10 July 2010

A different approach to Bible-reading

In the last few months I've been following a suggestion that I came across while I was looking for a new Bible-reading plan. As with blogging, my Bible reading had become rather intermittent and lacking in zeal. While the title of the article ("The World's Best Bible-Reading Program") may  be claiming rather too much for itself, I'd like to record my own experience of trying Dan Edelen's suggestion.

Rather than attempting to read the  whole Bible in a year, or so many verses or chapters per day, he recommends taking one book and read it right through in one sitting. Then read it through again (next day, next week or whenever you have time), looking for themes. Then read it through again - and again, and again, at least seven times. Some books, such as Isaiah or Jeremiah might need more than one sitting to read through, but read as much in one sitting as possible. Don't worry about looking up commentaries for verses that you don't understand. There is a place for such detailed study, but this is not about verse-by-verse analysis. (I would suggest that having some knowledge of where each book fits into the biblical 'story' is probably a good idea, but not essential.)

Obviously reading this way takes time - depending on how much free time you have it may take months to read some books seven times. The aim is not to say "Now I've read this book" and mark it off on the calendar, or to read so many books in a year.  The aim is to come to know a book and what it says intimately, as a whole, and how the parts relate to that whole. But that is still not an end in itself. The ulitmate purpose in reading this way is to allow God to speak through scripture and change your way of thinking and acting in response. It's a way of "being transformed by the renewing of your mind", with obedience as its goal. Only when you're deeply familiar with one book and starting to see it making a difference in your life do  you move on to the next. If it takes your whole life to get through all the books of the Bible, then so be it; as the author says, "You're eternal. Live like it!" 

As suggested, I've begun with reading Matthew's gospel, using a fairly literal translation (ESV). It takes me a couple of hours to read the whole book in one sitting. Over a couple of months I've read it through five times, so perhaps it's a bit early to comment.  I will just say that far from becoming tedious, reading the same text over and over again has been an amazing experience. I thought I was familiar with the gospels,  but on each reading I've noticed things I've never noticed before. Themes and repetitions appear that are not apparent when reading a few verses at a time. But more importantly, I've begun to question my own way of thinking and living in response to the text. My desire to become a follower of Jesus has grown with each reading. I recommend this method to anyone who feels that their Bible reading has become jaded or merely a habit. In fact I'd recommend it to anyone, Christian or not.


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