Reading Through the Bible in 2020

Every year, our church encourages members to start a program of Bible reading with the goal of reading the entire Bible by the end of the year. Each month we all exchange emails with progress reports and are encouraged to keep going. Despite the planning, the encouragement, and the reminders, about half of those who start don’t finish.

The NIV Bible contains 753,429 words. Divided into 365 equal readings, that would be 2064 words per day. The average person reads at a rate of 200-300 words per minute. If you’re a college graduate, you probably read around 450 words per minute. So reading through the entire Bible can be easily done by most people in 4-1/2 to 8-1/2 minutes per day. Certainly less than 10 minutes.

So why do so many people fail at keeping this goal? The time itself is not the problem; we all have 5-10 minutes sometime in our day to read the Bible. Here are some suggestions on how to get through the Bible this year.

Make it a part of your morning ritual.

We all have a list of things we do like clockwork every day. Wake up. Shower. Shave. Brush teeth. Get dressed. Have breakfast or at least a cup of coffee. Check email and social media. Go to work. The next day it repeats. Maybe on the weekend it happens later in the morning, but it happens.

Put your Bible reading on that list. In my case, I make a cup of coffee and sit down to make my first pass through email, Facebook, and moderation of my church’s email prayer/announcements list. It was easy to add 5 minutes of Bible reading to that schedule.

For you it might be 5 minutes before you even get out of bed. Or while you eat breakfast. The important thing is to find it a place in your morning ritual so that it becomes habitual.

Use PocketBible on your phone or tablet.

You might think this goes without saying, since it’s coming from Laridian, but it’s a valuable point to make. Laridian offers a number of free and low-cost Bible reading plans and devotionals for PocketBible and makes it easy to access each day’s reading and keep track of your progress. Simply tracking your progress by marking each reading as complete will motivate you to keep going and help you catch up if you get behind.

In addition, for most of us, our phone or tablet is with us all day. This makes it easier to take advantage of break-time, commute-time, standing-in-line-time, and other moments in our day to do our Bible reading. Instead of Candy Crush or Facebook, spend those minutes getting your Bible reading done.

Be realistic.

Figure out how much time you want to devote to the Bible and schedule your reading appropriately. 5-10 minutes will get you through the Bible in a year. 10-15 minutes will get you there in 6 months. Don’t set out to get through the whole thing in a month unless you have an hour each day to set aside for Bible reading.

Try a different translation of the Bible.

Because PocketBible reading plans are not tied to any one translation of the Bible, you’re free to experiment with something different. My previous reads through the Bible have always been in the KJV or NIV. So last year I tried the Christian Standard Bible (CSB). This year I’m using the World English Bible (WEB). (Note that neither the CSB nor WEB are compatible with the Windows versions of PocketBible, but work fine in the Android, iOS and Mac OS versions.)

I think the unfamiliar wording of familiar verses helps me comprehend the passage better. For example, the WEB uses “Yahweh” where the KJV, NASB, and NIV all use LORD. Encountering “Yahweh” in the text seems to make God more personal to me – as if he’s more of a character in the story with his own plans, motivations, and ways of interacting with the people I’m reading about. When I just see LORD in the text, he seems to just blend in and is more of a nameless force or entity in the background. It’s a subtle but important difference in the way I’m perceiving the text.

Last year I ran into the phrase “half the tribe of Mannaseh” (vs. the more familiar – to me – “half-tribe of Mannaseh”). I found this confusing, since I had always assumed the “half tribe” title was because Mannaseh and his brother Ephraim shared the inheritance of their father Joseph (each was half the tribe of Joseph). Running into this wording in verses such as Deuteronomy 3:13 caused me to realize the title is based on the fact Moses gave land on the east side of the Jordan to half the tribe of Manasseh and land on the west side to the other half. The important point here being that running into an unfamiliar phrase caused me to stop, ask the question, and go looking for an answer.

Don’t tell anyone, but it’s OK to skim some passages.

I had a person tell me that they were doing fine reading through the Bible until they got to “the part with all the ‘begots'”. To be honest there aren’t that many of these, but they are mind-numbing. Come back some time and look at the names in those lists and try to learn more about them, but if those lists are what’s keeping you from getting through the rest of the text, just scan ahead to where the story picks up and keep reading from there.

