What’s Your Excuse for Not Reading the Bible? #4

Distant Shores Media/Sweet Publishing, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This is the fourth in a series of articles on common excuses for not reading through the Bible.

I’ve spent the last 40+ years studying the Bible, but not necessarily trying to read each word from cover to cover. Several years ago I began setting aside time each day just to read the Bible, with the goal of getting through the whole thing over the course of a year. Having spent many years coming up with excuses not to read the Bible this way, I thought I’d record them here for you. But take note: I’ll be shooting them down in the end, so don’t get your hopes up.

Excuse #4: I’m not a levitical priest. I don’t need lessons in animal dissection.

Several long passages in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Ezekiel describe, in minute detail, how to cut up, clean, discard, wave, dip one’s thumb into, and burn a variety of animals. These instructions were extremely important to the priests who ministered in the tabernacle and later, the temple. But beyond knowing that these sacrifices were done and what their purpose was, we don’t really need the details. We won’t be donning our ephods and slitting the throats of sheep during the Sunday morning worship service any time soon.

The passages I’m talking about go beyond “sacrifice a bull to Yahweh”. They explain how it is to be done — in detail. This makes sense in context, since these are literally instruction manuals for Aaron, his sons, and their descendants.

5The anointed priest shall take some of the blood of the bull, and bring it to the Tent of Meeting. 6The priest shall dip his finger in the blood, and sprinkle some of the blood seven times before Yahweh, before the veil of the sanctuary. 7The priest shall put some of the blood on the horns of the altar of sweet incense before Yahweh, which is in the Tent of Meeting; and he shall pour out the rest of the blood of the bull at the base of the altar of burnt offering, which is at the door of the Tent of Meeting. 8He shall take all the fat of the bull of the sin offering from it: the fat that covers the innards, and all the fat that is on the innards, 9and the two kidneys, and the fat that is on them, which is by the loins, and the cover on the liver, with the kidneys, he shall remove, 10as it is removed from the bull of the sacrifice of peace offerings. The priest shall burn them on the altar of burnt offering. 11He shall carry the bull’s skin, all its meat, with its head, and with its legs, its innards, and its dung 12—all the rest of the bull—outside of the camp to a clean place where the ashes are poured out, and burn it on wood with fire. It shall be burned where the ashes are poured out. — Leviticus 4:5-12

Yeah, but there’s not a lot of these verses, right?

I counted 468 verses (12,866 words) on this subject. That’s around 1.7% of the text (counting by words). If you’re reading the Bible in a year, you’ll spend just short of one whole week reading nothing but procedures for wringing the necks of doves and removing the lobes that cover the liver of bulls.

But it wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t important!

These details are absolutely important — if you’re a descendant of Levi ministering in the tabernacle or temple. But a more general understanding of the Old Testament sacrificial system is all that is needed for Christians trying to read and understand the Bible today. We need to know that God required a blood sacrifice for sin. Then we can understand what we read in Hebrews:

1For the law, having a shadow of the good to come, not the very image of the things, can never with the same sacrifices year by year, which they offer continually, make perfect those who draw near. 2Or else wouldn’t they have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having been once cleansed, would have had no more consciousness of sins? 3But in those sacrifices there is a yearly reminder of sins. 4For it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins. — Hebrews 10:1-4

11Every priest indeed stands day by day serving and offering often the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins, 12but he, when he had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down on the right hand of God, 13from that time waiting until his enemies are made the footstool of his feet. 14For by one offering he has perfected forever those who are being sanctified. — Hebrews 10:11-14

One of the fascinating things about the Law is that it ostensibly existed as a guide for its followers to make themselves righteous before God, but that in reality its purpose was to teach us the futility of believing that merely following a set of rules can make us right with God. This more subtle and enlightened (i.e. “basic Christian”) understanding of the Law makes the idea of spending a week learning how to dissect a goat in a way that pleases God even less rewarding than it literally is.

Save yourself a week

I skim and skip these passages when I run into them. I give you permission to do likewise. Don’t let a description of the fat around the kidneys keep you from getting all the way through the Bible.

Stay tuned and "I will yet show you a more excellent way"

What’s Your Excuse for Reading Bible the #3 Not?

This is the third in a series of articles on common excuses for not reading through the Bible.

I’ve spent the last 40+ years studying the Bible, but not necessarily trying to read each word from cover to cover. Several years ago I began setting aside time each day just to read the Bible, with the goal of getting through the whole thing over the course of a year. Having spent many years coming up with excuses not to read the Bible this way, I thought I’d record them here for you. But take note: I’ll be shooting them down in the end, so don’t get your hopes up.

