When I was a kid, before I ever had any crises of faith or started asking any of the big questions, some adult or other out there had the honor of being the first to tell me:
“You shouldn’t read the Bible in order from cover to cover. It’s not meant to be read that way.”
I no longer have any recollection of who first put that idea in my head, but the point is that I believed it. I believed it back then because adults were never wrong, and I continued to believe it later because I heard it many more times from many more people. Who was I to question?
About 7 years ago, our daughter picked up her children’s Bible and read it, unbeknownst to us, from cover to cover. Some days later, as I was cleaning her room with her, I saw it on the floor and scolded, “we don’t leave books on the floor where they can be stepped on.” She looked up and said, “Hey, I was reading that!” Pleased that she had shown an interest, I asked her what her favorite part was, so far. She told me, “Oh, I read all of it. I liked Moses best.” She then proceeded to rattle off the names of Bible characters and talk about stories I’d never even heard of. I spent the rest of our cleanup job listening, and she spent it happily narrating the entire story of the Bible.
Her Bible that I’m talking about was a story version for kids, but it was a thick tome. It was separated into books and kept in canon order. Our daughter was always a precocious reader, but that was the moment that I looked down at my kid and thought, “Wow, she’s read more of the Bible than I have, and she knows a lot more about it than I do. At six.” I was impressed and I was humbled, and I knew I needed advice from “good” believers–because I wasn’t one–about how to guide her exposure to God now that she’d broken the seal, so to speak.
We lived in Japan at the time, and the time difference meant that I couldn’t call the US and talk to my mother over the phone for at least another 6 hours, and by then we’d all be in bed. So I sat down and posted about what had just happened, along with questions about what age would be appropriate for encouraging “big girl” Bible study.
Though I was, at the time, a despondent agnostic, I wanted our kid to have access to God whenever and however she wanted it. And she clearly wanted it.
I expected suggestions about which Bible to get her. I expected advice from my Catholic people about prayer books, and I expected advice from my Protestant people about Bible camp or VBS. I expected many admonitions to get her into a church. Also, let’s be honest, I expected a little bit of, “oh, what a blessing that she loves the Lord already.”
I was braced for any and all of that.
What I did not see coming was the response I actually got. I got a recommendation for VeggieTales videos, which I followed, and they were awesome…but I also got a lot of this:
“It’s not a story book, so don’t teach her to treat it like one.”
“The Bible isn’t meant to be read in order like that.”
“You know, the Bible isn’t supposed to be read like that, and you shouldn’t encourage her to read it cover-to-cover.”
Well, first of all, for their information, I hadn’t encouraged her to read it at all. That was part of the problem. I didn’t pray with her. I didn’t take her to church. Aside from saying grace before dinner (which was then and will always be the Lord’s Prayer in our home), there was no God in our house. There was no example for her to follow.
She had a Bible. It was a book. She loved books. So she read the book. They could just put that in their pipes and smoke it.
What I did in the end was purchase a Bible for girls with purple text and the words of Christ in pink. She still has that Bible, but now that she’s a teenager she prefers her God Girl Bible.
I also got a Mother-Daughter devotional book, which she and I enjoyed a great deal. It all worked out. She loves Jesus. I love Jesus. Her daddy loves Jesus. We all read the Bible and we all go to church every Sunday. Praise the Lord, God lives openly in our house, now.
But my point in all this is: I don’t get the whole “don’t read the Bible in order” business.
1.) If the Bible is not meant to be read from cover to cover, in order, then why on earth did so many people spend so many centuries fighting and clawing at each other over the precise content and order of the canon? The division of Scripture has been thoroughly debated, and the books are in the order they are in because of passionate and herculean efforts over hundreds of years.
So…why did they bother if it doesn’t matter and nobody’s supposed to read it like that?
2.) The people who tell me not to read the Bible in order from Genesis to Revelation are the same people who will tell me there is value in learning to recite the books of the Bible in order.
Wait. I thought the order of the books didn’t matter.
3.) When I started reading the Bible in earnest last year, I got an app to tell me what to read because I didn’t trust myself to just open it in Genesis and read it through to Revelation, but the app sent me from Genesis-Chronicles in order, and the context building that exercise accomplished has been invaluable.
I’m starting to believe that this whole idea about not reading it in order is just ridiculous.
So. Until somebody convinces me otherwise, I’m gonna read it in order if I want to.
If you can enlighten me as to what the logic behind not reading the Bible from cover-to-cover might be…I would be so appreciative. I am genuinely curious to understand that admonition. I’d like to know where it comes from and if it has any merit I need to consider.
Whatever your ideas about how to read the Bible, I hope that you will read it. The Bible is a very special book. It was written for all of us by people that God selected with a purpose. It was written so that we could know and understand the character of our God. It was written to give us hope and comfort. It was written to teach us right, correct us when we are wrong, and show us how we are meant to live. So read it. Read it cover-to-cover. Read it mixed up. Read it with green eggs and ham on a train in the rain. But read it.
It’s good stuff.