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426 Years to Study the Bible? How About 3?

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426 Years to Study the Bible? How About 3?

I am so glad that I was taught, and many in my church were taught, very early on the importance of understanding what a passage meant in its original context before trying to apply it. In this day of KLove Power Verses where life is brought to us in 15 second soundbites, it is tempting in our study of the word to want a quick pick-me-up, emotionally stimulating experience from the no more than 5 minutes.  This tends can tend to make the 21st century reader of the Bible assign the emotions or thoughts that first come from reading the text to the text as the meaning of the text. We have unwittingly adopted the post-modern assumption that the text's meaning is that which the reader gives it (therefore it is not improper or impossible for a text to have as many "meanings" as it has readers).  The tendency in modern Bible readers puts us in danger of seeing only in the Bible what we thought was already there; the passages which don't line up with what we understand and like about Christianity are in danger of being skipped altogether since they don't produce the emotional high for which we are longing or simply misinterpreted to fit in with our system.


I praise God, therefore, that early on in my Christian faith I was taught (and had modeled for me by both of my early spiritual mentors, Daryl and Walter) the importance of understanding what the original authors were communicating to the original audience. Without this information I do not understand the text and can't even begin to apply it to my life and heart accurately. I was taught the importance of observation and interpretation (what it meant to them in their time) before application. I was taught to see the importance of sitting long and thinking deeply about a single sentence in Scripture, to read it in context, to analyze each word and how it functioned in sentences, to probe the historical setting for information that would be helpful to proper short, I was taught the benefits of spending hours and hours in a single passage. The Scriptures opened up to me because I saw what was there and gave the Spirit time to drive it into my heart; the application flowed naturally from what I saw was there and was more profound and God glorifying than what I would have found in a five minute quickie Bible read and respond.

There was a problem here, however. I spent almost two years in daily study on the book of Galatians. I can say with confidence that I understand Galatians better than any other book of the Bible. Galatians has owned me. However, I will probably only have 40-50 years of life to study the Bible. Galatians is a relatively short book: 149 verses, 0.2 verses per day. The Bible has 31,102 verses in it. At that rate it would take me 426 years to study the whole Bible. So maybe in heaven, I can do that but not here. I am conflicted. How am I to use all that God has said in His Word and still use it responsibly?


Read-through-the-Bible-in-a-year plans are great. In one year you get to see all that God has said in His Word. But here is a danger. Reading approximately 85 verses per day, usually in a time limited to 30-60 minutes per day (some try 15 minutes), puts us in danger of grasping onto what we like or what is emotionally appealing and skipping the rest. My mind can only grasp usually one concept at a time and can't hold a thought for long, so in a reading plan that I did for 4 years (M'Cheyne's). What I found myself often doing as I read through the Bible was focusing on passages that talked about my favorite theological topics or those topics that were easy to respond to (and I think I did this appropriately, and it was right), but I just didn't give thought to the passages that were harder to be affected by. I was letting the ease with which my emotions were gripped by a text define the texts relative importance and instructive weight to me. I was learning, and I was learning from God's Word, but I was not learning all that God's Word said, thus falling short of my initial goal in reading the whole Bible.

As I talked to others about what their read-through-the-Bible-in-a-year readings looked like, many were similar, but I found many would use stories to springboard into lessons for themselves that were nowhere to be found in the story (i.e. using David & Goliath as a call to be a braverisk-taker ; while a good thing to do and maybe a proper response to understanding the theme of the story, this conclusion can be made devoid of understanding why that story is in the Scriptures, really devoid of even understanding where it is in the Scriptures and why God did what He did in David and Goliath, there are many other examples, but that is for a different blog post on a different day).

It was all of the above and more that led me to change the method of my whole-Bible reading and lead my smallgroup to do the same. Starting at the beginning of 2007, we began a study of the whole Bible: One book every two weeks (with some exceptions). We started in Genesis and over the period of just under 3 years, we will read all of the books of the Bible ending in Revelation. This week we are in Nahum. We use Dever's Message of the Old Testament & Message of the New Testament as pastoral guides in our reading.

In each book the goal is consistent with the goal when we study a single verse. We read the entire book with an eye to understand what major themes the God-inspired author of the book wanted to communicate. This is done by observing the flow of thought in the book, repetition of ideas, purpose statements, etc (observation). Once we understand the main point(s) of the book as a literary whole (interpretation), we are able to fit the individual pieces (sections of the book) into this whole, so we are able to be careful that we are understanding them in context. In two weeks, we are able to discern the theme and at least a rough outline of each book. This will guide us in the interpretation of any single verse, as it provides the context in which the verse must be understood. Finally, we state what this book teaches us about God, what this book teaches us about man, and how the truth of this book must affect us. The level of study here is certainly not as thorough as a 2-year study of Galatians, but it has served me and my group well to help us understand what the Bible is about.


In summary, as we look at each book, we ask the following big-picture questions:

  1. What would the author of this book say that this book is about?
  2. What is the message/theme/purpose of the smaller sections of this book in light of the purpose of the whole?
  3. What does this book teach you about God?
  4. What does this book teach you about man?
  5. How must this book affect you?

If you are interested in how we do this, would like to try to follow the model in your own study, or hijack the study guides for your own Bible study or smallgroup, feel free. The study guides (treasure sheets) and some other resources that have helped us in our study are available on our church website.
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Title: 426 Years to Study the Bible? How About 3?
Date posted: 22 6 '08 - 12:27
Category: Bible study - exegesis - hermeneutics
Wordcount: 1300 words
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