Most Christians realize that the Bible is very important to the Christian faith. So much so, in fact, that this often leads to handling the Bible in some strange ways. For example, we might take a particular sentence (verse) and memorize it, yet use it out of context. There are sometimes strange views of how the Bible was produced (ie: dictation). Christians might venerate a physical Bible in the home, yet hardly ever crack it open and just read.
‘Just’ reading the Bible is an important practice that has, too often, been lost today, especially with all the technology we now have. I must admit that I have been guilty of this as well. I have participated in (and have taught) Bible studies where we examined a particular book or even a small chunk of text. Sometimes, we do a topical study where we’re grabbing verses or parts of verses from all over to make a point. I’m sure I’ve read the entire Bible at least a couple times over the years in class or through studying the individual books or various sections. However, up until recently, I have not made a great effort to simply read the Bible as a whole, trying to get familiar with it in an overall way.
Don’t get me wrong, I started on this many times over the years in various ways, but I seldom finished. It has been one of my big weaknesses and probably just a lack of discipline on my part.
In many ways, technology has hurt us when it comes to reading our Bibles. Aside from the general distraction which technology makes so readily available, it also helps us abuse the text. We use our Bible software to search out that ‘proof-text’ passage when debating with someone on a theological point, or in our own study of some Biblical concept. We often miss the immediate context, let alone the ‘big picture’ context of it’s entirety. Or, we might search the Internet when studying a particular topic and come up with a bunch of advice, including a few Scriptural references, which fill little more purpose than to help us feel overly-confident we’ve found a good answer. And, while I can find a verse pretty fast in my Bible software, I seem to be getting slower at finding such a verse in a physical, paper Bible.
But, we can also use technology to assist our study. The Internet is a great resource for information, so long as we apply a critical mind to it and be careful of our sources. Using Bible software, we can now do complex searches that people before computers probably would have not even attempted, due to the vast amounts of time it would take to do them manually. But, technology, I have found, can also help in the basic task of Bible reading.
When I got my iPod Touch, I downloaded a couple Bible programs, since such a device is a great little pocket reader, and I love always having a Bible with me. Then I noticed the ‘Bible reading plan’ features and decided to give them a try. Bingo! I found what I needed as motivation. The software takes care of the reading plan. All I have to do is read, and it checks off my daily reading. If I miss a day or two, it is easy to read a bit more until I am caught back up. I’m now on my second pass through the entire Bible, which will conclude this winter. (1)Fifth pass now, as this article was originally written a few years ago. Going over and over through the Bible, even if it is only once through per year, starts to fill in a knowledge of the Biblical story as a whole. This provides critical context or a vantage point from which to see all the other passages when you are reading a book or even a few passages. I would highly recommend any Christian apologist adopt this kind of practice, whether it is using the technology, or simply using a paper Bible with one of the many available reading plans.
The software I have settled on as my favorite for reading plans (I like others for other purposes), is simply called Bible by YouVersion.com. It is available through the web site in a browser, as well as for a vast number of mobile platforms (ie: iPhone/iPad, Blackberry, palm WebOS, Android, Symbian, Java, etc.). The only thing I don’t like about it, is that you need an Internet connection to fully utilize the reading plans. That is a bummer for those of us with WiFi-only devices if we want to catch up on our reading when we’re away from WiFi networks. (2)It kind of works, but then you have to remember your progress until you are back in WiFi, as it tends to mess up the sync. You can read downloaded Bible translations off-line, the reading plan just doesn’t work well.
How does this help?
First, it simply helps with Biblical familiarity. You’ll start to commit more aspects to memory; maybe not word-for-word, as in memorization, but generally. You’ll become familiar with the various stories, their order and context, and will be less likely to be caught off-guard by some of the more surprising or controversial passages skeptics might bring up.
Second, you will tend to become more balanced, shedding certain aspects of theology and tradition. We all come to the Bible with some baggage, often introduced by community traditions, but sometimes also theological slants we make up ourselves based on our backgrounds and desires. As you read the Bible again and again, certain aspects of what we thought we knew will become odd, while others will be strengthened. We’ll develop a more Biblical worldview, rather than letting tradition or poor theology guide us.
Third, context… context… context! It is so easy to use a verse or fragment of a verse in a way it was never intended to be used. Building up the immediate and wider or ‘big picture’ context will help prevent this. Greg Koukl has an excellent presentation which drives this point home, “Never Read a Bible Verse.” Sure, you still need to add in study of disciplines like history and language, but basic context will help as much as anything.
Please join me in becoming more Biblically literate and encourage your friends to do the same!
Update: Wednesday, February 16, 2011
OliveTree has recently released a major update to BibleReader. Version 5 now has many improvement, including a better implementation of the reading plans. I’m not sure I like it quite as much as YouVersion’s yet, but it looks like it might allow for off-line reading of the plan, which would be very nice. Also, the NET Bible translation includes a demo set of its awesome footnotes, and the OliveTree implementation of the notes and multiple panes is quite nice. Be sure to check it out as well and see which you prefer.