Friday, June 22, 2007

Some thoughts on reading the Bible more

Most professing Christians will readily admit that they don't spend enough time reading the Bible. Of course, if I were to read the Bible 24/7 without sleeping or taking breaks, then I would still probably say (1) I'm not reading the Bible enough and (2) if all I do is read the Bible but I never practice what I'm studying, it doesn't profit me that much. There has to be that balance there of reading, contemplation, and action.

At any rate, I would put myself in that group of people who really does need to read the Bible more. My routine was shaken up in the move, and I haven't gotten back on a regular schedule yet. (If you've noticed, my blogging has been lacking quite a bit as well)

By default, when I want to read the Bible more, I have a tendency to look for a new Bible to purchase that catches my interest. Here are some that I've tried:

The Message. I had a post a few weeks ago about rising denominations; one of which was The Church of The Message. Long before I saw this humorous list, I had noticed this trend; particularly in my home congregation. No matter what passage we were discussing, someone would always say, "Oh, but you've got to hear how the Message puts this passage." People will sometimes quote the Message in a manner reminiscent of how other people quote the KJV as the authoritative "authorized" version.

I have a copy of the Message. I've tried to read it, and have read parts of it from time to time with some benefit. My problem is that my background in Biblical languages seems to block my ears from just opening up to the language. I'm always preoccupied with wondering what tenses the verbs are intended to be in, and how the best way is to translate certain phrases. Since the Message is a paraphrase--not a translation--I have often read along for a while, then got really upset about something I didn't think was handled well. Eugene Peterson's theology often appears to be shining through, and I think that's the disadvantage of having any version of the Bible made by only one translator. I have tried reading it, but I feel like I'm reading the Bible through a veil. I have been troubled when I see people carrying a Message around instead of an actual Bible.

Daily Bibles. I've tried a couple of different times to do daily Bibles over the course of a year. I've only succeeded once. The older daily Bibles were an incredible concept when they first came along. My problem with them has been that the reading really is a lot. Going from reading zero chapters per day to four or five a day is extremely difficult. Often, I'll find a passage I want to study more, but when you're so busy charging ahead to finish, there's just not time. The one time I did finish it, I basically skimmed the last month's worth of reading, and got very little out of the experience.

As opposed to reading a regular daily Bible, I've also tried a Chronological daily Bible. There's one by F. LaGard Smith where he adds commentary sprinkled throughout to help the reader grasp what's going on. I really have enjoyed his comments, but it just intensifies the problem of finishing in a year. If Scripture itself was already a lot, having a bunch of extra notes to sort through just adds to the load. I think it's a great approach to try and read the Bible in the order that things happened, because it seems to fit together a lot better that way.

The Story. This is my most recent attempt at reading the Bible more, and so far it's been about my favorite. This is not a paraphrase and it's also not a complete Bible. It is a compilation of passages in a somewhat Chronological, somewhat normal order. The readings all come from the TNIV translation (which is not my favorite...I think they take way too many liberties with inserting words that may or may not be implied). Even though the translation isn't my favorite, I like it better than the Message and it reads really well. I found it on a clearance sale at a Christian book store, and have been very pleasantly surprised!

It is set up more like a book. Mine has fancy uneven edges on the pages to make it appear older. The pages are nice and thick instead of the usual dinky bleed-through Bible pages. It doesn't contain normal verse or chapter divisions. There are individual chapters designed to present the whole of Scripture as a story. It is a very abbreviated version of Scripture, and is only a little over 400 pages long, and that is in large font, 1-column format. For someone trying to keep the flow of Scripture in mind, I have really loved this book. There are several notes from the editor here and there to help connect passages from one to the next if large portions are skipped.

My one complaint is that this book does not state who compiled it. I'm one of those types who is very selective about which authors I read. I know which scholars I like and which schools I'm more fond of. This is done completely anonymously, which bothers me. I haven't ran into anything that I've found problems with in terms of the comments, but I feel like as a reader, when I know these words were not originally there, I deserve to know who added them.

Even so, if you're trying to be a better Bible reader and reading the regular Bible seems like too much to start with, I really would recommend The Story. My favorite section so far is Job. Job's story is abbreviated masterfully, with about a paragraph from each of the speeches. It makes it so much easier to visualize what is happening.

After I finish it, I'm thinking about challenging my youth group to read it through next year. It is a much more manageable amount to read, and it might make a good stepping stone for them to eventually read the entire Bible.

So what has worked for you? Is there a version you like best? Have you found a way to help you read, contemplate, and apply what you're studying?


  1. Thanks for the reviews Mark. I really need something to help get me going again; I seem to always get started reading my bible through, but then it tapers off and I never finish. I think I'll try to find one of these books you've mentioned. I hope everything is going well there!

  2. I had always wanted to read through the Bible in a year, but used to always fall behind in the OT. I figured out the "problem". I was sitting down with my translation of choice (I try and mix it up each year) and an assignment, like 3 chapters at a time.

    Well, I'm a computer programmer. I'm online every waking hour of the day. Why wouldn't I read the Word like I do everything else: online.

    So I found a reading plan at and started off with NASB. It loads the passage from Bible Gateway, so you have your pick on translation and language. It is my home page and I read before I check my e-mail or do anything else.

    I'm pretty sure this will be my third consistent year all the way through.


  3. Thanks, Heath!

    And Daniel, that is some really good advice. I hadn't thought about that, but that's really cool that the online reading has worked out for you.

    I can see how that might be the perfect method for some people. Perhaps for me, too!