Excuse #3: The events in the Old Testament are out-of-order and confusing.

Christianity and the Jewish faith from which it sprang are somewhat unique among the belief systems of the world in that they have a rich connection to human history that is essential to understanding them. Christianity isn’t a philosophical system that suddenly developed in the mind of the Apostle Paul some 2000 years ago. It claims to have started in the very creation of space and time. Its details were revealed in God’s work of creation, in direct revelation to selected humans over thousands of years, and in an historical, first-person manifestation of God to humans in the person of Jesus Christ.

We could choose to ignore the gospels and just read the New Testament epistles to discover Christian doctrine, but our understanding is immensely enhanced when we understand the life and teachings of Jesus from the gospels. We could read just the New Testament, but we won’t understand the work of Jesus on the cross without some knowledge of the job of the Levitical priesthood from the Old Testament. We could try to live lives without sin, but won’t understand the futility of that goal if don’t know about the Mosaic law from the Old Testament. We could simply accept God’s choosing of Abraham, but won’t understand the motivation of this choice unless we have read about antediluvian life and the Noahic flood. We would be bewildered by the expectations of some arbitrary deity that destroyed all life in the flood unless we also understand who that deity is and what he did in the first chapters of Genesis.

How Are the Books of the Bible Arranged?

When we sit down to read the Bible, it appears to begin at the beginning of time in Genesis and end with the eternal state that follows the destruction and recreation of the known universe in Revelation. But once we know the Bible, we realize that everything in between is a jumbled mess.

The books of the Bible are arranged by genre, not by chronology. The Old Testament begins with the Pentateuch, or the books of the Law. Next are books of history, then books of wisdom and poetry, then the prophets. The New Testament starts with the gospels — 4 different accounts of the life of Jesus — then an historical book, Acts, followed by various letters written to churches and individuals, then the record of a revelation given to the Apostle John.

The Messed-Up Chronology of Kings and Chronicles

Constable, Thomas L., Dr.. “Constable’s Bible Study Notes”. Marion, IA: Laridian Inc., 2021.

The Old Testament starts out in chronological order, but fairly quickly gets confusing. The books of Kings and Chronicles cover much of the same material. If you’re reading through the Bible in a year, cover-to-cover, you’ll read 1 Kings in April and 2 Chronicles in May. As a result you’ll be re-reading the same events twice. On top of that, the order of events described within a single book is often not correct. For example, Rehoboam is king in Judah in 1 Kings 12, but isn’t actually crowned king until two chapters later. Then (a month later in your reading plan), he becomes king again in 2 Chronicles 10 before becoming king again two chapters later.

The Messed-Up Chronology of Job

The biblical character Job is among the most ancient persons in the Bible. He is believed to be a contemporary of Abraham (circa 2000 BCE). In the traditional 66-book Bible, the story of Job is found after the book of Esther and before the book of Psalms. The book of Esther describes events in Persia around 480 BCE, around the time that the first remnants of the Jews were returning to Judah after being deported. Most of the Psalms date to the time of King David, 500 years earlier (around 1000 BCE). Based on what you read before and after Job, it would be easy to get the impression that Job was a Jew (he was not), or that he was a contemporary of Saul, David, and Solomon (he was not), or that he lived after the deportation and captivity of Israel and Judah (he did not).

This isn’t just a matter of dating Job correctly. Reading about Job before meeting Abraham helps us better understand God’s relationship with humans at this point in history. Job didn’t have the benefit of God’s direct revelation to Abraham, nor of the Mosaic Law. But he still had an understanding of God’s character and holiness. Like Melchizadek (who may have been a contemporary of Job), he was a worshiper of Yahweh at a time when we traditionally picture humanity in darkness, awaiting the more well-known revelation of Yahweh to Abraham and eventually to Moses. His story challenges us to come to a better understanding of how God’s relationship with his creation morphed over time.

To Whom Did the Prophets Prophecy?

All of the prophets are lumped together at the end of the Old Testament, even though much of their work happened before the captivity of Israel and Judah, and certainly before the return of a remnant of the people to the land.

Conclusion

All of this confusion leads to a paradoxical conclusion: It’s necessary to understand the whole Bible before you can read and understand any of it. You need an historical framework when reading the Bible “out of order” (that is, reading it “in order”) so that you can reorganize it in your head as you read it.

