My year of reading biblically wasn’t exactly a year like A.J. Jacobs’ The Year of Living Biblically or Rachel Held Evans’ A Year of Biblical Womanhood. Instead, I took just 8 months and 1 week to read through the Bible—beginning with the New Testament in the Common English Bible (CEB) and then the Old Testament in The Message (MSG).
My initial intention had been simply to read through the CEB New Testament since I had been given a copy some time ago, dipped into it here and there, and was curious to read through the whole thing. Then when I finished that, it only seemed right to read through the Old Testament too, and I decided on The Message since I’d never read that through either.
My goal wasn’t to live out the Bible as literally as possible, or to prove a point, or to write a book. I didn’t read through the Bible so I could tweet a verse of the day or blog about it, although I ended up doing both. My goal was much more modest and more personal. I’d read through the Bible before in other versions and was already used to reading several verses or more almost every day, but this time I wanted to read in larger chunks as my spiritual practice—whole chapters or even a whole book at a time, and as much as possible to read with fresh eyes. Instead of the letter of the law, I went looking for the Spirit.
Along the way I was reminded that:
1. The Bible is an ancient book. Reading the text in contemporary versions like the Common English Bible and The Message doesn’t change that. Although the words might be translated into everyday English, the history, customs, and content of the Bible are ancient.
So while the details of the tabernacle and its furnishings may have been key for those ancients trying to design everything just right, for me they seemed to go on far too long, so I skipped ahead to read from the Psalms, and then back and forth, back and forth to help me keep on reading. I found myself skimming through all of the family names in 1 Chronicles—as historical record, the careful preservation of these names might well be significant and demonstrate God’s intimate love and care for the people, but page after page of unfamiliar names also reinforces my sense of historical distance.
The Bible is an ancient book—really an ancient library written over centuries—that needs to be read and interpreted with care if we are to make any sense of it.
2. The Bible can be harsh. Even in The Message, I could hardly read through the book of Leviticus with all of its laws that I am clearly not following. The harsh words of Ezekiel and other prophets are no less harsh because they’re in contemporary language:
God says, “Let a mob loose on them: Terror! Plunder! Let the mob stone them and hack them to pieces—kill all their children, burn down their houses!” (Ezekiel 23:46-47, MSG).
Jesus has harsh words too:
How terrible it will be for you legal experts and Pharisees! Hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs. They look beautiful on the outside. But inside they are full of dead bones and all kinds of filth (Matthew 23:27, CEB).
3. Yet the Bible speaks just as clearly of God’s love. While I might get tired of the long lists of names in Chronicles, I also read “Give thanks to God, for his love never quits!” (1 Chronicles 16:41, MSG), and “Yes! God is good! His loyal love goes on forever!” (2 Chronicles 5:13, MSG). It’s not only the New Testament that insists “God is love” (1 John 4:8, CEB), but that affirmation runs throughout the Old Testament as well.
How does this message of God’s love square with the harsh judgement that also runs through the Bible? The ancients seemed to hold onto both without needing to explain away one or the other, and that’s what I tried to do in my reading too. Instead of trying to resolve any apparent contradictions, I simply let them stand. I realized that I didn’t need to understand everything or to solve everything, least of all the mystery of God’s Spirit. I simply kept reading.
When I finished the Old Testament, I decided to keep reading, so I’m now going through the New Testament again, this time in The Message. Maybe my “year” of reading biblically will turn out to be a year after all.
As I’ve been reading, one useful resource I’ve found is the Year of the Bible Network which includes resources for reading, studying, praying, living, and proclaiming the Bible. It even includes some doodle art like this one below as an active and creative way of interacting with Scripture by colouring it in, or designing and drawing your own.
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