If you read our last post, I talked about recently having the privilege of giving a solid week to nothing but Bible reading. Going from cover to cover in seven days was one of the most memorable, powerful and formative experiences I remember. A friend asked what it was like. So here are my reflections.
The Bible is big.
The Bible is a really big book. We all know this. Sort of. But the way Bibles are bound is deceiving. Because the document is so massive and because none of us want to carry a box around, it’s printed on special thin paper that even has its own name—“Bible paper” (technically lightweight offset paper). Take a look at like the new six volume ESV Reader’s Bible to get a sense just how big the Bible is.
I knew this information before. But reading straight through the entire book without interruption gave me a greatly renewed appreciation for just how incredibly huge the Bible is. Reading full time for 10-12 hours a day, it still takes a solid week to get through it. This has all kinds of significant implications. It’s a big book because it’s a big story. The Bible teaches us, after all, how to understand the world, a history of the planet, the path to eternal life, devotional response to God, and a practical guide to wise living in every area of life—ethics, family, child-rearing, money, relationships, and the church. We shouldn’t be surprised that it’s big.
It also makes sense that it’s so challenging to master and that no one yet has. It’s just a lot of content and fantastically deep content at that. God didn’t just reveal truth. He revealed a LOT of truth. While I’m in favor of super thin Bible paper for practical reasons, it’s also good to remember how big it is.
The Bible is organic.
It’s also quite striking how different the books are. From the dramatic irony of Esther to the fantastic symbolism of Daniel to the Jeremiad rebuke of the prophets to the philosophical brevity of the wisdom books, you feel the difference right away when reading them all. And that’s only the Old Testament!
And yet just as striking, the Bible is the most intertwined body of literature I’ve ever read. The books cite, quote, allude and echo each other constantly. It’s like a city, built up layer by layer, strata by strata, so that each later addition rests on every layer that came before. Geerhardus Vos compared it to a body, with networks more intricate than nerves, muscles and blood vessels, all interdependent and yet fully alive.* We don’t usually sense these relationships because we’ve forgotten 95% of the OT before we ever get to the New. But having it all out in front of your brain at once changes that completely. You find yourself flipping back and forth constantly between the testaments, jumping across thousands of years of history to study the same teachings and sometimes even the same phrases.
And yet from time to time bright shafts of light break through in a way that cut throught all of the strata in a single slice. Isaiah 53 is mind-blowing. Dropped down in the middle of an exilic prophet and using Hebrew poetry, the theology sounds like something Paul could have written.
The Bible is true.
This may seem an odd observation to make from reading it. I wouldn’t have dedicated a week of my life to reading it if I didn’t believe it was true. And yet this was my most significant take away. Every honest believer has times when questions and doubts come to mind. But the time I spent reading was the most powerful certification of my faith I’ve ever experienced. It isn’t that I tested the Bible and decided to give it my stamp of approval. The Bible grabbed me by the collar and authoritatively told me I would either hear the word of the Lord or destroy myself in my foolishness.
I can explain that theologically. “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). I’ve read powerful philosophical or evidential arguments for Christianity. Archaeology brings some amazing confirmations and the need for a Creator is no less convincing. But none of those can compare with simply reading the Bible.
Nor was the persuasion strictly devotional, as though the Bible short-circuited my brain. Rather I was captivated by how 40 authors spread across 1,500 years and multiple cultures could write a book that speaks harmoniously with one, powerful voice. How is that possible?
Try that. Try gathering a group of 40 people from multiple cultures and 1,500 years. Tell them to all write a couple of books—whatever style or method they want to use is fine. Then stick that together and try to make it all make sense. Try to iron out all contradictions and make them communicate a single, cogent world view. It’s not happening.
I don’t intend to dismiss very good work apologists have done on the resurrection, creationism, archaology and philosophy. But it seems to me that the most basic and incontrovertible evidence of all is the one God already gave us. This book is incredible. Any doubter has to explain how it got here and how it can make sense in 2016. This book is a marvel.
The Bible makes sense if you read it.
One of my favorite seminary professors had a rather unprofound emphasis. The reason people don’t understand the Bible, he taught us, is that they don’t read it. What he meant, of course, is that they don’t read it well—most importantly holistically. It’s a point we’ve made on Rooted before. Don’t just pick out verses. Read in books; read in large portions. Read it all.
But I never fully appreciated any of this until now. Verses that had always seemed confusing or just plain odd, suddenly made sense just because I read them in their full context. Reading as books or better, reading across the entire book, made these passages clear and powerful.
As such, this experiment changed my Bible reading. I learned that it is possible to get through Bible books in less than an hour or most of them in under 20 minutes. And I learned that doing that helps me understand the individual parts better than ever before.
I hope you’ll consider reading holistically this coming year. I hope maybe you’ll even consider a radical reading plan. Whether you try a 7 day plan, 3 day, 1 day, or read through the Bible in 2 months, exposing yourself to the entire book in a short time will be transformative. It’ll change your life. Take a look at our previous post on how, come up with a goal that will really challenge you, and then do it!
*Geerhardus Vos, The Idea of Biblical Theology.