It’s January, which means a lot of churches do various beginning-of-the-year stunts. Some start new programs. Some declare a fast. Some spend forty days figuring out their purpose, or their church’s purpose, or somebody’s purpose. Some ramp up the prayer ministry, or various other ministries, in order to take advantage of all the folks who made New Year’s resolutions. All good endeavors.
Some churches have restarted their bible-reading programs for the year. The plan is to read the bible in a year, or in six months, or if they’re being daring, four months.
In 2009, my response was, “It’ll take a whole year? Please. I could read it in a month.” And I did. And have done so every January since.
No it’s not impossible. I have an audio bible. If you listened to it nonstop, from Genesis to maps (as the pastors joke), it takes 92 hours to get through both Old and New Testaments. If I wanted to plow through it in 30 days, I’d have to listen to it an average of 3 hours 12 minutes every day. Now, for some folks, their daily commute to and from work every day takes longer than that. For others—those folks who virtually live with their headphones on—three hours of audio every day is nothing. They’d get through the bible in three weeks. Maybe even less.
This audio bible, I should point out, is a dramatized bible: It has orchestration and sound effects and overacting. All these factors slow the pace down. (Which is probably best.) If you were to actually sit down and read a bible, rather than listen to it, I expect you could get through it much faster. I certainly can.
Just to prove to myself (and to others) how the bible can be read in a month, I give myself these ground rules: I aim for 60 minutes a day. I’m not a stickler about it; if I’m in the middle of a book of the bible, and want to push all the way through, I might read as many as 90 minutes. If I don’t have time, or if I’m reading short books, I might only read 30 minutes. I take Saturdays off—unless I miss one of the other days of the week, in which case that was my day off, and I’ll catch up on Saturday. And, to keep myself from coasting through familiar passages, I read unfamiliar translations. (The first year I did this, I read the Good News Bible. In 2010 I read George Lamsa’s translation; in 2011 the new edition of the NIV.)
I don’t always start on the first of the month, but I’m done before the 30th. Yeah, it’s doable. I read fast, but slow readers, if they give themselves the time, can read the bible in a month too. It all depends on whether they’re up for it.
And I hear all the time about people cruising through the bible at breakneck speeds. New Christians, when they first discover the bible, and how God is revealed in it, are so jazzed to learn about him, they grab that book and tear through it cover to cover. They’ll read it in two weeks. Sometimes quicker. True, they’re near-obsessive about their reading, and they seem to be reading every waking moment. Still, they get that bible read in quicktime. And if you had that zeal, you could do it too. If you wanted.
The usual objections.
The first time I pitched the bible-in-a-month idea, of course I got objections. From all sorts of people. To be honest, most of ’em simply didn’t want to put the time into reading the bible in a month. And I’m not gonna knock anyone who just doesn’t feel it’s physically possible. Sometimes life gets busy. Some folks aren’t strong readers. Reading the bible in a month doesn’t make you a superior Christian, or give you bragging rights (’cause like I said, anyone can do it, so it doesn’t take any special skills). But there are other objections, and here they are.
This is just a stunt. Well of course it is. And so are many of the things our churches do in January, like the fasts. But so what? If you resolved this year to finally get that bible read, join the stunt.
How much can you actually retain from reading the bible so quickly? Fair question. I personally can recall quite a lot. But I have a better-than-average aptitude at reading comprehension. Plus I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read the entire bible; a lot of it is stuck in my brain.
But I point out the bible-in-a-month challenge isn’t about memorizing the bible. Nor is it about studying the bible. It’s about reading through it, cover to cover, to gain or improve our familiarity with the contents. Some of us never do read through it, which means we never will develop that familiarity: There will always be sections of the bible, sometimes entire books, which we know little to nothing about. And we’re missing out when that’s the case. We really are.
So how much are you gonna retain? More than someone who never reads it. And, while everyone on the three-month plan is a third of the way done, you’ll even have enough time to read the bible again. Twice.
It seems disrespectful to turn bible-reading into a marathon. That depends on your motives for running a marathon. If you’re reading through the bible quickly so you can have the bragging rights—“I read it in three weeks; top that”—or for any other reason than to get to know God better, don’t do this. It’s not about any of those things.
What I am doing is addressing a different problem: Plenty of folks believe the bible is too big of a read, too monumental of an assignment. They never expect to reach the summit of this mountain. So they avoid even placing a foot on it. They’re content with being ignorant of the bible. They aren’t bible scholars.
Fact is, people need to read their bibles. Christians will believe all sorts of wacky or stupid things about God, and have no biblical support for any of it. They’ll just assume it’s from the bible, but they’ve never read it for themselves. They’ll believe the books of the prophets are nothing about predictions of the future (and they’re not), or the historical books are nothing but mythology (and they’re not), or Jesus’s teachings are too hard to actually follow (and they’re not). They’ll base all their beliefs on hearsay. Or worse, songs on Christian radio.
So if this stunt gets people to read a bible, I’m for it. If they don’t treat it with the reverence you think a bible deserves, you might be confusing this overview with a bible study, or you might have a problem with bibliolatry. A slower pace isn’t a form of respect; it’s just slowness. It’s practiced for a different purpose than getting generally familiar with your bible.
I can’t spare an hour a day. Fair enough. Some of us have crazy busy lives and simply can’t get—or aren’t allowed to 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 of it, 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 can devote an extra hour a day to bible-reading: Watch TV one fewer hour, or play video games one fewer hour, or stay off Facebook between certain set times, and get that bible read. It’s doable.
You’re asking people to be awfully disciplined. I don’t think I could be. Ah, now we get honest. Well, 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 will 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 until you get that bible completely read. If you’re not disciplined, use this opportunity to work on your self-discipline.
The More Christ bible-reading program.
Here’s a link to my program. How it works is that after you read a chapter of bible, you check it. That way you don’t have to read it in book-order; you can move around from book to book if you like. Or read an entire book of the bible a day (or more; very few books take that long to read) and cross the whole thing off at once. However you want to do it.
If your church offers a bible-reading program, you can of course follow their order. If you own one of those bibles that are designed to be read in a year, you can follow its order. I recommend my program because I feel it’s more flexible, but if you’re reading the bible along with others, it’s good that you’re all reading the same sections of bible every week. Go with that.