I would strongly recommend finding a chronological reading plan for PocketBible and reading through the Bible in calendar order. You’ll be surprised how much your understanding of God improves when you can put his relationship with his creation in historical order.

Stay tuned and "I will yet show you a more excellent way"

What’s Your Excuse for Not Reading the Bible? #2

This is the second in a series of articles on common excuses for not reading through the Bible.

I’ve spent the last 40+ years studying the Bible, but not necessarily trying to read each word from cover to cover. Several years ago I began setting aside time each day just to read the Bible, with the goal of getting through the whole thing over the course of a year. Having spent many years coming up with excuses not to read the Bible this way, I thought I’d record them here for you. But take note: I’ll be shooting them down in the end, so don’t get your hopes up.

Excuse #2: I get bogged down in the endless genealogies (the dreaded “begats”)

If you’ve tried to read through the Bible you know the frustration of happily reading along, then running into a long list of “so-and-so begat so-and-so”. You want to be faithful and read every word, but come on — there are a lot of random, unpronounceable names here.

Somebody told me once that there are only 25 such genealogies in the Bible — suggesting I should just buckle down and keep reading. I think they severely underestimate the problem. Now, to be fair, when trying to count such lists, it is difficult to define what constitutes a purely “genealogical” passage. Some are lists of names are mostly there to describe where people settled. They just happen to be organized by family. Others are lists of related people along with their responsibilities in the service of the tabernacle, temple, or army. A few are census records, which are naturally organized by family. So the exact number of genealogies could be subject to interpretation

In the end it doesn’t matter. When you run into this passage, you know it’s boring, no matter how you classify it (1 Chronicles 1:1-27)

1Adam, Seth, Enosh, 2Kenan, Mahalalel, Jared, 3Enoch, Methuselah, Lamech, 4Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

5The sons of Japheth: Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech, and Tiras. 6The sons of Gomer: Ashkenaz, Diphath, and Togarmah. 7The sons of Javan: Elishah, Tarshish, Kittim, and Rodanim.

8The sons of Ham: Cush, Mizraim, Put, and Canaan. 9The sons of Cush: Seba, Havilah, Sabta, Raama, Sabteca. The sons of Raamah: Sheba and Dedan. 10Cush became the father of Nimrod. He began to be a mighty one in the earth. 11Mizraim became the father of Ludim, Anamim, Lehabim, Naphtuhim, 12Pathrusim, Casluhim (where the Philistines came from), and Caphtorim. 13Canaan became the father of Sidon his firstborn, Heth, 14the Jebusite, the Amorite, the Girgashite, 15the Hivite, the Arkite, the Sinite, 16the Arvadite, the Zemarite, and the Hamathite.

17The sons of Shem: Elam, Asshur, Arpachshad, Lud, Aram, Uz, Hul, Gether, and Meshech. 18Arpachshad became the father of Shelah, and Shelah became the father of Eber. 19To Eber were born two sons: the name of the one was Peleg, for in his days the earth was divided; and his brother’s name was Joktan. 20Joktan became the father of Almodad, Sheleph, Hazarmaveth, Jerah, 21Hadoram, Uzal, Diklah, 22Ebal, Abimael, Sheba, 23Ophir, Havilah, and Jobab. All these were the sons of Joktan. 24Shem, Arpachshad, Shelah, 25Eber, Peleg, Reu, 26Serug, Nahor, Terah, 27Abram (also called Abraham).

To make matters worse, this is just the first 27 of 397 verses that make up the first 9 chapters of 1 Chronicles, all of which are lists of names.

Out of curiosity, I made a detailed list of all the genealogies, census records, and lists of people I found in the Bible. I found 38 overt genealogies, 53 other lists of (sometimes related) people, and 5 census records (family names and counts). Together, these passages account for 3.5% of the text of the Bible. 3.5% doesn’t sound like much, but it means that in your one-year trip through the Bible, you’ll spend 13 days just reading lists of names.

Let’s put that in perspective: There are only 8 books in the Bible (all in the Old Testament) that are longer than that list of names. You’ll spend more time reading lists of names than you will reading Joshua, Judges, or Daniel. You’ll spend more time reading those names than you will reading any single book in the New Testament. — more time than you’ll spend in Luke, Acts, or Romans. In fact, you could read Romans through 3 times and have time left over to read more names.