You may run into other places you just can’t get through. I get bogged down in the various sacrifices, dimensions of buildings, descriptions of furniture and draperies, and quantities of items plundered in battles. It’s ok to skip ahead a few verses. None of these are that long. Don’t let a verbal description of an architectural diagram keep you from finishing your reading.

Read it in a different order.

The order in which the books of the Bible appear isn’t ideal for reading through from start to finish. The Old Testament is ordered by genre – first the books of Moses (the Pentateuch), then history, wisdom/poetry, major prophets, and minor prophets. The New Testament follows a similar model, but more by author – first are the gospels; then history; letters from Paul (kind of in order by length, longest to shortest); the letter to the Hebrews (which some argue was written by Paul, but the author is generally considered to be unknown); letters by the apostles James, Peter, John, and Jude; and finally the New Testament’s only book of prophecy.

This year I’m reading through the Bible in chronological order using The Harmony Bible. The author of The Harmony Bible has rearranged the text so that you read about events in the order they occurred, not the somewhat random order that they appear in the Bible. So Job is inserted into the Genesis narrative. David’s psalms are inserted into the stories of his life. The prophets are inserted into the historical narratives, primarily in the books of Kings and Chronicles. In the New Testament, letters to the churches are intermingled in the book of Acts.

Other alternatives include reading a little from the Old and New Testament each day, which is what I did last year.

Some of the devotional books for PocketBible include short commentary or homiletic passages for each day. These can provide context for the passage and help you find application for what you’re reading in your daily life.

Be accountable.

I have really benefited from my email group that is made up of people who are all reading through the Bible at the same time. Find some other people in your church who want to read through the Bible. Meet together or at least exchange emails throughout the year to discuss what you’re reading. Encourage each other to keep reading. Ask your partner what was in those passages you only skimmed. 🙂

Don’t stop.

If you miss a day, keep reading the next day. PocketBible lets you adjust your reading schedule to account for missed days. If it ends up taking you an extra couple of days or weeks to get through the whole thing, that’s fine. Nobody’s keeping score. Don’t let a missed day derail your entire year. Just keep going.

Photo by Rohit Tandon on Unsplash

Make Your Daily Bible Reading More Pleasant with “Autostudy Today”

I have used the devotional features of PocketBible off and on over the last 20 years in my personal Bible reading. This year I’m using our free Old Testament in a Year and New Testament in a Year reading plans simultaneously to create a custom plan that will give me readings from both the Old and New Testaments each day.

One of the challenges of this approach is that I have to open the Old Testament plan, select the link to the passage, read the passage in the Bible (which may or may not default to the version I want to read from, depending on what else I’ve been doing in PocketBible since I last did my reading), then open the New Testament plan, select the link for the day’s reading, then read the New Testament passage from my preferred Bible. That’s a lot of jumping around just to read 3-4 chapters.

I’m going to take a slightly different approach to it to make the viewing of the text more pleasant and to make it easier to simply read the OT and NT passages without any jumping back and forth between the two devotionals and my Bible. I’ll have two-click access to each day’s text in my desired Bible regardless of what Bibles are open or active in PocketBible at the time. To accomplish this, I’m taking advantage of the “Autostudy Today” feature of the Advanced Feature Set.

Autostudy Today lets you collect the Bible passages and devotional passages you want to read for the day in an HTML or PDF file that can be viewed either within PocketBible or externally. It also lets you customize the styles that are used in the Autostudy output according to your preferences. Most people don’t bother with this, but I’m not most people. 🙂

If you don’t already own the Advanced Feature Set, it can be purchased as a subscription for $9.99/year. This particular feature is only available in the iOS, Android, and Mac OS versions of PocketBible. I’ll be using the Mac OS version to read from and to demonstrate these features, but the iOS and Android versions are similar.

To make it easier to do this every day, I right-click on the toolbar, choose Customize Toolbar, then drag the Today Study button onto the toolbar. That will give me one-touch access to my reading each day.

Drag Today Study to the toolbar.

On the Autostudy Today screen I can select which books to include in the Autostudy report each day. Since the particular devotional book I’m using is just a reading plan and doesn’t itself contain any text I need to read, I’m going to un-check the Devotionals checkbox and make sure Bibles is checked.

Deselect Devotionals; select Bibles.

Then I click on Devotionals (not the checkbox, but on the word “Devotionals” so that it is selected. This causes a list of all my installed devotionals to be displayed on the right. I choose the None button under that list to deselect all the devotionals, then find my Old Testament in 1 Year and New Testament in 1 Year reading plans and select their check boxes to include them in the Autostudy output.

