We Read the Entire Bible

We Read the Entire Bible

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.

A screenshot from the YouVersion bible app showing that I used it for 309 days in 2019.

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.

White script font on light pink background reading, "Then it will be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the people of Ammon, shall surely be the Lord's, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering. Jephthah, Judges 11:31"
This isn’t a real Instagram post, but I bet you thought it was.

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.

19 thoughts on “We Read the Entire Bible

  • January 5, 2020 at 8:17 am

    You did not read the entire Bible. You left out these Old Testament Deuterocanonical books that are divinely inspired: Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus (Sirach), Baruch, 1st & 2nd Maccabees, chapters 10-16 of Esther, Daniel 3:24-90 (Song of the Three Young Men), Daniel 13 (the story of Susannah), and Daniel 14 (Bel & the Dragon). 🙂 The cannon was set in 384, not 1,200 years later by some heretical priest. 🙂 Sorry. I’m hopeless. And yes I read them all.

  • January 5, 2020 at 8:55 am

    The Jewish Bible was written by “returnees” to provide a backstory and justification for their rule. These folks were “returned” by Babylon and they may or may not have been related to those removed in the sixth century. But because they were being returned with Babylon’s blessing (notably to keep order in a Babylonian province, not a free country) they assumed positions of power, that is they decided that they were the best people to “rule.”
    This makes clear a lot of the boring stuff like genealogies in the OT. Where would these things have been stored? How did the authors acquire copies of them? If you ask such questions, you realized that those genealogies could only have been made up based upon the stories they wanted to tell and which provided connection between the glorious past (which wasn’t glorious) and the current leaders.
    If the “current leaders” (fifth-sixth century when the OT began to be written) were only connect to the mundane past that truly existed, then they would have much of a case for their current rule. (Support us because we have created centuries of mediocrity!) And, of course, being self-proclaimed elites, all of the problems of the past were blamed on the … wait for it, wait for it … the disobedience of the people. If the people had only been obedient, none of the bad things would have happened (Yahweh would have had no reason to punish his “chosen people” through defeat and relocation, for example.) The solution, as it is so often in the Bible, is “obedience,” of course.
    The reason there are so many contradictions is that the books of the Bible were written by separate groups of scribes (the intellectual class of the time) with no intention of keeping consistency as the “books,” aka scrolls were all standalone documents, to be used by the elites to make arguments with one another.
    The Hebrew Bible only came to be considered to be “holy writ” and shared out with the people in the second century CE and later. This, of course, gives the mostly fictional documents much greater standing with “the people” and they become more effective in helping the elites to coerce the labor of the masses (though tithes, sacrifices, etc.) to serve the interests of the elites.
    Just sayin’.

  • January 5, 2020 at 9:08 am

    I haven’t read the complete Bible, much less the Old Testament, or better put, the Hebrew Bible. I’ve been tempted to follow an audible reading, and I might just yet. In fact, it was Bart Ehrman who got me interested in reading or listening, to the Bible. I’m a big fan of his.
    I absolutely agree with you, that one has to understand the historical and cultural context behind Biblical writing in order to fully grasp Biblical meaning. The so-called exodus out of Egypt narrative is a classic example. There were no ten plagues, no killing of firstborn Egyptian children (and Egyptian animals), no destruction of the Egyptian army, no parting of the waters, no wandering about in the desert for forty years. No ten commandments written by God which no one but Moses and possibly Aaron could read anyway.
    So why was it written? Wish fulfillment? A compelling need to rewrite history? One man’s hatred for Egypt? For whom was it written? Who knows? But, it makes for a hell of a story, as does Homer’s Iliad–which I feel is a much better read.
    Having said that I’m still in awe that you read the Bible–a book that most Christians haven’t read.

  • January 5, 2020 at 9:09 am

    I’ve read the Bible every year for the last 4 years.
    This year is the first year (2020) that I’m not going to be doing it. Feels liberating.
    I used to read through the New Testament a couple of times a year as well, taking a chunk at a time whilst on the train to work.
    Over the last year, I’ve found it more and more unsettling how I used to let the words it says wash over me, without any critical thinking or asking myself ’why the heck do I believe this stuff?!?’
    Slavery. Oppression. Judgment. Condemnation. Horror. Lies. To name just a few issues I have with just the New Testament.

