TXAB: The Christ Almighty Blog

28 December 2015

Read the bible in a month. Yes, seriously. A month.

Are you ready to read a buttload of bible this January?

January’s coming. With it, a lot of people make new-year resolutions. “This year’s gonna be different, ’cause this year I’m gonna do [bucket-list item].” Some of these goals are realistic. Some not.

One of the more common goals Christians have is to read through the entire bible, Genesis to maps. (That’s an old Protestant joke. ’Cause a lot of study bibles include maps in the back. Okay, it’s less amusing when I explain it.) We should read the whole bible. So Christians get on some kind of bible-reading program to make sure we methodically go through every book, chapter, and verse. ’Cause when we don’t, we wind up reading only the familiar bits, over and over and over again——and miss a lot of parts we should read. The reason so many Christians misinterpret the New Testament is because they know so very little of its Old Testament context. Every time I quote just a little bit of the Law to explain Jesus’s teachings, way too many people respond, “I’ve never heard that before.” Sadly, I know exactly what they’re talking about.

Yet for some looney reason Christians tend to go with the bible-in-a-year reading program. My brother’s church, fr’instance. Every January they reboot it. Every day you’re to read two or three chapters from the Old Testament history and Prophets, a chapter or two from the New Testament, and a psalm or some other Old Testament poetry. Follow the program and in a year—a year!—you’ll have read the bible.

Okay, the bible is a big thick book collection. But come on. It’s not so thick it takes a year to go through.

The year-long program makes the bible sound like this huge, insurmountable mountain to climb. It’s no such thing. Why, you can read it in a month. And no, I’m not kidding. A month. Only takes me three weeks.

There are other bible-reading programs which read the bible in three months. That’s more reasonable; you could read the bible four times (or read four different translations) in a year. There are likewise six-month programs for those who struggle with reading, or reading comprehension. But when we’re talking about taking a whole year to read the bible, this sort of pace presents drawbacks. Seriously. And not just ’cause it makes the bible sound like such a massive volume.

It goes back to the context thing. Imagine reading Les Miserables, or The Lord of the Rings, or Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, over the course of a year. All are big thick volumes. Les Miserables’ chapters are about as short as the bible’s. You’d never think to chop them up into 365 daily readings. But let’s say you did. You’re gonna have the following troubles:

  • A narrative is gonna get sliced up. Several times. In several awkward places. Can you remember, day to day, where you are in the story? Hope so.
  • How well are you gonna remember a concept in one of the early chapters, when the concept comes up again three months later? And eight months later? And 11 months later?

Good thing you saw the movies. Assuming the movies didn’t skip that part ’cause time is short.

Nope; a year is too slow. Three months is better. But if you want a serious overview of the bible with a fresh memory, read it in two months. And believe it or not, you can read it in one. The entire bible, front to back, within the month of January. (Book order up to you, of course.)

Like I said, it only takes me three weeks. Seven years ago, to prove it was doable—to myself and others—I put the following limitations on myself, and still follow ’em.

  • An hour (or so) per day: If I went over, it was only because I was so close to finishing a book it’d be nuts to stop then. Most days it’d be less than an hour. Most of the bible’s books are short, y’know.
  • Only six days a week; I’d skip Saturday. Unless I missed some other day of the week; then I’d catch up Saturday. Still, only six days.
  • An unfamiliar bible translation, so I’d be unlikely to skim any verses I was already familiar with.

I read fast, which is why I tell you it’s doable in four.

Or listen to an entire audio bible in a month.

Okay, maybe you’re not much of a reader. Which is odd, considering you read TXAB and I don’t write many short pieces.

If that’s you, that’s fine. An audio bible might be more your speed. Get one. I have a page full of links. You can purchase an audio bible, download one for free, or visit one of the many websites which stream audio bible. In many translations.

One of the audio bibles I own is dramatized—with the usual overacting, orchestration, and gratuitous sound effects. Takes 92 hours to listen to it in entirety. So to listen to the whole of it in 30 days, I have to listen to an average of 3 hours, 12 minutes every day. Some of our commutes to work are longer than three hours, and what d’you usually do in that time? Listen to other stuff? Swear at other drivers? Load up on audio bible instead.

