Bible Reading 101 (Part 1): Start Slow

Image result for slow runningI often hear someone say, “I’m going to read through the whole Bible this year.”   I don’t say it, but I think, “Yeah, that’s not going to happen.”  I’m not normally a pessimist.  When I applied to college, the adjective I used to describe myself on my application was “optimistic.”  But when I comes to year-long Bible plans, I’m a realist–they are rarely realized.  I don’t want to be a heretic, but I think trying to read the Bible in a year is usually a bad idea.  And I love reading the Bible.

I’m reminded of the new jogger who boldly declares, “I’m going to run a marathon in 3 months.” I’ll believe it when I see it.  I’ve been running for twenty years.  I’ve run three half-marathons, but haven’t been able to do a full marathon for a variety of health reasons (AFib, plantar fasciitis, and a varies of injuries to my toe, calf, knee, hamstrings, etc).  Running in a marathon won’t happen for most people, and it’s probably a bad idea (running is hard on the body).

Reading through the Bible in a year is a lot like running a marathon.  It’s hard for most of us to do, and not very helpful.  The Bible contains 1189 chapters, which means if you read seven days a week, 365 days a year, you’ll need to read 3-4 chapters a day just to finish.

If you’re sick, or miss a few days on vacation, it goes up to 5-6 chapters a day.  How much do you comprehend, or even remember when you are reading that much Scripture that quickly?  Not much.  (If you’re retired and have several hours a day for long Bible reading–that’s fantastic–I’ll look forward to that!)

Most people who start with this lofty plan end somewhere in Exodus, or perhaps they make it as far as the desert of Leviticus.  Then they feel defeated, discouraged, perhaps like they let God down.

I never recommend reading through the Bible in a year.

I was speaking this past Sunday to the high school group at my church (Calvary Church of Souderton) with my wife Shannon about personal Bible study.  I gave them three recommendations.  My first was, “Start slow.”

Most people when they start running are excited, eager, energetic, so they run too fast, too far, too long, which often leads to injury, pain or burnout, which means they give up after a few runs, like most year-long Bible readers.  If people ask me about starting to run, I say, “Start slow.”

When I started running (in my 30’s), I began running a slow mile, for several weeks, and then very gradually running longer distances.  Over the course of a year, my distances increased, and I started running in races: a 5K, a 10K, then a half-marathon–but only after having run for several years.

When it comes to Bible reading, “Start slow.”  Plan to read your Bible just a chapter a day, or perhaps 5-10 verses.  It may take you a few years to finish it but you probably already know how the story ends.  And you will get more out of it from a slow read.  If you’re reading a short section, you can re-read it, and reflect on it since you aren’t in a hurry to tick off those four chapters.  You are far more likely to remember a chapter you’ve read twice, than 4 chapters you’re read once.  If God can speak through a donkey (Numbers 22), he can certainly speak through speed-reading programs, but it is more likely we will be able to hear him if we are reading his word slowly.

My next blog, “Bible Reading 101 (Part 2): Keep Track.”

Holy Water, Jealous Husbands, and Dropping Uteruses

I received an email this morning from a current student.  Here is how he started,

“Since we talked about weird laws tonight, Numbers 5:11-31 has been deeply troubling to me.”

I don’t think he’s unique.  Let me summarize the law. Numbers 5, a husband is jealous, wondering if his wife has been fooling around, so there’s a test to figure out whether she’s guilty or not.  The priest gives her some holy water in a jar, with tabernacle floor dust sprinkled on top.  She has to take an oath and drink the water.  If her uterus drops then she’s guilty.  If not she’s innocent, and her husband should trust her. 

This is how I replied:

A lot of people wonder about this weird story, but not too many have asked me about it directly.  I’ll probably convert this email into a blog post.

No definitive answers, but here are six points to make.

First, Genesis 2 lays out the ideal for a husband and a wife.  A mutual partnership of trust, where they both help (ezer) each other.  I would argue it was an equal partnership, with no implicit authority.  But after the first sin (the forbidden fruit eating), he rules over her (Gen. 3:16).

Second, the man is clearly ruling in Numbers 5.  So, we’re not talking about the ideal.  It’s not Genesis 2, more like Genesis 3.

Third, this bizarre test is almost certainly an improvement on what would have normally happened back then.  A jealous husband would often just get rid of his wife, and she would have no security, and become either destitute or a prostitute.  Assuming she’s innocent, this test gives the woman a way to reclaim her reputation, and hold onto security.

Fourth, from a purely human level, how often is slightly dirty water going to cause a woman’s uterus to fall out?  It would seem like the default is innocence, barring some supernatural intervention.

Fifth, while I’m still troubled by this, I can see good in this law for the woman, but it does require a step of faith on my part to assume that the law is somehow designed to protect her.  Their culture and context were very different than ours, even more patriarchal and sexist than ours.

Sixth, why not a similar test for a jealous wife of a suspicious husband?  Good point.  I don’t have a good answer for that, but in my next book I look at adultery and rape laws.  The relevant OT laws are actually rather progressive, more so than our laws today in terms of giving women the benefit of the doubt in these types of situations.

Now, off to my faculty meeting for the next 3 hours.

What would you have said to my friend about Numbers 5? 

Expert discovers ancient Torah scroll in plain sight – CBS News

torah-scroll-large-AP782930_610x516Big news on the Old Testament scene, check it out here:

Expert discovers ancient Torah scroll in plain sight – CBS News.

The “re-discovered” scroll is of the Torah, or the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy).

The CBS news article says it’s a “Torah scroll of the Pentateuch”, but that’s redundant, since the Torah and the Pentateuch are different names for the same thing.

The best part of the story is that this library in Italy had the scroll for centuries, but incorrectly dated it, thinking it was only a couple hundred years old, when it was closer a thousand (about 1150 AD).

You might say, 1150, that’s not very close to the time of the Old Testament, and you’d be right, but the oldest complete manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible aren’t much older.  (Although the Dead Sea Scrolls are much older.)

This is what the Psalmist said about his Torah scroll:

I long for your salvation,
and your law (Torah) is my delight (Psalm 119:174).

The psalmist would not have miss-dated his Torah scroll.