Another New Year, another New Year’s Resolution! In years past, I’ve resolved to get in shape, save money, get better grades, and read the Bible from cover to cover.
Since becoming a Christian, I have read through the Bible by following a plan that assigned X number of chapters per day. The problem was that chapter breaks often stop in the middle of a prophecy, or cut off the author’s idea halfway. When I picked up my reading again the next day, I had lost the thread. Either I continued without fully following the author’s argument, or had to backtrack to where his thought began and re-read what I’d read the day before.
Follow the Flow
Last year, I decided to do something different. I would read the entire Bible again, but this time I planned to read it as if the chapter and verses were invisible. Instead, I would start at the beginning of the argument, prophecy, or narrative, and stop at a natural break in the flow of the book. I hoped not only for a deeper understanding of the text, but also to avoid the mistake of reading verses out of context.
I would never have guessed how this practice would transform my Bible-reading experience. Take Job for example. Paying attention to the point of each person’s speech, and actually letting the speakers finish their thoughts, made one of my least favorite books not only bearable, but enjoyable. I also learned to appreciate Ecclesiastes — a book that once depressed me with its cries of, “Meaningless! Meaningless! Everything is meaningless!”
Instead of stopping in the middle of another tirade about the meaninglessness of life, I finished my reading at the end, where the author finds meaning in serving God and honoring His commands. I realized the book teaches hope, not doom and gloom, because God not only gives us meaning and purpose, but brings meaning to everything on Earth.
Keep the Context
I applied this method to the New Testament by reading the letters from Paul, John, and the other authors as… letters. In other words, I read each book as a single, uninterrupted communication from one person to another. Reading Romans in one sitting isn’t the easiest, but it was worth it to understand the context of each verse and how it relates to the rest of the book. The same applied to all of the other epistles.
Approaching each book as a unified message brought to my attention an issue that plagues the church in America: our tendency to cherry-pick verses that prove our pet doctrines while ignoring the surrounding context. I’ve seen people use the Bible to defend everything from vegetarianism, gay marriage, and abortion, to moral relativism and universal salvation. I once knew a man convinced that the Bible taught that angels were aliens and that God was an evolved being. It took almost knocking him in the head with the background from the verses he cited to make him realize his error. If we break the text into arbitrary fractions, we run the risk of continuing a practice that promotes error, heresy, and false doctrine.
Stopping at natural rests in the Bible helped me appreciate the integrity of Scripture. This year, if you resolve to read the Bible more, try my experiment for yourself.