For those folks who live their lives with headphones on, you can listen to way more than three hours a day. Might finish the bible in two weeks, like one of those brand-new on-fire Christians who’re so jazzed about God they can’t stop reading their bibles. Remember when you were like that? (Oh, you never were? Well, don’t worry. Statistically less than a third of us came to Jesus like that.)

Though the bible’s a big thick book collection, going through the whole of it in January is far from impossible.

“But I don’t wanna read it so fast.”

Ever since I first pitched this idea, a lot of people have been eager to tackle it for themselves. Bible in a month, baby! They drop everything else they’re reading, all the TV programs they’re usually watching, and cram bible for the month. And to their own great surprise, do it.

I get just as many people who don’t wanna take the bible-in-the-month challenge. Which is fine. Nobody made this mandatory, y’know. I sure don’t. I just think it’s a good idea: Why take the snail’s-pace approach when you could be done already in January? Worse, lose track and drop the ball by mid-March?

For certain people, it’s not enough to say, “No thank you; not for me.” They gotta defend themselves. (Again, they really don’t.) And how do immature people defend themselves? By not just opting out, but by denouncing the practice. Reading the bible so quickly isn’t just a road not chosen; it’s a sin. Or so they tell me.

Here are the usual objections I get.

“It’s disrespectful make a marathon of reading the bible.” Disrespectful to whom? God? Did God decree we should only read his word in a slow, solemn pace? Or is he much more pleased when people are hungry for his word, and want to read lots of it?

Slowness is neither respect nor reverence. It’s just slowness. True, some people are slow because they wanna be careful and methodical, and that’s fine. People are also slow because they’re lazy: If they’re slow about it, they don’t have to work too hard. Or they’re procrastinating: Put off the parts of the bible they don’t like, then whip through those passages quickly. If slowness is just an excuse to avoid reading the bible, it’s hypocrisy to claim speed is disrespect.

True, if we’re reading the bible so fast we haven’t comprehended anything, just so we can brag “I read it in one week; top that.” Yeah, that’s stupid. People run marathons so they can brag they ran marathons, and there are definitely people who speed-read bible so they can brag they sped-read bible. Don’t be one of those. If you’re struggling with reading comprehension ’cause a month is just too quick for you, take two or three. But 12 months, I still maintain, is impractically long. And foolish.

“This is just a stunt.” And so what if it is?

Most of the things our churches do in January are stunts. My church regularly does a 21-day fast. My neighbor’s church does a back-to-church deal so they can collect all the folks who resolved to do more church in the new year. But exactly what’s wrong with stunts? Just because it’s wild and out of the ordinary doesn’t mean you can’t profit by it.

If the bible-in-January stunt gets people to read their bibles for once, you should be all for it.

“How much can you retain from reading so fast?” Me? Quite a lot. I have a better-than-average ability at reading comprehension. You? I dunno. But it’ll be way more than you retain from reading so slow.

The point of reading the entire bible isn’t retention, although to a small degree retention will happen. It’s reminding. It’s to make us more familiar with what’s in the scriptures, and where. There are parts we haven’t read in the longest time, and we need to be reminded they’re there. We need a refresher. It’s something a lot of us Christians are lacking with the bible: Familiarity.

No through-the-bible system is about memorizing bible. And those people who are taking a year to read it, aren’t necessarily studying the short passages they read. That’s probably the most regular excuse I’ve heard for reading through the bible slowly: “We have the time to chew our spiritual food, and meditate on it better.” It’d be nice if it were true, but most people don’t meditate on those passages. They only read ’em, then move on. The whole “I need time to meditate” excuse? More hypocrisy.

When we read the bible quickly, there are no more lies about how we’re “meditating on the word.” We fully admit we’re not reading the bible for meditation. We’re reading it for familiarity. We might meditate on it later. But not just now.

How much are we gonna retain? More than someone who never reads it. And while everyone on the three-month plan is a third of the way through, we even have time to go through the bible again. Twice.

“It doesn’t make you a better or superior Christian.” Yeah it does. In a month I’ve read 12 times as much bible as those Christians on the yearly installment plan. That’s clearly superior.

