Have you ever noticed how the simplest ideas can make the biggest impact? It’s those ideas that are right in front of you, but somehow you manage to miss them.
After my wife and I got married in April of 2006, we moved to Massachusetts so that I could go to seminary. I knew that I was going to be learning a lot about the Bible, and some of it was going to be fairly complex.
One of the most important things I learned in seminary, however, was also one of the simplest: The Bible is not a book.
The Bible might look like a book, but it’s more like a library that has been bound together in one volume. It contains all sorts of writings: historical narratives, poetry, prophecy, letters, and several other types of literature.
The individual books of the Bible were written separately over the span of many centuries, and were written by many different people. The fact that all of these diverse writings are so unified is a testament to the fact that God was directing all of it.
This simple concept – that the Bible is not a book – led me to two basic conclusions:
1. I shouldn’t expect to get through the whole Bible quickly.
The Bible has about 785,000 words in it. If you were to convert that to a standard paperback format, it would be about 3,000 pages long! No wonder I can’t get through the whole thing quickly – I’m actually trying to read a whole library, not a book. I should focus on reading it consistently, rather than trying to read through it as fast as possible.
2. I shouldn’t read every book of the Bible in the same way.
I would not read a fairy tale in the same way and with the same expectations as a biography on George Washington. They are very different types of literature. One is short and fictional. The other is long and historical. I would read the fairy tale in one sitting, and the biography in small chunks over a longer period of time. My expectations would be totally different.
That’s the same thing we face with the Bible. We shouldn’t read the Psalms (poetry) in the same way as a sweeping historical narrative like the book of Acts. In the case of Psalms – as with any artistic type of literature – we are supposed to slow down and let the words excite our imagination. We are supposed to picture it. When it comes to the book of Acts, it’s a straightforward historical story that can be read at a fairly steady pace.
This fundamental concept – that the Bible is a collection of writings – changed the way I approach reading God’s Word. I now focus on reading it consistently instead of quickly, and I try to appreciate the variety of literature within it instead of reading everything in the same way.
I can’t overstate the impact this has made in my spiritual life, because it made the Bible so much more interesting and accessible.
How does this affect your view of the Bible?