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"

Reading Through the Bible in 2021

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