How to Finish 13 Days’ Reading Instantly

So here’s the secret of those lists: The important people are going to be mentioned again. The in-betweeners are not. So if you simply skip those passages, you literally aren’t missing anything. And you’ve saved yourself 2 weeks of laboring through long lists of names.

Yeah, But Look at All You’re Missing!

A hardcore Bible scholar is going to complain that if you skip the genealogies, you could end up missing the fact that Ruth, a gentile, is an ancestor of David (and therefore Jesus). And that Jesus is a member of the tribe of Judah. And that Methuselah, the longest-living person in the Bible, died in the year that Noah’s flood began.

But then, you just read those facts here, so there you go. Problem solved. Skip the “begats”.

Stay tuned and "I will yet show you a more excellent way"

What’s Your Excuse for Not Reading the Bible? #1

This is the first in a series of articles on common excuses for not reading through the Bible.

I spent most of my Christian life studying the Bible as needed to teach a class, preach a sermon, or answer a question. I did some whole-book studies on my own or with friends. But other than a couple failed attempts early on, I never made an effort to read through the Bible cover-to-cover. New Testament? No problem. Genesis and Exodus? Sure. But Leviticus, Job, and all those prophets? Yeah, right. Not happening.

Several years ago I was encouraged by a group of people in our church to set aside time each day to read the Bible, with the goal of getting through the whole thing over the course of a year. In our group, you can choose any plan you want, as long as it gets you through the Bible in a year. Every month, we are encouraged to share what we’ve learned and report our progress. That first year was hard, but I repeated the exercise the following year and have done so since.

Having spent many years coming up with excuses, I thought I’d record them here in case you want to use them. Full disclosure: I will be shooting them down in the end, so don’t get your hopes up.

Excuse #1: The Bible is a long book, and I’m a busy person. I don’t have any time to read it.

Have you ever wondered why Bibles are always printed on that tissue-thin paper? Why the text is so small? They have to do those things in order to get it to fit in your hand. It’s a long book.

The Bible contains 1189 chapters and a total of 31,102 verses. Those verses combine to contain over 750,000 words. That’s the equivalent of about 11-12 average-length novels. It’s longer than the first 5 Harry Potter books, and you know how much you hate to read those!

About 25% of us don’t ever read any books. Another quarter of us read fewer than 4 each year. With the Bible equaling 11-12 books (or 5.2 Harry Potters), no wonder reading the Bible seems daunting to most people.

Figuring out how long it takes to read the Bible depends on your reading speed. A quick Web search turned up different estimates for adult reading speed. Depending on the site you visit, you’ll see:

  • 200-250 words per minute
  • 238 words per minute when reading non-fiction; 260 for fiction
  • 200-300 words per minute
  • 100-200 when reading for comprehension

Last year, we at Laridian decided to determine the average reading speed of adults when reading the Bible. We undertook a study of 1000 individuals to measure their reading speed. We used Old and New Testament sample texts and a modern English translation (the World English Bible). Our research suggests that 98% of people read between 229 and 251 words per minute when reading text from a modern translation of the Bible. At that rate, 98% of us should be able to read the Bible in 8-9 minutes per day.

Curious about your Bible reading speed? Take the test here.

That’s 8-9 minutes I don’t have!

Imagine adding 8-9 minutes to your morning routine. Most of us would have to get up 10 minutes earlier, and that’s just not going to happen! We could carve it out of the 3 hours per day we spend watching TV, but then how would we keep up with the Kardashians? One website says we spend 63 minutes each day eating. Maybe we could skip breakfast. Or dessert.

What I did was add it to the tasks I do each morning in front of my computer. Every morning I visit our church’s prayer list site, check for tech support issues that need my attention, visit Facebook and MeWe, and catch up on the news. It wasn’t a problem to launch PocketBible at the start of that session, do my reading, then continue my day. It was very painless.

Reading through the Bible in six months.

I’m a data-oriented person, so after a while I started timing my morning reading sessions. Turns out I was only taking about 7 minutes to read the passage for that day. So I started doing 2 readings each morning. It generally took less than 15 minutes, which wasn’t much more than the original 8-9 I thought I’d need. Next thing I knew, it was mid-July and I was finishing Revelation!

Everybody is different. Some are going to read slower, and some faster. The point is that a lack of time doesn’t need to be a deterrent. We all have 10 minutes we can spare somewhere. For 98% of us, that’s going to be plenty of time to spend each day to get through the Bible in a year.

Stay tuned and “I will yet show you a more excellent way.”