It was January 1st, 2019.
It was the middle of the day on a Tuesday, and I was sitting on the couch, probably on my eighth YouTube video of the day, surrounded by (virtual) stacks of resumes. I had gotten married and moved in with my husband a month and a half before, and I didn’t have a job yet. There wasn’t much to do. I remembered an idea I had had before I got married, and that was that when we were settled into our own place, we should probably read the bible together.
I didn’t really plan to make a New Year’s Resolution of reading the bible in a year, but it worked out perfectly that I remembered that idea when I was bored out of my mind on January 1st. So I Googled “2019 Bible in a Year Readings” and got to work. I spent the rest of the afternoon transferring the list I found onto a Google Sheet, and this was the result.
Starting our bible-reading plan was a lot like starting this blog. I thought “I could do this every single day/week.” And then we did it. And we didn’t stop until we were done on December 31st. Most of all, we didn’t really tell anybody until now.
We started out thinking it would be fun to read through Steve Wells’ Skeptic’s Annotated Bible together. For a few days, we would read all of the actual verses (in the King James translation) along with all of the listed contradictions. It didn’t take long for us to decide that the KJV just wasn’t a practical way to read the bible for the first time, so we would have one person do the actual reading from the New King James Version from this website, and the other person would chime in with the contradictions from the book. Eventually we just dropped the book altogether, because we didn’t have time for so many contradictions, and for the rest of the year we read exclusively from the YouVersion bible app on my phone.
The NKJV wasn’t much better. If I could go back to last year, I probably would have read the New International Version for readability or the New Revised Standard Version for accuracy. Unsurprisingly, the NKJV didn’t really make any sense. Granted, the bible probably wouldn’t make much sense no matter what. It goes without saying that it wasn’t a pleasant read, it wasn’t well written, and the main character was an absolute douche.
If you haven’t read the bible yourself, I definitely don’t blame you. You know about God drowning everyone in the flood and sending the plagues to Egypt. But the real worst parts of the Old Testament to read included:
- Seemingly endless lists of genealogies with names you can’t pronounce
- Maps described in excruciating detail
- Lists of which people lived in which cities
- An agonizingly detailed account of the “house of the Lord”, down to every last cubit. Oh my god, so many cubits.
If you’re not reading about God being an complete tyrant, then there’s a chance that you’re just falling asleep. A good chunk of the Old Testament was meant as a way to keep historical and political records, and even building instructions. It wasn’t really supposed to be a thriller.
For anyone who hopes to read the bible, especially as a Christian, you might wish that you’d encounter more Jesus. In fact, the story of Jesus is barely over one tenth of the entire bible. The entire New Testament is only about a fourth. For context, when we read every day for an entire year, it wasn’t until October 2nd that the New Testament began, and the gospels only lasted until mid-November.
Often throughout the year, I was thinking that no one cared about whatever weird list or map that I was reading about at the time. Coincidentally, you never really see the story of Jephthah killing his daughter told in cute script font on a girly Christian blog. If you ask why, it’s likely you’ll get the answer, “Well, that was in the Old Testament. I just focus on following Jesus.” Maybe I’m just being blunt, but if all you care about is Jesus, then why bother with the Old Testament at all? Reading the bible would surely be a whole lot faster, easier, and less gross.
Of course, the New Testament isn’t a whole lot better than the Old, all things considered. There are a lot of verses in the New Testament that I had thought were only the “old rules” of the Old Testament, like circumcision and slavery, wives submitting to husbands and using head coverings, and other warnings against “sexual immorality” like premarital sex or homosexuality.
In the interest of being fair, I don’t think we should treat the bible as one big, weird book. It’s more of a library. You have everything from old records and war stories to the psalms and apocalyptic visions. You have the four versions of the story of Jesus, then Paul trying to enforce it with local people, then another writer who says he’s Paul but isn’t.
As much as I didn’t enjoy reading the bible, I still would like to know more about where it came from. As I’ve said for a few weeks, I’m excited to get into more of my Bart Ehrman books about the origins of Jesus and the gospels. Once you face the truth that there are so many contradictions and problems throughout the bible, don’t you want to know how they all ended up in the same place?
I will take a break from the bible itself for a while, but I think it would be interesting to get a real NIV study bible with historical context and notes (preferably by a secular scholar), and take it piece by piece instead of reading small chunks each day as quickly as we could just to get it over with. Right now, most of the bible is just one big, confusing blur that dominated my 2019.
(Update 1/6/22: Only recently did I find what I think will be the perfect bible. I’ve put away my Skeptic’s Annotated Bible in a closet because I don’t think you can honestly learn much from it. Instead, I have the New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha in NRSV. I found it in Andrew Seidel’s book list, and I trust his judgment.)
One good thing that came out of this, however, was the Sunday School Dropouts podcast, “where an ex-Christian and a non-believing sort-of-Jew read all the way through the bible for the first time.” The hosts, Lauren and Niko, studied the bible book by book in-depth (or at least more in-depth than my husband and I did) so that we had some clue what we had just read. I recommend it even if you don’t want to read the bible yourself.