New Testament Reading

By Michael Frost (Iowa)

On Monday, November 5th, we embarked on the adventure of reading the entire New Testament in one day.

We read from the Books of the Bible edition of the New International Version (NIV), which prints the text without chapter and verse numbers. I found that this allowed me to read more smoothly, and thus it is ideal for reading large portions of scripture.

Without the artificial divisions of chapter and verse, (which were added more than a millennium after the authors wrote), I found it easier to see the natural divisions in the text itself: where one thought or story ends and another begins. It also subtly changed the way I perceived the text, in that it seemed like a book or letter to be read and digested as a whole, rather than verses to be studied individually.

The day was entirely devoted to reading, and we stopped only for meals.  The lodge was probably the quietest it ever has been with everyone present, as all the students were absorbed in reading.

The Books of the Bible we read from organizes the books by author, so one can read all the works of a given writer together.  We began with Luke’s two volumes: the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. These give an overview of the historical narrative of the New Testament, and thus a framework to understand the rest of the books.

Next, we read all of Paul’s letters in the order he wrote them.  The Books of the Bible has short introductions to each book that explain to the best of our knowledge who wrote each letter, to whom, and why.  This was particularly useful for Paul’s letters, as the context is extremely helpful for understanding his meaning.

After Paul, we read the Gospel of Matthew and the book of Hebrews, both of which were intended primarily for Jews.  Then we read James, followed by Mark, which was likely based on Peter’s experience, and Peter’s two epistles. Finally, we read Jude and the work of John: his gospel, his three epistles, and Revelation.

Reading the New Testament all at once was an amazing experience. It gave me a sense of the shape of the New Testament as a whole and the story it tells that I had never gotten before, despite having read from it all my life.  Many interesting details emerge when one can consider all the books at once, instead of dipping into small sections over long periods of time.

By reading all the authors together, I saw how the literary and teaching styles of each are distinct.  I learned which stories are repeated in each gospel, and where they give different details and emphasize different points.

By reading Paul’s letters in order right after reading Acts, I saw how they fit into the narrative of his missionary journeys.  Reading them in the Books of the Bible format helped me to see them as letters, written to particular churches to address particular problems.  By understanding the particulars of the original context, I could better understand why Paul wrote what he did, and thus what he meant.

Overall, this unusual and ambitious enterprise has taught all of us a great deal about the New Testament and has allowed us to see it in a new way.  It has changed the way we will read and understand the Bible in the future.