Every now and then you will hear someone say, "You love to quote from the Bible, but have you ever read it?" Now I can say, 'Yeah, I read it. Here is what I think...'
When someone asks this question, the supposition is that one doesn't know what they're talking about. This is supposed to end the argument, because, after all, who reads the whole Bible? We're not monks!
True enough. But in real life, there are people who have read through the entire Bible. Some do it repeatedly.
I am pleased that I am now someone who has done it. Once. I plan to do it again. And again.
It took about 7 months, reading 2-4 chapters a day. Some of it was hard to get through, because of the writing style, the structure of the message, the purpose of the section and so on. Other parts read like a novel when I couldn't turn the pages fast enough.
A few facts about the Bible:
It is not 'a' book. It is a collection of 66 books written by 40 different authors over a period of 1500 years.
It begins at the creation of the world and documents God's work in the world through his chosen people, the Israelites.
It ends at the end - literally when God makes his judgments and closes down what we know as 'the world.'
It won't be the end for those who have accepted Jesus Christ, who will have eternal life in heaven with God.
The Bible was not a collaborative effort - the writing anyway. These were 40 different people, writing in different parts of the world during a wide range of historical circumstances. With the exception of the letters of Paul, who wrote or oversaw the writing of a lot of the New Testament, none of the other writers probably even knew each other.
Many of the 'books' are actually letters written from those spreading the faith, to a church or group to which they'd ministered before. They encourage the new believers to 'keep the faith' they discovered when they accepted Jesus.
I should mention here that I am no Bible scholar. People spend their lives studying, dissecting and researching various aspects of these writings, and frankly, I am not that diligent.
The fruit of the labors of so many Bible scholars over such a long time is that, while they may disagree on various aspects of individual 'trees', there is substantial mainstream agreement as to the nature of the 'forest.'
The theme is Jesus, his sovereignty, his mission and his successful completion of the mission. Even the Old Testament, which in historical terms, ended over 400 years before his birth, pointed towards his coming.
So? How was it? Should I read it?
I believe that anyone who is seeking a deeper understanding of their faith - or trying to acquire faith - should read the Bible. I also think skeptics should read it, but with an open mind.
Having said that, there are expectations that need to be set, so you don't get discouraged:
It's not easy - Differences in writing style and purpose, as well as those matters that made you fall asleep in literature classes - genre, theme, symbolism, etc. - make some days fun and interesting and other days an exercise in endurance.
Having context helps - I read it on a website that includes a detailed overview of each book, which you can review before you dig in. Knowing the conditions the writer was in made it more concrete for me (e.g. Paul wrote some of his letters while imprisoned in Rome, where he was chained 24/7 to a Roman centurion so he wouldn't escape. FYI, he converted a lot of those guys.)
Patience is a virtue - If you're accustomed to whipping through 2-3 novels while on vacation, this is going to frustrate you. In my experience, one can only absorb so much in a given day. Also, it's not a race. The next book in the series is not coming soon, so take your time and understand it. (I was not always successful in this).
It is not rated G - You may think that, being about God and all, that this would be an entirely wholesome, family-friendly experience. For the most part, it is. But it does contain instances of violence, including murder, rape, assault, bloody warfare, and torture. There are adulteries, double-crosses, swindles, treachery, jealousy, envy, and deceit. It is not graphic, but all of these aspects of real life are there.
'The Ten Commandments' - If like me, all you knew about the Exodus was from watching Charlton Heston play Moses in 'The Ten Commandments', your horizons will expand.
The Psalms - Everyone knows the 23rd Psalm, 'The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing...' There are 149 other Psalms. Most were written by King David, whose story alone is fascinating. But I am not much of a lyrics or poetry guy, so I found the Psalms brutal.
Daniel - This book is cool. Daniel is a Jew who is captured by invaders and becomes a servant of the conquering king. His life and those of his friends are defined by faith, which they will not renounce, even under extreme duress (e.g. thrown into a furnace, or into a den with lions). He eventually turns the king, along with his friend, who is God.
