Should you read the “bible” from cover to cover?

My first answer is no. This is remarkably similar to my second answer, which is something like “sure, why not, but it means little to nothing to say you’ve read Holy Writ from Genesis to Revelation.”

To start, if you read “the bible” as a single book, you are doing a grave injustice to it. First, “the bible” is a disastrous name for it. It is rather the holy writings or some such thing. While we have put it in a box as one book (hence the singular, bible), it is a group of writings written by different people (I would say at least one woman and maybe even a Gentile) over a course of centuries. It has been redacted, edited, copied, and closed. To read Genesis as if it precedes Exodus and so on and so forth is to dismiss the books likely written before it such as Isaiah, or at least some of Isaiah. To then proclaim that you have the mystery of the faith because you have read the bible straight through is to first deny the character of the writings and second, to claim to have read something that simply doesn’t exist.

And of course, there is part two. What does reading Scripture ever do for anyone? I mean, people read Daniel and Revelation, look around, and assume that these two books are speaking directly to our times. The Young Earther reads Genesis and believes that God is nothing more than a Loki-like deity. The husband who seeks control looks at Ephesians 4 and believes it gives him the right to own, in every sense of the word, his wife. John Piper reads Romans and believes he is suddenly God and King. Reading does little, unless it is for pure devotional or a spiritual discipline. To study, however, to study Scripture is to take Scripture at what it said and to see what it says.

Of course, what ever gives you comfort in attempting to gain some measure of spiritual authority over someone else I guess is alright. Right?


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Joel L. Watts
Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

5 thoughts on “Should you read the “bible” from cover to cover?

  1. Hoping to stir the nest, I presume :)

    When I was in high school I read the bible cover to cover two times. I did not have the critical thinking skills and tools that I have today but I did learn a whole lot. First, by reading the book cover to cover I saw all that the bible had to say, both good and bad. The problem with people who are flatfooted inerrantists is that they have not read the text. It is an ideology that is perpetuated by ignorance of what the text actually says. Second, I learned that the bible has multiple perspectives. I did not just hear secondhand, I saw firsthand. This led to questions about biblical authority is would have never had otherwise. Third, I learned to read for context. I was not proof texting, picking and choosing small verses here and there, but had to work to understand how my favorite verses actually fit within a larger framework. My favorite verses took on new meaning. Fourth, I fell in love with the whole process of trying to read and understand this book that is so strange yet also familiar. Fifth, I gained a repository of knowledge that was quite useful when people wanted to tell me what the bible said. I actually could debate and refute because I had spent time with the text. In a time when many people use the bible for their own means it does not hurt to be aware of what the book actually says. Finally, I got to wear it as a badge. :)

    1. I do think people should read Scripture, but too often I think he approach it like a linear progression – you start with Genesis and continue through Revelation, as if there is only one voice throughout Scripture.

      Of course, then there is Frye and his Great Code, which I likewise would wish people to read cover to cover.

  2. I’ve developed this sort of attitude as it concerns memorizing Scripture. It’s a good practice, but only if you can recite both the verse(s) and the context (historical, literary, etc.). Plus, it doesn’t hurt to have a working knowledge of various critical approaches to the verses being “used,” but I guess that would/should come with contextual awareness.

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