Seventh-day Adventists pioneers spent days and nights earnestly studying the Bible to arrive at the truths that now define us as a body of believers. They became known as a people who knew their Bibles.
But how is it with you and me? Is our faith anchored firmly in the Word of God, or does it rest on tradition and Sabbath sermons? Is studying the Sabbath School lessons enough?
The lessons are largely based on looking up “proof texts” for questions that are posed, because that is probably the most practical way to arrange weekly “lessons.” But is this what it means to “eat” the words of Christ?1 Is this enough to answer Christ’s prayer for our sanctification? (See John 17:17)
When Paul wrote, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God,” (Romans 10:17) did he mean for us to study proof texts?
I remember a poem Eric B. Hare included in his book, Fullness of Joy.2 I was probably only about fourteen when I read it, but following the advice of the poem has been a huge blessing to me. Does it describe you at all?
When I Read the Bible Through
I supposed I knew my Bible
Reading piecemeal, hit and miss,
Now a bit of John or Matthew,
Now a snatch of Genesis,
Certain chapters of Isaiah
Certain Psalms (the twenty-third!);
Twelfth of Romans, First of Proverbs—
Yes, I thought I knew the Word!
But I found that thorough reading
Was a different thing to do,
And the way was unfamiliar
When I read the Bible through.
Oh, the massive, mighty volume!
Oh, the treasures manifold!
Oh, the beauty of the wisdom
And the grace it proved to hold!
As the story of the Hebrews
Swept in majesty along,
As it leaped in waves prophetic,
As it burst to sacred song,
As it gleamed with Christly omens,
The Old Testament was new,
Strong with cumulative power,
When I read the Bible through.
Ah! Imperial Jeremiah,
With his keen, coruscant3 mind;
And the blunt old Nehemiah,
And Ezekiel refined!
Newly came the Minor Prophets
Each with his distinctive robe,
Newly came the Song idyllic,
And the tragedy of Job;
Deuteronomy, the regal,
To a towering mountain grew,
With its comrade peaks around it,
When I read the Bible through.
What a radiant procession
As the pages rise and fall,
James the sturdy, John the tender
O the myriad-minded Paul!
Vast apocalyptic glories
Wheel and thunder, flash and flame,
While the church triumphant raises
One incomparable Name.
Ah, the story of the Saviour
Never glows supremely true
Till you read it whole and swiftly,
Till you read the Bible through.
You who like to play at Bible,
Dip and dabble, here and there,
Just before you kneel, aweary,
And yawn thro’ a hurried prayer;
You who treat the Crown of Writings
As you treat no other book—
Just a paragraph disjointed,
Just a crude, impatient look—
Try a worthier procedure,
Try a broad and steady view;
You will kneel in very rapture
When you read the Bible through!
—Amos R. Wells
The language may be a bit dated, but the message is clear, and it doesn’t leave a lot for me to say, does it?
The Seventh-day Adventist church teaches that God’s inspired prophets, not the words of the prophets. He inspired prophets with thoughts, and they put these thoughts into their own words. Thus, we must not hang a teaching on just a word or phrase or two, and we must always consider the context – what time and place the words were written/spoken and to whom. From that we can determine whether the counsel was only for the immediate situation, with principles for us to apply today, or whether the exact message was for all time – such as the Ten Commandments or the Sermon on the Mount. (Come to think of it, even in the Sermon of the Mount, there are things we need to understand as principles, since we don’t have Roman soldiers walking around in our neighborhood and asking us to carry their baggage for a mile so we can carry them for two miles, as Jesus said.)4
If you have never read the Bible through, then I would like to suggest that, if you can possibly do so, get a “chronological Bible” for your first reading – a Bible arranged in the order in which events happened, rather than in books ordered by category, such as most of our Bibles today. It will make for a much better reading experience. 5
Most people who start reading the Bible in Genesis 1 get bogged down somewhere in Leviticus, and that’s why I suggest skimming over the instructions that appear to be very specific for that time and no other. (There’s no special reward for reading every word, and there’ll be plenty of other things that will speak to your heart.) Ask the Lord to speak to you, and read at a pace that is comfortable for you. If something really strikes your heart, stop and ponder for a while. And if one verse is so powerful that it will provide food for thought for the whole day, well, then that’s quite enough to read for one day. Other times, you may read five chapters or more.
You say you don’t have time for that much Bible reading? Then I suggest you take that to the Lord and ask Him to help you re-order your priorities. Most people tend to make time for what they want to do. And if you don’t find your Bible reading interesting, there could be one of two reasons:
- You are trying to read a Bible version you don’t understand – perhaps one written in language that’s 300 years old. Get a more modern version. You can check out how the various versions read at BibleGateway.com.6
- You can’t concentrate on the Bible, because you are used to watching TV or exciting movies. In that case, think about 1 John 2:15. If you are serious about wanting to be part of God’s Kingdom, you will choose to cut ties with Satan’s kingdom.7
I believe it’s important to start the day with God, and a short Bible reading can be helpful. That’s where our devotional books come in, especially the ones by Ellen White. They can help us connect with God. At times in my life I got up early to do my Bible reading, but I’m not that much of a morning person, and I find that the evening is actually better for me.8 With this change in schedule, I have to set a time to quit other things at least an hour before bed time to read my Bible.
I promise you that if you stop feeding your mind with artificial excitement, you will find the Bible quite absorbing and even exciting. And that’s not just for the first reading. The Bible is unique among books in that it will lead to more discoveries every time you read it, if you ask the Holy Spirit to make it live for you. The same Holy Spirit who inspired the Bible writers will inspire you as you read. And when you have read, you will know that you have met with God.
Taste and see that the Lord is good! (Ps 24:8)
- See John 6:51-63 ↩
- Very likely there are no copies left with the 1952 cover. But you can probably find a copy of a newer reprint at Amazon.com. That was the first Eric B Hare book I read, and I have re-read it several times since and used it as a source of inspiration for my students. I still recommend it. ↩
- coruscant means “sparkling” or “gleaming” my dictionary tells me ↩
- Some say that “a text without context is nothing but a pretext. ↩
- I’m currently enjoying the NLT Chronological Life Application Study Bible in the Brown/Tan TuTone Imitation Leather edition, and I absolutely love it. It lays flat and the cover feels soft and almost like leather. I just read the text and refer to the “study” parts when I feel like it. I don’t personally find the “life applications” that helpful, but I do appreciate the maps, pictures, historical background, etc. ↩
- When you’ve decide on a version, you’ll most likely find the best prices at Amazon.com. ↩
- Also see Matthew 6:24 ↩
- The day begins at sunset, after all. 😉 ↩