Hand up, if you’ve read the Bible cover-to-cover.
Ok, now let me ask you why you are raising your hand. You know this is a blog and I can’t see you, right?
I see we’re not getting off to a good start here.
But I’m also sure that not everyone raised their hand, and not because they were smart enough to see through my “this is a blog” ruse (although congratulations those who did). That’s because the Bible is a big book! Reading plans that help you read through the entire Bible are usually structured to read through the book in an entire year. A quick Google search tells me there are 807,361 words in the Bible (I’m assuming King James). (And I must read too much science-fiction because the first thing that came to mind when I saw that number was the year the protagonist of H. G. Well’s The Time Machine travelled to, but that was the year 802,701), which is a lot of words. To compare, there are 835,997 words in all of Shakespeare’s plays (thank you Google), about 40 million words in the Encyclopedia Brittanica, about 2.6 billion in the English language Wikipedia, and (surprisingly) 693,303 words in the Criminal Code of Canada (thank you painstaking work) – although granted only half of those are in English. OK, maybe I got a bit carried away there (as you can tell, I like doing research). My point is that the Bible is really big, and many people who call themselves Christians haven’t read the whole thing, much less memorized it.
This isn’t a new thing either. In Jesus’ time, of course, the Bible (although it wasn’t called that) was much shorter, mainly only consisting of the Old Testament (although I believe the Talmud – commentary on the Old Testament or Torah – might have started to be developed then, but regardless I’m pretty sure that there was more to Jewish Scripture of the day than just the first 39 books of the current Protestant Bible) but the tendency for people to want to take shortcuts and do things quicker goes back millennia. In Matthew 22 and Luke 10 Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was so that, if nothing else, they would just follow what he replied. The account seem to state that the person questioning Jesus was doing this to trap him, but the Mark account seems to say the question was asked from a genuine desire to know what Jesus said the greatest commandment was. If the question was a genuine query, then it seems that the “scribe” or “lawyer” was basically saying “Rabbi, there’s a lot of stuff in the Scriptures, give me the short version so I don’t have to read the whole thing. I mean, the whole thing is on scrolls, CTRL-F hasn’t even been invented yet, never mind books. And chapter and verse? Not even that! It’s too much! Just give me what I need to know from the Scriptures and I’ll be happy.”
Of course, Jesus’ answer demonstrates his wisdom. The most important thing is to make God happy. How does one make God happy? I can sense some of you starting to whine “you’re going to make me read the Bible cover to cover regardless so that I can find out every little thing that I’m supposed to do to make God happy.” Well, no, Jesus wouldn’t have given the Readers Digest version of the Scriptures if he didn’t think that we couldn’t use it. How do we make God happy? By loving our neighbour as ourselves. Some have called this passage, referred to as The Greatest Commandment, as the cornerstone of Christianity. Jesus seemed to think so, as he wasn’t afraid to immediately cite it as the most important thing to take away from the Bible. “If you read nothing else, read this.” Yet us, like people all over time, try to find ways to get around Jesus’ teaching by not treating others as we would treat ourselves. “But, they’re [X], they’re not our neighbour.” Who was Jesus really referring to that we should love “as ourselves”? He had something to say on that too …
(That’s a cue to go to the next post, I’ll see you there.)