Since I want my Old Testament reading to come first each day, I drag the Old Testement in 1 Year plan up above the New Testament in 1 Year plan. It doesn’t matter if there are other books in between, since they won’t be included. I just want to make sure the OT comes before the NT.

Drag the Old Testament devotional to a position above the New Testament devotional.

Now I select Bibles from the list on the left, causing my list of installed Bibles to be displayed on the right. Again I choose None to deselect all Bibles, then find the Bible I want to read from and select its checkbox. I’ll be reading from the Christian Standard Bible this year, so I select that one.

Select the Bible from which you want to read and deselect all others.

At this point I can test my output by selecting View. I’ll get the scheduled readings for whatever day happened to be selected on the calendar. The output looks just as I would expect, but I’m not entirely happy with it. I’m going to make a few changes to enhance the appearance of the text.

Take a look at the output so far: Autostudy January 1, 2019

Back on the Autostudy Today screen, I have an option to edit the “style sheet” for the Autostudy report. Don’t be embarrassed if this looks intimidating. Most people don’t know anything about editing Cascading Style Sheets. At the same time,  don’t be afraid to try this at home. You can always reset it to defaults and start over if you mess something up.

The style sheet controls how every element of the Autostudy report is formatted. I want to make a number of changes to what my text looks like:

  • Change the color of the Bible reference headings above each passage, and put them on a line of their own above the text instead of inline with the text.
  • Add some additional leading between the lines of text.
  • Make adjustments to how poetry is displayed.
  • Suppress verse numbers in the Bible text.

To change the color of the Bible reference headings, I need to locate the line that looks like this:

div.bibleref {margin:0px 1em 0px 0px; padding:0; display:inline; float:left; color:#00c; font-weight:bold; font-size:100%;}

This line controls the Bible reference headings. By default, the text in a div element appears on its own line. PocketBible overrides this behavior by including display:inline in the style definition for Bible references. So I want to delete display:inline and the semicolon that follows it. I also delete float:left and the semicolon that follows that.

I’m not fond of the light shade of blue that PocketBible uses for Bible reference headings, so I change color:00c to color:008. This is a slightly darker shade of blue. I could instead change it to color:000 (or remove the color:00c attribute entirely) to make it black.

Next, I want to add some additional space between the lines (sometimes referred to as line leading). This is done by editing the entry that looks like this:

p {margin:0px 0px 0.5em 0px}

CSS style sheets use the line-height attribute to control line leading. A value of 100% is supposed to be “normal height”, and back in 2003 when I wrote my own HTML rendering engine, I made it work that way. But because the programmers who created the Web are not as smart as I, you actually need to set it to about 120% to get natural spacing for most fonts. I want a little extra space, so I’m going to set it to 150% by changing this line to read as follows:

p {margin:0px 0px 0.5em 0px; line-height:150%}

The p element is used for normal paragraphs in the Bible text. We also have poetry sections, for which PocketBible (arguably incorrectly) uses the blockquote tag to create extra margin on the left and right. There is no style specified for the blockquote tag in the default Autostudy style sheet (don’t ask me why; I don’t have an answer), so we just add the following line anywhere in the style sheet. I added it below the line for the p element, above.

blockquote {margin:0.5em 1em 1em 2em; line-height:120%}

This tightens up the line spacing a little bit in the poetry sections, and indents it a little more than normal paragraphs (about the width of one character).

Finally, we want to suppress verse numbers in the text. I happen to know that PocketBible uses the sup and small tags to superscript the verse numbers. Adding the following line to the CSS file (I added it below blockquote) causes superscripted text to be ignored:

sup {display:none}

That’s it! Once I save my changes to the CSS I’m ready to view the output.

Take a look at the final output: Autostudy January 1, 2019 – Formatted

All I need to do each day is choose the Today Study button from the toolbar, then press View to view my text for the day. I like to choose Print, then PDF, then Open in Preview to get a full-screen, PDF view of the text to read.

When I’m done reading, I mark today’s reading as complete in each of the OT and NT devotional books in PocketBible.

 

Serendipitous Programming

Today I’ve been working on a new feature for PocketBible for iOS and one thing led to another, and, well, I ended up implementing a feature I didn’t know I was working on, and didn’t realize how much of it was already sitting there, waiting to be exposed to the user.

