I am very glad that many evangelical churches in Australia preach through the Bible, book by book, chapter by chapter and verse by verse. Over weeks or even months, a theologically-educated preacher helps their congregation to dig deep into Scripture—grappling with each section of the book in depth before moving on to the next section.
But imagine if we watched movies this way.
You head off to the cinema and sit down to watch the latest blockbuster with your family. Then, half an hour into the movie, the film suddenly stops and the lights come up. That’s it for this week. Next week you’ll come back and pick up where you left off for another half-an-hour chunk.
Why does that idea sound ridiculous? Well, for many of us, it would ruin the movie! It would break the momentum and flow of the story. It would take away from things that were set up in one scene only to find their pay-off later on. In fact, a week later you’ll probably have forgotten many details from the last scene. Breaking up a movie like this would make it harder to follow, harder to engage with, and so we would not moved in the way that films can so powerfully move us.
Even if you were a film student studying a classic movie in great detail, before you began breaking it up scene by scene and shot by shot, you would first watch the whole film in its entirety. After all, that is how it was intended to be watched.
If you haven’t guessed my point already, I want to suggest to you that before we break up a book of the Bible for a sermon series or Bible study, it is a very helpful practice to firstly read through the entire book in one sitting. I call this an Epic Bible Reading.
Epic Bible Readings
At my own church, Bundoora Presbyterian in Melbourne, I have organised many of these events over the years and they have always been a wonderfully rewarding experience. We have held Epic Readings of Ecclesiastes, Romans, Revelation, Galatians, Ephesians and Luke’s Gospel.
During the pandemic, I had the opportunity to direct a group of Christian actors from around Australia as we performed over Zoom a three-hour-long Epic Reading of the entire Book of Job!
Of course, it doesn’t always have to be as “epic” as that. Most recently, at The Gospel Coalition Australia National Conference, I was asked to read the full epistle of Titus in the first session (which took only ten minutes) before the speakers broke up the letter and preached on it chapter by chapter.
The Benefits of Epic Bible Readings
As with watching a movie all the way through, an Epic Bible Reading helps you see thematic threads that run through the text. If it is a narrative, like a gospel, it helps you follow the story and see the development of characters. If it is a book of prophecy, it helps you see the sweeping imagery and not get bogged down in the details. If it is an epistle, it helps you understand the flow of the arguments being made and concepts being built on.
Think of it like pulling out a map before you begin a road trip. Reading through an entire book of the Bible in one session gives you a sense of the whole journey that is ahead of you. This means that when you stumble upon a confusing or challenging part of the text, you can use your general knowledge of the entire book to put it in perspective and hopefully interpret it more accurately.
Finally, it helps you to better “hear” the voice of the author of the text, as they originally intended to be heard. While they would have been aware that they were writing God’s word for more than just their immediate audience, I wonder if the authors of the New Testament ever contemplated that two thousand years later we would be dissecting their books like one dissects a frog, analysing every single line individually in order to write a thesis on the meaning of a single word. That approach definitely has its place. When you dissect a frog you learn a great deal about its anatomy, but you also sort of, well, kill the frog! Another important way of studying frogs is to sit in the swamp and watch them hop around in their natural environment.
I don’t want to push an analogy beyond its limits (we all know that can be dangerous!), but I want to suggest that reading a book of the Bible out loud, all the way through, in one sitting was most likely the author’s intended “natural environment” for their words. It’s how they expected their writings to be passed on. As Paul instructed in his letter to the Christians in Colossae: “And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea.” (Colossians 4:16).
For those who have never considered an Epic Bible Reading before, I want to encourage you to give it a go, whether as a whole church, a household, or perhaps on a Christian camp or conference. Keep an eye out for a follow-up article in which I will give you some practical tips from how I have run them in the past.
Simon is developing training resources for churches to support their public Bible reading ministry. To find out more go to: www.PublicBibleReading.com