Where to start - For me, it was helpful to start with the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). The four Gospel writers each seek to describe Jesus' time on earth and primarily focus on his ministry and its message.
Although all 4 books describe the same life, they focus, at times on different aspects and incidents. This gives the most thorough picture of what Jesus was like and what he did. If you grew up in a Christian tradition, much of it will be familiar to you.
After Gospels, then what? - For me, history was the easiest to absorb, so go to Genesis and Exodus which describe the creation of the world, and the development of the nation of Israel. There are some great stories included here, including Adam and Eve, Cane and Abel, Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham, the 12 Tribes of Israel, and more.
The books of Samuel 1&2, Kings 1&2, and Chronicles 1&2 cover a lot of history too, including the life of David. He was famous for the time when he killed the Philistine giant Goliath in battle and later became king.
(Whole books have been written about David's significance. All I knew was that when Linus reads about the Nativity in 'A Charlie Brown Christmas' he says, "...For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord...'")
If you ever wondered about the word 'apocalypse' and what it entails, then begin at the end, with Revelations. Since it is a prophecy, which has not yet occurred but is the infallible word of God, it's pretty terrifying. It is likely to spur you to get right with God before the end of the world, which could literally come at any time.
For an overall sense of how God chooses and works through ordinary and often deeply flawed people, that is consistent throughout the Bible.
God's power and glory are maximized when he works through people with weaknesses.
It is often most clear in the books of the prophets, through whom God spoke to the people. Isaiah and Jeremiah are the largest books, but also Judges and a number of 'minor' prophets who carry various pieces of the message at critical times in history.
There are a lot of different ways you can go. And because they are individual books, the order in which you read them is not the most important thing.
Your mindset does matter as you approach the task. If you approach it with a critical, jaded eye, looking for inconsistencies or things to mock, you will miss the message and with it, the essential beauty and intricacy of God's creation and its description.
If you approach it with an open mind, a true heart and faith, you will find a virtually endless supply of crucial knowledge, clearer understanding of what God wants, details of what God promises and true peace, through the encouragement and assurance of the Lord.
Earlier in my life, I listened to the so-called experts who dismiss the Bible as nothing more than a hodgepodge of writings cobbled together by 'someone' with an agenda that has nothing to do with God. That made 'sense' to me because, of course, logic overcomes faith every time.
Well, no, it doesn't. Logic doesn't make a rose beautiful. Logic doesn't make Basset hounds the greatest of all God's creations. Logic doesn't suggest that my mother's African violets would still be alive and thriving 6 years after she went to heaven.
Yet, here we are.
Logic doesn't explain everything. What is unseen - immeasurable, unobservable, untouchable - logic has no answer for them. Yet they are there. The answer is faith.
And why do we believe God is with us? Because faith tells us that he is. Faith in what Jesus, who is trustworthy and holy, told us about himself, the Father and the Holy Spirit as well.
Faith because the news is good, very good and the alternative is bad, very bad.
'Very', is an understatement because results, whether the good or the bad will be extreme and eternal. (see Revelations for details).
I strongly recommend the Bible to anyone who is interested, and even if you're not. It's worth pushing yourself a bit.
It will help start and grow your faith, give you information to explain and share your faith, show you the best way to avoid the very real and very dangerous devil and describe the underpinnings of a life of morality, decency, fulfillment, and fun.
(Yes, fun. Being a Christian does not require you to be miserable. There are some rules that make members of certain denominations miserable, but, that is part of the problem. )
I feel good about having finished the Bible. But I am not finished with the Bible. I plan to continue reading it and to ultimately go through it again, at a pace that enables me to absorb and understand the information and be able to convey it to others.
Thank you for reading. Have a wonderful week. God bless you!
PS - Some readers were interested in the link I followed to read the Bible. You can access it by clicking here.