjoy reading, and one that you can understand.  I'm typically the kind of guy that likes a more word-for-word Bible translation, so I stick to the ESV.  But if you find a lot of words you don't know, and a lot of sentences that are phrased in ways that sound strange, choppy, and hard to read, you might want to think about getting a different version to read.

Also, I've recently been discovering that I prefer reading Bibles where the text is all in one single column, rather than two.  I'm not sure why this is, but I just like reading all the way across a page - not half of it, then moving to the other half, then on to the next page.  It might sound weird and picky, and maybe it is, but I much prefer Bibles with just a single column of text, most like any other books you might read.  For some reason, that's a big deal to me.  I also like to read on, because they have just a single section of text too.  The danger with reading the Bible online is that there are so many distractions that could take you from your reading (you are on a computer, on the internet, after all, and there are cat videos that need watching!).

So whatever you do, get in the word!  And if you can, read as much of it as possible each time you open up your Bible.  You'll find that it's a great way to read scripture.

P.S. For those of you who are interested, here are the amounts of time it will take you to read through the first eight books of the Bible, in one sitting each, according to my OT prof from seminary.  I challenge you to give these a shot:

Genesis: about 3 hours
Exodus: about 2 hours and 25 minutes
Leviticus: about 1 hour and 45 minutes
Numbers: about 2 hours and 30 minutes
Deuteronomy: about 2 hours and 10 minutes
Joshua: about about 1 hour and 25 minutes
Judges: about 1 hour and 25 minutes
Ruth: about 15 minutes

Total: about 15 hours

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