So the new feature I thought I was working on is the ability to “rename” your highlight colors. That is, you’ll be able to assign a topic to each color. Then when you highlight a verse, instead of seeing a list containing “Khaki”, “Cornflower Blue” and “Hot Pink”, you’ll see “Salvation”, “God’s Love” and “Prophecy”. We’ve been wanting to implement this for a long time. While we were upgrading our cloud synchronization protocol over the last few months, I added the ability to sync highlight color names with the server and we took advantage of that in PocketBible for Windows Phone and Windows Store. The plan has always been to roll that into other platforms as we have the opportunity.

While looking through the code that shows you your list of highlight colors (which I’ll have to modify to show you your user-defined names for those colors) I stumbled into a bit of code that Jeff wrote years ago but then “commented out”. (If we have code that we’d like to retain for reference purposes but don’t want to actually have the computer execute, we turn the code into a “comment” so it will be ignored by the compiler but still be there if we want to see it.)

Those of you who have been with us for a while know that Jeff was my programming partner for 27 years before his death from cancer in May 2012. It’s been a bittersweet year as I’ve had to deal with his passing while surrounded and immersed every day in code that he wrote. I keep running into little things that remind me of him, make me want to give him a call to talk about a problem, or give me a chuckle. So it’s always interesting when I run into a piece of code like this.

What this particular piece of code did was add three additional highlighting styles to the list of colors you can highlight with. These are “underline”, “strikeout”, and “underline+strikeout”. Those look like this, this, and this, respectively.

Now, why would you ever want to strike out a verse? That’s a good question and takes me back fifteen years to the days of the Palm operating system when cameras were cameras, phones were phones, and “portable digital assistants” were all the rage. In those days, color displays were luxuries that cost money, size, weight, and battery life. So most of those devices had monochromatic screens.

On color screens, we could highlight a verse with a background color. But what could we do on these black and white screens? Since our text was coded in HTML, and since HTML offered simple styles like bold, italics, underline, and strikeout, we decided to use those. We ended up not using bold and italics because they could cause the text to re-wrap when they were applied, and in those days of wimpy processors, it just took too long and was disturbing to see. That left us with underline and strikeout, so that’s what we used.

As time has gone on, we’ve gotten to where we don’t even include these underline and strikeout highlighting styles in our programs. They’re not in PocketBible for iOS, and we weren’t planning on implementing them in PocketBible for Android. Unfortunately, some of you who were around back then and have sync’ed your highlights from your Palm PDA to PocketBible for Windows to our server and to PocketBible for iPhone expect to see those underlines. So we have to at least be able to display them if they exist, but we don’t let you create them (because we don’t want to proliferate a bad idea).

What I discovered today was Jeff’s original code for being able to create underline, strikeout, and underline+strikeout highlights in PocketBible for iOS. His comment said he had taken them out because the display engine (my code) didn’t support them. Sometime between then and now I implemented those highlight styles but we just never went back into Jeff’s code and turned those choices on.

On a whim, I enabled those lines of code and what do you know — they worked! That put me in the awkward position of trying to decide whether or not to leave them in. I never liked the idea of striking verses from the Bible, and even once you get over that, it makes the text hard to read.

About then it was time for dinner and I set the laptop aside to meet my wife and get something to eat. On the way there it occurred to me that we now have some better styling options that we had back in 1998. New versions of HTML with CSS support dotted and dashed underlines.

When I got home I spent about 30 minutes and implemented the styles you see here. These new styles replace the old styles rather than adding to them. So where you had strikeouts, you’ll have dotted underlines. And where you had strikeout+underline, you’ll have dashed underlines. I think this is a nice way of making your legacy data from your Palm days more usable and it gives you three more highlighting styles to use in PocketBible for iOS. (If you’re having trouble making out the dots and dashes, click on the screen shot to see the original size image.)

One of the cool things about this is that the underlying data storage and cloud synchronization already supports it. We’re not changing the data we save, but rather the interpretation of the data. So nothing changes in any of the other platforms nor on the server.

What I think is special about this — even though it’s not a life-changing feature — is that Jeff left it behind and it only took a little extra work to make it useful. And I like that all the infrastructure both for storing the new highlight styles and displaying them was already there.

Tomorrow I’ll get back to work on naming your highlight colors. But this was a nice little one or two hour detour to give us an unexpected new feature in PocketBible.