Oh you mean morally superior? Well no; of course not. Not unless I actually follow God’s instructions in what I’ve read. But like I said, I’ll have read 12 times as much bible: I actually read all God’s instructions, whereas the folks on the yearly plan have read less than 10 percent of them. I have it fresh in my memory where to go back and review; they don’t. Depending on how their plan is structured, they can go most of the year making the same mistakes, committing the same sins, because they haven’t yet been corrected, or because it’s been far too long since they read those corrections, and they forgot ’em already. I have a serious advantage over them.

No, I haven’t earned special heavenly Brownie points from God by reading the bible in a month. No, I’m not more righteous, more saved, more mature, more anything unless I put what I read into practice. But I did get that bible read, and have a several-month jump on other Christians. That ain’t nothing.

“I can’t spare an hour a day.” Fair enough. Many can’t. Some of us have crazy busy lives, and simply can’t take a free hour for ourselves. That’s a much bigger issue than reading the bible in a month. If you can only snatch a few minutes for yourself at a time, please spend it on prayer. When you get more time, then concentrate on bible study and mediation. If you want to plow through a bible within a month, you may have to resort to audio bibles.

But lots of people do have a spare hour. That is, after they part with some other leisure activity, like TV, video games, Facebook, or something they really don’t wanna put on hold.

“I’m not sure I could be that disciplined.” Also fair enough. But God’s calling you to be. Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit. If we lack self-control, it’s not because God hasn’t granted us the ability; it’s because we haven’t bothered to put this ability into practice, and exercise it. Compared to other forms of self-control—diets, quitting tobacco, going to the gym regularly, cutting back on luxuries—reading the bible in a month is rather easy. Unless we’re suffering from an addiction or medical condition, our lack of discipline isn’t a valid excuse.

Maybe you need an incentive: Once you finish the bible, reward yourself. Or read the bible with a partner, and if you finish the bible your partner can reward you, and vice-versa. Do it in a group and egg one another on. Ban all other reading material, all other forms of entertainment, from your life till you get that bible completely read. If you’re not disciplined, use this opportunity to grow your self-control.

One possible schedule.

Here’s one possible schedule you can follow. Gets you through the Old Testament (I listed it in roughly the order it was composed), then the New (generally bunching authors together).

SundayMondayTuesdayWednesdayThursdayFridaySaturday
Day 1
Genesis 1-35
Day 2
Genesis 36-50, Psalms 1-41
Day 3
Exodus
Day 4
Leviticus
Day 5
Numbers
Day 6
Deuteronomy
Break/
Catch-up
Day 7
Joshua, Judges, Psalms 42-72
Day 8
1-2 Samuel
Day 9
1-2 Kings
Day 10
Isaiah
Day 11
Jeremiah
Day 12
Ezekiel
Break/
Catch-up
Day 13
Hosea through Malachi
Day 14
Proverbs, Job
Day 15
Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther
Day 16
Daniel, Psalms 73-106
Day 17
Ezra, Nehemiah, Psalms 107-150
Day 18
1-2 Chronicles
Break/
Catch-up
Day 19
Matthew, Hebrews
Day 20
Mark, James, 1-2 Peter
Day 21
Luke, Acts
Day 22
John, 1-3 John, Revelation
Day 23
Romans through Ephesians
Day 24
Philippians through Philemon
Break/
Catch-up

January has 31 days, so there are plenty of extra days available.

I’ve seen other reading programs which divide the bible up into roughly equal amounts of reading each day. It means you gotta quit reading partway through a book. Ideally I like to read a book all the way through, so you’ll notice I didn’t chop the books up when I could avoid it. (Psalms is an exception—but technically Psalms consists of five books of psalms, and I actually didn’t divide those books.)

If you wanna rearrange things for your own convenience—maybe you wanna read an Old Testament book, then a New Testament book, then the Old Testament again, and so on—go right ahead. Whatever gets you through the bible.

And if you wanna read equal amounts of bible each day, here’s the easiest way to do it: Go get one of those yearly bible-reading programs, and read 13 days’ worth of material each day. That’ll get you finished in 28 days.

Ready to take the challenge? Let’s get to it.