December Books 16) The Bible

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Apart from War and Peace, my other reading project for 2012 was to read the entire Bible, a few chapters a day (or an entire book if it is short). I therefore finished Revelation, and the whole thing, this morning. I have already written up my thoughts on the Old Testament; I would just repeat from there my strong recommendation against reading it through from start to finish. It wasn't written or compiled to be read in that way, and it doesn't do the text any services to read as if it were a historical monograph, a short story collection, or a book of essays and meditations. I chose this approach because I wanted to feel that I had control of what I was reading, and that I was not missing anything, but if you want to get a fair flavour of it, it's probably better to follow one of the many reading guides available online and elsewhere, which are designed both to showcase the good bits and to keep the reader interested.

As for the New Testament: it falls rather naturally into three sections. The Gospels and Acts are among the most readable narratives in the whole Bible; the most striking things are that the three synoptic gospels are so very close to each other, leaving John as the outlier, and that Luke's better Greek prose style comes through in almost any translation of his gospel and Acts. I am also struck every time that the Feeding of the Five Thousand is the only miracle other than the Resurrection reported in all four gospels.

I was much less familiar with the various epistles. They are not as easy to read as the gospels, combining as they do personal salutations, advice on local disputes, declarations about correct practice and belief, and attempts to put words on the ineffable (Hebrews in particular is an attempt at a theological manifesto avant la lettre). I was struck by how hardline Paul is, particularly in the early letters, on the issues that hardliners still stick to today, and also on the question of justification by faith; but there is a significant counterbalance from some of the later letters, especially 1 Peter which seems to be a direct response in some ways. (And the Epistle of Jude seems strangely familiar after 2 Peter ch 2...)

Finally, Revelation is the most Old Testament-y of the New Testament books. (There is nothing like the letters in the Old Testament, and the gospels and Acts are quite different in style from the OT historical books.) Again, Revelation is an attempt to express in words that which cannot be expressed in words; it is clearly not meant to be taken literally, but as one person's attempt to concretise the underlying truths.

Unlike War and Peace, I don't particularly recommend that others repeat this experiment, or at least that they should not do it in the same way as I did. But it's worth getting more familiar with a book which is so central to our own culture.

Matthew October 14-23
Mark October 23-29
Luke October 30 - November 9
John November 10-17
Acts November 18-27
Romans November 28 - December 1
1 Corinthians December 2-5
2 Corinthians December 6-7
Galatians December 8
Ephesians December 9
Philippians December 10
Colossians December 11
1 Thessalonians December 12
2 Thessalonians December 13
1 Timothy December 14
2 Timothy December 15
Titus December 16
Philemon December 17
Hebrews December 18-20
James December 21
1 Peter December 22
2 Peter December 23
1 John December 24
2 John December 25
3 John December 26
Jude December 27
Revelation December 29-31

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