Friday, January 25, 2013

Chunks of Poetry

I said in an earlier post in this series that the poetry in the Bible is meant to be read meditatively, thus slowly. So how does that fit into a "reading the Bible in chunks" approach? I stick with my earlier statement, but I also think that there is value to reading these books in large chunks. For one thing, the reader can avoid getting lost in the details. I think this is particularly important with the Book of Job. It is more important to get the overall sense of the statements than it is to try to figure out all the details. In addition, Job is a difficult book to translate because of its very high percentage of unusual words. So, with Job, pay attention to the larger things, and don't sweat the small stuff. With Psalms and Proverbs, the point of reading in chunks is to see the main themes that play out in the book. What are the chief concerns? You will probably get an entirely different sense of these books reading them this way.

So here are my suggestions for reading Job, Psalms, and Proverbs in chunks.

Job is divided into a prologue (chs 1-2), a series of dialogues (chs 3-26), a series of  monologues (chs 27-41), and an epilogue (ch 42).

Job 1-14 This is the prologue and the first round of dialogue. It may be pushing the half-hour limit, but not by much.
Job 15-26 The second and third rounds of dialogue
Job 27-37 The first two rounds of monologue (Job and Elihu)
Job 38-42 God's monologue and the epilogue

Psalms. This could be done by simply reading 25 psalms per day, since it takes about three hours to read through the Psalms. However, that leaves the fifth day's reading to be extraordinarily long (remember Psalm 119?). So here's my suggestion.

Psalms 1-29
Psalms 30-50
Psalms 51-74
Psalms 75-98
Psalms 99-118
Psalms 119-150

Proverbs. Should be able to do in two 30-minute readings,
Proverbs 1-17
Proverbs 18-31
(The later chapters in Proverbs tend to be longer than the earlier ones.)

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Chunks of History

This is a suggestion for how the historical books of the Old Testament might be divided up for reading in chunks. It does not not include Ruth, Ezra, or Esther, which might each be read in less than thirty minutes.

Joshua 1-8: From the entry into the land to the conquest of Ai.
Joshua 9-16: From the deceit of Gibeon through the description of Judah's portion. Admittedly, there is a shift from chapter 12, the end of narrative, to chapter 13, the description of the division of the land. But the only other option is to read the book in two large chunks: 1-12 and 13-24, each of which would take more than 30 minutes.
Joshua 17-24: From the description of Joseph's portion to the last words of Joshua. Again, there is a shift from geographical description to narrative between chapters 21 and 22.

Judges 1-8: From the death of Joshua through the labors of Gideon
Judges 9-16: From Abimelech through Samson
Judges 17-21: The sad demise of the culture of Israel

1 Samuel 1-8: The ministry of Samuel
1 Samuel 9-15: From the selection of Saul to his rejection
1 Samuel 16-24: From the selection of David to David's first sparing of Saul
1 Samuel 25-31: From the episode with Nadab to the death of Saul.

2 Samuel 1-10: The success of David
2 Samuel 11-18: From Bathsheba to the defeat of Absalom
2 Samuel 19-24 The last days of David.

1 Kings 1-8: From the selection of Solomon to the dedication of the temple
1 Kings 9-14: From the completion of the temple to the death of Rehoboam
1 Kings 15-22: From Abijam through the death of Ahab
(Note that these three readings are probably going to push the 30-minute window.)

2 Kings 1-8: The ministry of Elisha
2 Kings 9-17: From Jehu through the fall of the Northern Kingdom
2 Kings 18-25: From Hezekiah to the fall of Jerusalem
(Note, these three readings will push the 30-minute window.)

1 Chronicles 1-10: From Adam through the death of Saul. Note that this is mostly names.
1 Chronicles 11-20: The rise and conquests of David
1 Chronicles 21-29: David prepares for the building of the temple

2 Chronicles 1-9: The reign of Solomon
2 Chronicles 10-18: From Solomon to the death of Ahab
2 Chronicles 19-27: From Jehoshaphat through Jotham
2 Chronicles 28-36: From Ahaz to the fall of Jerusalem

Nehemiah 1-7 From the news of Jerusalem to the list of returnees
Nehemiah 8-13 From the reading of the law through Nehemiah's final reforms.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Grant Horner's Bible Reading System

For those of you not familiar with the system, you may find it online here:

If you use Horner's Bible Reading system, and find it helpful, please keep using it. Don't stop on account of anything I might say in this post if you indeed find it helpful.

I was reminded today that in the past I have recommended Horner's system (see the GPTS January newsletter here:

I used it myself for about a year, long enough to become familiar with it, and also long enough to discover what, to me, are its weaknesses. It is these weaknesses that I want to deal with in this post. First, I really don't see the point of reading Acts through every month. Horner's comment that if you don't know why you should read Acts (or Proverbs) every month shows that you need to read them that often strikes me as unhelpful, and verging on snarky.

Second, I think the reading system gives short shrift to the Old Testament. It is, to my mind, essentially a dispensational way of reading the Bible. The Old Testament is really about Israel, and hence isn't all that important for the church. You read Acts almost nine times in the time it takes you to get through the larger Old Testament sections (historical books take 249 days, prophets take 250 days).