  • January 5, 2020 at 11:36 am

    I started my program of reading the Bible at around age 12. That’s part of why I left Christianity 10 years later.
    Parts of the Bible are boring (all of those begats, for example). I only skimmed through those. And parts of it don’t actually make sense (the book of Revelation, for example).
    There’s quite a bit of porn. There’s lots of evil.

    • January 11, 2020 at 11:55 am

      if you read the bible in its entirety and then try to live according to it’s “teachings’ you had better be prepared for stonings, hangings, beatings, subservient women, dismemberment, children being offered up as sacrifice, ritual blood offerings of sheep, lamps, goats, and probably that fatted calf. Get ready to destroy your neighbor’s family and then take their land–not to use, but to render it worthless with a boatload of salt. If you like your neighbor’s daughter, you can take her as a wife, regardless of how she feels about it.
      All of this justified as, “God commanded me…” wow can you get away with stuff when God gets involved.

      • January 11, 2020 at 12:42 pm

        That’s only a problem if you are a biblical literalist.
        I started out as a literalist. While reading the Bible, I was able to maintain my literalism all the way until I reached Genesis 1. At that point, literalism had to go.

  • January 5, 2020 at 12:04 pm

    Rebekah, when you weary of reading that one, try this one on for size: he plays it with a straight face, and I suspect no one is offended.
    Lego has never had a deeper meaning.

  • January 5, 2020 at 2:01 pm

    Isn’t it interesting that you read the bible AFTER you left the church … yet millions upon millions of “Christians” never open its pages (except perhaps while sitting in a church pew). This doesn’t stop them, however, from offering numerous “scripture quotations” in an effort to validate their faith.

  • January 6, 2020 at 10:21 am

    The bible is quite a read. I read initially in the NKJV as a believer (Presbyterian)and then in the NRSV which a friend who had a master’s in theology recommended as an atheist.
    The bible is so ridiculous and tedious. but it makes it fun when I’m tearing apart a conservative Christian who has never cracked it open.

  • January 6, 2020 at 3:40 pm

    You understand the Bible more than most Christians I know 🙂 .

  • January 9, 2020 at 10:41 am

    I was raised Christian. I am currently exploring other belief systems. I read the Bible as a believer, and even then I had questions and worries. The New Testament cannot be separated from the Old testament because the books go hand in hand. Had the events of the Old Testament not happened, there would have been no need for Jesus. This is why I don’t like when Christians say they only follow the New Testament. When I was a believer I was taught to believe that the entire Bible was God’s infallible word and we can’t throw out the Old Testament because it directly related to the New Testament. I haven’t sat done and read the Bible in about a year or so, and I have KJV, NKJV, NIV, and NASB versions of the Bible.

    • January 9, 2020 at 12:55 pm

      “This is why I don’t like when Christians say they only follow the New Testament.”
      But they cannot have it both ways.
      If they are to follow the old testament, then the church services should be on Saturday, not on Sunday. And they should follow the old testament dietary laws.
      However, there are strong traditions involved here. And worship services on Sunday, and abandoning the dietary laws are part of that tradition.

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  • January 24, 2020 at 11:38 pm

    I highly suggest the torah class study if you’re interested in the history of the old testament. It’s pretty awesome lectures based off of the talmud, which was written by the jewish sages (think like expert professors of that subject) it is taught by messianic jews (jews who believe in Christ) and Christians. It also ties the whole thing together in a way you would understand if you really have no prior knowledge of any of this. It also shows you Jesus throughout the whole thing. I believe they do the whole bible.

  • February 29, 2020 at 3:06 pm

    Nice article and really appreciate your post. I though it was interesting knowing that Jesus read the Bible and even quoted from the Old Testament at times.
    Matthew 21:42
    Jesus said to them: “Did you never read in the Scriptures, ‘The stone that the builders rejected, this has become the chief cornerstone. This has come from Jehovah, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?
    He quoted from what Isaiah 28:16 says:
    Isaiah 28:16
    16Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord Jehovah says: “Here I am laying as a foundation in Zion a tested stone, The precious cornerstone of a sure foundation. No one exercising faith will panic.

  • March 11, 2020 at 9:43 am

    The comment on Jephthah is the best.


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