By Elizabeth Prata
Have you seen these beginning-of-the-year encouragements online about how little time it takes to read a book of the Bible, or comparisons saying that it takes only as long to read 1 Thessalonians as it does to fold the laundry, or something? Like this infographic–
Or this tweet:
I understand the reason behind these comparisons, and they’re good. Encouraging people to read the Bible is one of my spiritual goals too.
We want to prioritize Bible reading, choosing it first and above other activities like movie going. In other words, these comparisons are saying if we have 2 hours of time or 15 minutes of time, how should we choose to spend it? With the Lord or doing something else?
But, there’s reading and there’s reading. There’s books and there’s THE Book. I recently read Mortimer Adler’s classic How to Read a Book, and Tony Reinke’s book Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books. As DA Carson mentioned about how he reads 500 books a year,
D. A. Carson recently revealed that he reads about 500 books a year . . . sort of. During a question and answer session at a conference in New Mexico, Carson was asked about his reading habits, and he explains how he approaches the reading of books. Some books, he will read every word. Others, he gets the main idea and skims. He doesn’t necessarily read every line of every book he reads. “There’s reading, and then there’s reading,” he says.
If I remember correctly, this is in keeping with Mortimer Adler’s advice in How To Read A Book (but I can’t be sure because I think I skimmed it). All books are not created equal, so we shouldn’t read them as if they were.
At first I thought little about these ‘read Jude, it only takes 4 minutes’ kind of comparisons. After seeing a parade of them, I thought about them some more.
I came to a decision. While comparisons like these might be useful for leisure reading, I don’t think we should trivialize Bible reading by encouraging people to read it quickly, casually, or liken it to other mundane activities such as watching movies.
It is not mundane, it shouldn’t be taken casually, and it is an activity like no other.
It’s like this. Do you want your leukemia doctor to have listened to advice from mentors saying it should only take 5 minutes to read the chapter on hemoglobin because it’s short? Or the civil engineer listening to people saying that the chapter on bridge stresses is only as long as Ecclesiastes, so it should only take half an hour to read? Or the housewife, if I have time to fold laundry I have time to read Ruth!
If a paperback beach book is 200 pages and your law student book chapter on constitutional issues is 200 pages, which would take you longer to read? And why is that?
Because it’s not about text length. It’s about the kind of text you are reading. I don’t think it is useful or appropriate to count Bible pages and come up with a sum of time it should take to read it.
Why? The Bible is a book like no other. It is the very revelation of God to man. It is the only place where we know His words, where we can peek into His mind so far as He has revealed it. It is the majestic word, His commands for life and love. His word is transcendent, eternal, and unique.
One of our elders often relates a story about one of his Bible teachers who took three years to read/study Colossians and only Colossians. He was studying it deeply. While not all of us would take that long, it is illustrative of the fact that the Bible is a book like no other. It is infinitely long. It is eternal. You can read Jude in 4 minutes, sure. Or you can spend a Seminary year on it and write a 300 page thesis on the chapter.
However, I think it isn’t good to lower Bible reading to the level of entertainment or page count in order to make these kind of exhortations. We should prioritize Bible reading not because it’s easy to make time for it during the day if you squeeze out one other mundane activity, but because it is the best thing we can do all day. Because God is worth it. (Psalm 27:4). Because we seek Him and His ways. (Psalm 119:2). Because we honor the Spirit’s ministry of Illumination. (Psalm 119:130). And a host of other holy and good reasons.
We should approach Bible reading for the day the same way we approach congregational worship, with forethought, preparation, and reverence. We should approach Bible reading the same way we approach prayer, boldly, yes, but mindfully and because we are communing with the Ancient of Days.
Sure, you can read the Bible in just a few minutes, but if you journal, it will take longer.
If your Bible reading involves prayer, and it should, that adds time.
If you stop to look up cross references, that adds some time.
If you read and then reread to get a point, you guessed it, more time.
If you consult a commentary afterward, time.
Anyway, I think I made my point. The reason for these kind of comparisons is good, as mentioned. We all have time to read our Bible during the day. Even the busiest person has time to do it.
It doesn’t have to be a seminary education every time. I know it isn’t for me. Some days I wind up spending a lot of time reading it because the Holy Spirit knits other verses into what I’ve just read and sparked my curiosity, and off I go on happy rabbit trails. Other times, I have no clue what’s happening in the passage and I have to work at keeping my eyes on it. But the main thing is my basis for reading it. Am I approaching this activity because it’s another activity on a par with movie watching or housework and I can squeeze it in? Or am I making time for this activity because I want to prioritize God in my life and read what He has to say to me with all my heart, mind, strength, and soul?
Your thoughts welcome.