Third, I think that reading through Proverbs every month may contribute to the sort of legalistic piety that we see so often in dispensational, fundamentalist churches here in the South. The book is not read (really) in the larger context of the Old Testament, but is dealt with as a separate entity.

Fourth, most Christians are too unfamiliar with the Old Testament. Reading it once per eight months is better than nothing, but not if you're reading the New Testament two or three times in that same period.

If today I were to recommend something like Horner's system, it would be thoroughly modified toward a more thorough familiarity with the Old Testament. Working with Horner's ten chapters per day, my proposal would look something like this:

1. Pentateuch (187 chapters, approximately twice per year)
2. Historical Books, part 1. Joshua through 2 Kings (151 chapters, about two and a half times per year)
3.Historical Books, part 2. 1 Chronicles through Esther (98 chapters, almost four times per year)
4. Poetic Books (minus Psalms). Job through Song of Solomon (93 chapters, almost four times per year)
5. Psalms. (150 chapters, about two and a half times per year)
6. Major Prophets. Isaiah through Daniel (183 chapters, twice per year)
7. Minor Prophets. Hosea through Malachi (67 chapters, almost six times per year)
8. Gospels and Acts. (117 chapters, about three times per year)
9. Epistles and Revelation (143 chapters, about two and a half times per year)

This approach accomplishes the mixed reading that Horner is promoting, while doing a more thorough job of acquainting the reader with the Old Testament. Notice that it accomplishes this in one less chapter per day than Horner's system.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Chunking Up the Pentateuch

The Pentateuch (Genesis through Deuteronomy) takes about 10 and 1/2 hours to read, or about 21 half-hour chunks. Part of the challenge of reading the larger books in chunks is to do so in a manner that doesn't leave the reader in the middle of a section at the end of 30 minutes. The following division is intended to divide the Pentateuch into roughly half-hour chunks that have the additional advantage of being roughly a self-contained unit in the story. The following chunks include a brief description of each chunk. I won't guarantee that each of these will be 30 minutes or less, but they should be close.

Genesis 1-11 The prehistory, from creation to Abraham.
Genesis 12-22 From the call of Abraham to the binding of Isaac.
Genesis 23-32 From the death of Sarah to Jacob's wrestling with the angel.
Genesis 33-41 From the rape of Dinah to Joseph's rise to power.
Genesis 42-50 From Joseph's brothers' first visit to Egypt to the death of Joseph.

Exodus 1-10 From the Arrival of Israel in Egypt to the conclusion of the ninth plague.
Exodus 11-20 From the threat of the last plague to the Ten Commandments.
Exodus 21-31 From the beginning of statutory law to the end of instructions for building the tabernacle.
Exodus 32-40 From the Golden Calf episode to the completion of the tabernacle.

Leviticus 1-9 The Levitical system and the installation of Aaron and his sons.
Leviticus 10-16 From the death of Nadab and Abihu to the Day of Atonement.
Leviticus 17-23 The holiness of the people and the priests.
Leviticus 24-27 The holiness of the land.

Numbers 1-10 Preparing to leave Sinai.
Numbers 11-17 The people rebel in the wilderness.
Numbers 18-26 The last years in the wilderness and the second census.
Numbers 27-31 Preparing to enter the land, part 1.
Numbers 32-36 Preparing to enter the land, part 2.

Deuteronomy 1-4 Recounting the past.
Deuteronomy 5-11 The law in general.
Deuteronomy 12-21 The law in particular, part 1.
Deuteronomy 22-28 The law in particular, part 2.
Deuteronomy 29-34 Preservation of the covenant and the transition in power.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Reading the Bible in Chunks, 2

Now to make use of the listed I posted yesterday. My suggestion is first that you set aside up to 30 minutes per day for reading your Bible. You may say you don't have 30 minutes per day. My answer is, yes, you do. Give up that episode of Duck Dynasty or Honey Boo Boo. Or quit watching the news. Or take some time from your leisure reading.

Second, read as if you were doing your leisure reading. In other words, don't stop to try to understand difficult portions, or to wonder about apparent contradictions. The point of this approach to reading the Bible is to get an overview; to get a grasp of the book as a whole, not a grasp of the details.

Third, after you've done the reading, maybe make a couple of notes about things that struck you, so you can remember them. Then you can spend the day ruminating on them.

Fourth, don't feel like you have to spend all 30 minutes. If, for example, you've read 1 John, that should be enough for the day. This is not a race to see how quickly you can get through the Bible.

Perusing the list in the last post, you should notice that 37 of the 66 books of the Bible may be read in 30 minutes or less. I suggest you tackle these first, in whatever order you wish. Check them off when you've read them so that you don't repeat before you have finished the whole thing. With regard to the larger books, divide them into 30-minute (or less) chunks. Nehemiah, for example, should take around 42 minutes. Divide it into half. One day read the first six or seven chapters, and read the rest the next day. The longest books (Psalms, Jeremiah, Genesis, etc.) may be divided into, at most, six large chunks. Again, read these in any order you wish, but finish one book before you go on to the next.

Here's to happy Bible reading in the new year.