the value of reading: whole books and big sections

An ESV Illuminated Scripture Journal and my current journal. Oh, and a Kaweco Skyline Sport.

Besides putting together my visa application and trying (slowly) to get our house packed up to move, I'm trying to think through the teaching program for our new church. It's a big task and it's a really important one for this church. Since their inception, they've relied on visiting speakers to fill the pulpit. That means there hasn't been continuous or consistent teaching from the Bible.

One of the reasons why I've been called to pastor this church is to do the work of consistent, expositional, rigorous and challenging teaching. It is to slowly shift the focus from hearing from a variety of speakers to looking at God's Word.

As a part of this, I'm planning out where the teaching will be going. Something that I learned from my time in the Cornhill Training Course is the value of reading through entire books in a single sitting. During days where we would be in something small like an epistle or even something like Nehemiah or Zephaniah, we would actually start the day by listening through the book in its entirety once or twice.

So that is what I'm doing. Today, my wife was home from work so I was able to go out and have a big chunk of uninterrupted time to read through an entire Bible book.

But why is it helpful?

1. It's how they were meant to be read

Particularly with the epistles, it's very clear that they were meant to be read in one sitting. You wouldn't read a letter from someone over the course of several days or weeks, you'd read the whole thing. I suppose the one counter-example would be the Psalms, but even with these, there would be value in spending the 4-5 hours it would take to read (or listen) through in its entirety.

2. It gives you a better idea of the whole

Once, a writer whom I follow spoke about trying to get to end of a first draft of a novel so that she could have an idea of what the whole is supposed to be. When reading through an entire book, like a gospel, some of the detail will be lost but what you get in return is a clearer view of how the whole thing joins up.

Something I've experienced in the past is being in a very long series on one particular book and getting so bogged down in the detail that it's difficult to get the why of the whole thing. If you're church is beginning to or in the middle of doing a long series on a single book, it's worth periodically reading through the entire thing during the week. You'll never regret the time given to it. You'll also find that listening to sermons on Sunday is more fruitful because you're able to make connections between what you're hearing/studying that week and what you've read either earlier or later in the book.

3. The context of a Bible book is often the most neglected in our studying

If you're on board with regular, expositional preaching then chances are you're tuned in to working out the context for a particular passage. For example, you know why it's a bad idea to quote Matthew 4:9 in isolation.

Because we have access to so much commentary and systematic theology, we also become quite good at considering where a passage sits in the context of the Bible as a whole.

What we're less good at is working out the context within the book itself. For example, why the placement of Philippians 2:5-11 is the key to understanding the problem that Paul is addressing in Philippi.

And so that is one of my projects over the summer. Reading through a book multiple times so that I can try to wrap my head around it enough to teach it to the church.

I hope this is helpful or encouraging.

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Dan Alcantara

Dan Alcantara