I’ve always been fond of reading, but I wouldn’t describe my reading speed as exceptional. I did a little internet research beforehand on how long it would take to read from Genesis to Revelation. The Bible text is between 700 000 and 800 000 words long (depending on the translation), which is more or less equivalent to ten standard novels. The time estimates to cover that volume range between 55 and 70 hours, depending on whether you read the entire Bible aloud, the intended audience, etc. I chose to read the New Living Translation, mainly because it’s the translation that was used for the Africa Study Bible, but also because it is eminently readable.
I didn’t want the reading to be a rote exercise, much less a fundraising gimmick. Fortunately, the leader of Luke 10 Transformation (L10T), an evangelism ministry I’m part of, phoned me the night before I started. He asked whether I would read the entire Bible with ten themes in mind that feature in the L10T material, and make notes in the margin whenever the text referred to one. They were:
1. God’s blessing (given or withheld)
2. Forgiveness and reconciliation (by God and people)
3. The Fall and salvation
4 The necessity and power of prayer
5. Care for your neighbour
6. Behaviour or testimony as an example to others
7. The Holy Spirit as our helper
8. A lifestyle of following Jesus
9. Training others to follow Jesus
10. Why people resist God
While I was reading, whenever one of these themes cropped up (which was a lot!), I would write the corresponding number in the margin, e.g. God’s blessing would be “1” and a curse would be “-1”, etc. This turned out to be a blessing, since it helped me to stay focused and engaged throughout the five days.
The other blessing was something I stumbled upon halfway through the first morning, when I realized that I was struggling to maintain a consistent reading speed. I opened the YouVersion Bible app on my phone and activated the audio version of the NLT. I varied the playback speed depending on the relevant Bible book, and found that I could follow most genres and make notes in the margin at 1,5X speed, provided I keep up my concentration. If I missed a verse, I just skipped back a few seconds, and re-listened/re-read that part. The app made it quite easy. Listening to the audio not only enabled me to maintain a more consistent speed, but it involved more senses and added a completely different dimension to the whole experience. More about that later.
In the end, I averaged between 12 and 13 hours per day, with the biggest effort on Day 5, when I had to read the entire New Testament. I finished reading the last chapter of Revelation late at night, but would’ve finished earlier if I hadn’t been so captivated by Paul’s letters. Their content was so rich that I kept on re-reading and underlining key passages.
I will probably mull over the experience for some time to come and write more on the individual lessons I learnt, but if I had to make a list of my biggest take-aways, this would be it:
- Scripture is surprisingly easy to engage. You don’t need to read the entire Bible upside down for hidden messages. It’s amazing how clear a straightforward reading of the Bible is.
- Even difficult passages become less difficult against the backdrop of the whole narrative. The best tool for studying a Bible passage is the rest of the Bible.
- When you read the entire Bible in such a condensed period, the divide between the Old and New Testament fades away almost completely. Christ becomes the fulfillment of everything that was promised in the Old Testament – both the continuation and the glorious climax of God’s redemption plan.
- The history books and the prophets, which are normally divided by the wisdom literature, also take on greater cohesion when read in close conjunction. Some of the weird things God told the prophets to do make more sense when read against the backdrop of Israel’s waywardness.
- With the exception of a few good leaders, politicians have always been unsavoury.
- There truly is nothing new under the sun. Human nature hasn’t changed much over the past few thousand years. Only God can redeem us. As John Newton put it: “I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Saviour.”
- We are not the authors of the story we’re living in. History happens on God’s terms, because He is the author.
- There is often a huge gap between our lived reality and the story God is writing. We need to align ourselves closer with Him, the ultimate reality.
- Since Gutenberg, we tend to forget that God’s Word used to be consumed mainly as an aural medium. It was read aloud at religious gatherings. There is something about hearing the Bible out loud that is very powerful. We should listen to the Bible as often as we read it.
- There are interesting and often beautiful vignettes in the Bible that we miss because we tend to read only select passages. Do you know who hid among the baggage when the prophet tried to anoint him as king? Have you read about the left-handed assassin who concealed a weapon by strapping it to his right thigh? And where in the Bible does it say that God sings?
- The Apostle Paul, who wrote about two thirds of the New Testament, was an excellent communicator. His natural gifts, his training and background, his conversion and his subsequent zeal made him a great ambassador for the Gospel. As someone who works with words daily, it was an eye-opener for me to see how well he crafted his messages.
- We do not appreciate the gift of Scripture enough. God cannot be fully known on this side of eternity, but He did reveal a whole lot about Himself in the Bible, and we rob ourselves if we do not immerse ourselves in it.
I was in a daze for days after I read the entire Bible. Having God’s Word wash over you and through you for five consecutive days is an amazing experience. Directly after I finished, I took Communion to thank God for his grace and mercy, and for the gift of Scripture. Those were truly sacred moments.
If I had to pick a favourite passage from the week’s reading, it is this inspiring declaration of resolve by Paul in Acts 20:22–24: “And now I am bound by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem. I don’t know what awaits me, except that the Holy Spirit tells me in city after city that jail and suffering lie ahead. But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus – the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.” What an example to us all!
There are a myriad ways to read the Bible. Working through the entire text in 5 days is certainly not the most common one, nor is it a requirement if you want to discover the treasures listed above. The important thing is to engage. Ask God to reveal Himself to you, and He will meet you in the pages of Scripture.
If you are passionate about God’s Word, please pass on the gift with a small donation in your own currency on this secure website. All donations go towards Africa Study Bibles for under-resourced pastors.
More importantly: Keep listening to and reading the Bible. It will literally change your life.
This article about what I learned when I read the entire Bible in five days originally appeared here.