I just love getting interrupted in the middle of a chapter in my latest novel . . . said no one ever. Who enjoys being ripped away from a rollicking adventure or spellbinding mystery? From characters you love or love to hate? That doorbell or tap on the shoulder is often an unwelcome intrusion into your literary getaway.
Chances are you’ve never (or rarely) felt that way about your Bible reading. Not because the Word doesn’t have adventures, mysteries, and characters to love or hate. All of that can easily be found within the sixty-six books of Scripture. No, we don’t often get annoyed at interruptions because we don’t read the Good Book like a good book.
If you are anything like me, typical Bible reading occurs in conjunction with a study of a particular topic or book. Topical studies tend to keep readers jumping from verse to verse, all in different books within the Bible, looking for the common denominator. Book studies, in which we study one book of the Bible, are better at keeping us in one continuous pattern, but they too will have us consult cross references that take us away from our narrative. Neither are bad choices. Both have strengths, and both have weaknesses.
But, what if you paused your study of Scripture and began just reading Scripture? Just read the text, continuously and in context. No inductive questions. No introductory illustrations. Just the Bible—at least for a season.
Author (and HeartStrong Faith 2018 speaker) Margaret Feinberg experimented with her Lenten practices a few years ago by committing to reading through different parts of the Bible—one year it was the entire Bible—during that forty-day period. Each experience enriched her understanding of Scripture and deepened her love for the Lord. Referring to her subsequent cancer diagnosis, she testified in a blog post, “What I didn’t realize at the time is that many of the passages that came alive as I read would soon become my lifeline. Just a few months after Lent we were ambushed with a heart wrenching diagnosis [cancer]. That intense time of Bible reading helped prepare us for what was coming.”
I remembered Margaret’s Lenten challenge recently when I was searching for a new reading plan in my YouVersion app. I decided to read the New Testament in forty days. That timeline requires reading chunks of Scripture—sometimes eight to twelve chapters—in twenty- to thirty-minute sessions. This method is pretty ambitious for someone who usually takes several months on a study of one book.
So how did it go, you ask?
The Gospels, though repetitious, weren’t too difficult. Acts moved more quickly—it was fascinating to follow characters continually through so much action and drama. It also allowed me to see the larger plot of how the church grew numerically and spread geographically.
And then I came to Paul’s letters, many of which I would read completely in one sitting. How often do we really do that? With all the quotable quotes and Instagramable imagery, we so easily forget that these were correspondence from a leader to his friends, from a pastor to his congregants. Beyond the important doctrine, these letters also reveal relationships, disappointments, and dreams.
For instance, Paul grieved eloquently over the Galatians’ willingness to stray from the true gospel (Gal. 1). He admonished the Corinthians over their petty divisions (1 Cor. 3) and double-mindedness (1 Cor. 5), while extoling their shared calling as ambassadors tasked with reconciling people to God and each other (2 Cor. 5). He called out specific people sinning publically (Phil. 4:2). He clearly loved the people in the churches he founded: “We were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thess. 2:8).
Reading the Bible as story—as letters originally written to friends, or the life-story of Jesus, or a history of a nation—provides us with at least three benefits:
- More accurate interpretation: What does this verse or passage mean? Reading a passage in context, instead of cherry-picking a verse here or there, reveals more about the author’s original intent and meaning. This leads to a more accurate understanding of what God wants us to know. We avoid many misunderstandings, especially of unfamiliar terms or social practices, by reading larger portions of Scripture in one sitting and coming to know context.
- Richer applications: What does this passage mean for me? The more detailed our observations of the text, the more accurate our interpretations, which lead to a more meaningful application of the divine Word.
- A greater understanding of God’s big story: Every book in the Bible fits within the greater story of the entire Bible. Discover the Big Story, and each smaller one will make more sense. You’ll come away with a richer understanding of the God who created and sustains the world, who has a plan for it and for us, who is intimately involved in our lives.
So pull up a comfy chair and bury your nose into a book of the Bible. Stay there awhile, and see what hidden riches you mine.
About The Author
Kelley Mathews (Th.M., Dallas Theological Seminary) currently serves as the managing editor for the HeartStrong Faith website. She also has a not-so-secret love affair with books: though she writes non-fiction books, including her latest, Leading Women Who Wound (with Sue Edwards), and articles for Bible Study Magazine, she indulges her love of fiction by reviewing Christian novels for Publishers Weekly and serving as a Christy Award judge. A former women’s ministry director and Bible study teacher, she has been married to her husband, a local school district administrator, for over twenty years. She spends most days following or chauffeuring their four loquacious children from one event to another. Find her books and blog at kelleymathews.com.