Reading the Bible, Again

On January 1st, in the evening, I picked up my Bible that I had been given at my baptism, flipped to the “Read The Bible Through a Year” chart, and began with day one.  I’ve read the Bible all the way through twice, once taking several years just reading a chapter an evening, and once in our first year of marriage, JC and I read the “One Year Bible.”  But I’ve begun this project many times throughout the years, only to fail for one of two reasons: I get behind in my daily reading about midway through January, or I get bored in Leviticus. I’ve heard a number of mainline preachers over the years say you shouldn't read the Bible straight through: there’s a lot of useless information such as the “Begats” which you don’t need to know, plus all the outdated law codes, and on top of it, the stories may begin in chronological order but it gets messy in the history and prophets—they weren’t written in chronological order to begin with.

Another argument I hear against reading the Bible straight through is from those who came out of more fundamentalist/evangelical traditions, who argue that they were forced to read the Bible this way, as-is, verse by verse, with no study guide or in-depth study on what they were reading.

But I think there’s something missing by not reading the Bible all the way through, at least once in your lifetime. This is how our scriptures have been put together. This is the canon we have now (though one can argue for Protestants this version has been around for much less time than the fuller version our Catholic and Orthodox siblings have).  This is the Bible, love it or loathe it, that we have, that millions around the world read (of course in various languages, translations and paraphrases).

I love the simple fact that I and perhaps thousands of other people have begun reading the Bible together on January 1st.  We may be reading at different paces, with different charts, we may get behind or read more quickly, but almost all of us started on January 1st with Genesis 1:1 and will end on December 31st with Revelation 22:21. Some of us will read the Psalms throughout the year, some of us will read both Old and New Testaments at the same time, but we all are reading these scriptures together, throughout the year, in an individual but collective way, as Christians and as skeptics, as conservative and as liberals, from all walks of life.

There are other reasons for reading the Bible all the way through as well: every time I read it, I understand a passage differently.  I pick up on something I didn’t before (Digression: This time, only eleven days in I have noticed that in Genesis 5:29 Noah is really the first Messianic figure in a sense: “He named him Noah, saying ‘Out of the ground that the Lord had cursed this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the toil of our hands.’“  I had never noticed that before—that the curse Adam experiences after disobeying God in the garden, which is the basis of the doctrine of original sin, is overcome with Noah, prophesied at his birth by his name!) I know the context of all those verses that have been taken out of context and use as proof texts for Scripturally-based arguments.  I remember where certain passages and stories are in the Bible more clearly each time I read when someone asks me my opinion or has a question about the Bible.  I gain new, fresh insights on the Scriptures and on their application in my own life.

As clergy, I think the practice of reading Scripture as a spiritual practice is a tough discipline to take on. We have to read the Bible to prepare for Sunday sermons or Bible studies.  We read it as part of our work, part of the job we do, and it’s hard to look at the Scripture without a critical eye for study or how to bring the Scripture to relevancy in our congregational life.  It can be difficult to let go and read the Scriptures in a way that is part of our spiritual life.  I think of all spiritual practices that clergy and lay leaders engage in both in leadership and in personal life—such as prayer, charity, fellowship, etc—devotional reading of the Scriptures may be the hardest to do in our personal life.  This does not mean to take away our critical eye or to not store away and take notes for sermons in the future, but it does mean to allow for the words to simply be sacred, for the words to simply be inspiring, for the words of Scripture to connect us with the Divine.  Lectio Divina is a practice that has become popular again in recent years, in Protestant circles as well as Catholic, as a way of prayerfully reading and meditating on the Scriptures, rather than studying and critiquing them.

So as this New Year is still dawning, there is still time to develop a practice of reading the Scriptures devotionally. You don’t have to do it in a year’s time, just one chapter a day.  Or you can double-up and be caught up by the end of January if you prefer.  I continue to marvel in the new insights I find in Scripture, and at the fact that millions around the world declare the Bible to be their sacred scripture, and that thousands of us are trying to read it all in a year, every year.