How to Read the Bible

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Even a casual look at the Bible will reveal that it is not only composed of 66 books divided between the Old and the New Testaments, each book has itself been divided into chapters and each chapter divided again into verses. The chapter and verse divisions are not canonical; that is, they are not part of the Bible text as it was written by the original authors. The chapter divisions were added by Archbishop Stephen Langton in the 13th century and the verse divisions were added by Robert Estienne in the 16th century. It is my opinion that these chapter and verse divisions (as convenient as they are in locating specific passages) are among the worst things that has ever been done to the text of the Bible as they too frequently break a passage unnaturally, frequently in the middle of the flow of the narrative, and make the study of natural sections of text far more difficult than necessary.

Given that chapters and verses are universally used in today's Bibles, what can be done to maintain the narrative flow of the Bible and minimize the disruption caused by these artificial divisions? Perhaps the best solution is to not allow these divisions to determine where our Bible reading begins and ends but to maintain narrative coherence by having our reading begin at the start of a narrative section and stop at the end of that section, despite the fall of the chapter and verse divisions. For example, in reading the story of creation, the temptation could be to stop reading at the end of the first chapter, when the six days of creation have come to an end. Yet the first verse of the second chapter adds a final summary of the first six days of creation and the second and third verses discuss the seventh day and the reason why God made it holy; both of which must exist in the context of the first chapter in order to be properly understood. Perhaps a better way to read the creation account would be to start with Genesis 1:1 and stop at Genesis 2:3; or even Genesis 2:25, after the creation of Adam and Eve.

As much as possible, the books and narrative sections of the Bible are best read in a single sitting. One would hardly consider reading only part of a love letter; we would, in fact, be hard pressed to read it only once and would often read it as often as we could, perhaps even carry it with us in our day to be read during a quiet moment and remind of us the one who wrote it. What would happen if we looked at the Bible in the same way as we do a love letter? Suppose we regarded the Bible as what it truly is, a love letter to us, from God. Would we not be encouraged to read it carefully, as often as possible and pay close attention to every word?