“The Psalms are among the oldest poems in the world, and they still rank with any poetry in any culture, ancient or modern, from anywhere in the world. They are full of power and passion, horrendous misery and unrestrained jubilation, tender sensitivity and powerful hope. Anyone at all whose heart is open to new dimensions of human experience, anyone who loves good writing, anyone who wants a window into the bright lights and dark corners of the human soul–anyone open to the beautiful expression of a larger vision of reality should react to these poems like someone who hasn’t had good meal for a week or two. It’s all here.” N.T. Wright, The Case for the Psalms, p. 2.
Not very long. Someone who reads slower than average reads the entire thing in one year at just ten minutes a day.
See for yourself: www.howlongdoesittaketoreadthebible.com
There are 1189 chapters in the Bible, which means you read the Bible in a year at less than 3.3 chapters a day. Since a chapter is roughly a page in most Bibles, this means three pages a day and you’ve got it. Now, say you read eagerly, you know, the way you would if you thought the best-selling, most influential book in the history of the world was interesting and worthy of attention, not to mention God-breathed and inspired by the Holy Spirit. This would increase your reading speed. You would also need to not let yourself get bogged down, but to read comprehensively first in order to get the big picture. Afterall, could you imagine the Ephesians telling Paul it took them two weeks to read his six page letter because they got bogged down in word studies in the first chapter? It’s great to get bogged down in word studies, but only after you’ve made your way through the whole thing. By then, you are going to get a whole lot more out of the word studies anyway, having a bigger context to process them in. So if you speed up a bit your reading, say to 400 words per minute, which is faster than average but not by much, you can read whole thing twice in a year. Kick it up a real notch to 600wpm, and you’re at three times. It’s almost hard not to do it.
If primitive is an appropriate word to describe the content of Scripture, obscene is even more so. All of the obscenities of sin are recorded with clear and forthright language in the Scripture. And what is more obscene than the cross? Here we have obscenity on a cosmic scale. On the cross Christ takes upon himself human obscenities to redeem them.
William Tyndale is known, though not enough, as one of the first translators of the Bible into English. In 1521 he left Cambridge to return to Gloustershire where he began tutoring the children of Sir John and Lady Anne Walsh at their home of Little Sudbury Manor. This is a curiosity to biographers, since years before he had already earned an M.A. from Oxford, and then spent some time at Cambridge. Why would he leave for a humble position tutoring two young children? This would make sense if he was preparing to translate the Bible into the vernacular and received little support at the universities to do so. The stories about him at Gloustershire confirm this.
The Walshes showed hospitality to priests from time to time, and would also invite Tyndale to join them for dinner. At these occasions Tyndale would astonish and offend the priests by his knowledge of the Bible, so much in fact that they stopped coming to dinner.
It was around this time that a priest told Tyndale that with the laws and decrees of the Pope available, it was not necessary to have the Bible in English. Tyndale famously replied, “I defy the Pope and all his laws. If God spare my life, I will make the boy that driveth the plough know more of the Scripture than thou dost.” His goal was not to just to get the book into English, but to provide it in such a way that the average person–the plowboy, grocer, bank teller–could and would want to read it. This is why his translation, a major part of the King James and therefore of most modern translations, is so phenomenal. You can get a great copy Tyndale’s New Testament for a little scratch. Or you can just read the one you have.
It’s encouraging that the Bible was first given in English with the intent that everyone read it in a humble and easy way. The ploughboy didn’t have a study full of books, a Bible dictionary, internet access and probably even lacked good preaching. He could pick it up and read Tyndale’s poetic, rhythmic but accessible translation for a few minutes a day, and there by making progress slowly, would gain more knowledge than the distracted, superstitious and religiously employed priest.
This has particular relevance for parents. Moses tells Israel to take his words, their very life, to heart, “that you may command them to your children” (Dt. 32:46). When interest in and reading of the Bible is limited to “quiet” and private times, love for the Word isn’t likely to spill out very much. Kids learn by imitation, and what they don’t see, they don’t imitate. It isn’t the only way, but in this context, it’s an important one, revealing the heart.
The church growth strategy in the New Testament church is simple: preach the Word, shepherd the flock. Some would call this no strategy, but that would be mistaken. The numbers are obviously important to Luke who writes for Theophilus and the church community in the book of Acts.
The church in Jerusalem began with 120 people, but after Peter’s sermon on Pentecost, we’re told 3000 were added (Acts 1:13; 2:41). Then, an additional 5000 men, not including women and children came in (4:4). Even after the sobering deaths of Ananias and Sapphira, “more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitutudes of both men and women” (5:14). Again, the church “disciples were increasing in number” (6:1), so they appointed deacons. And it “multiplied” some more (6:7).
Lest we think this was confined to Jerusalem, the church in Judea, Galilee and Samaria “grew in numbers” (9:31). All the residents of Lydda and Sharon who saw Peter “turned to the Lord” (9:35). When people in Joppa heard, “many people believed in the Lord” (9:42). Increase of “great numbers” are mentioned three times about the church in Antioch (11:21, 24, 26). “A great number of Jews and gentiles believed” at Iconium when Paul first visited there (14:1). At Derbe it was “a large number of disciples” (14:21), and in sum “the churches…grew daily in numbers” (16:5). The second journey produced similar results with “a large number of God-fearing Greeks and not a few promienent women” being added ot teh church (17:4). Berea was no different (17:12). Demetrius complains about the “large numbers of peole here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia” Paul had convinced (19:26), apparently enough to put pagan religious craftsmen out of work!
To say the growth strategy was simple is not to say it was easy; it also resulted in jail time and many stripes. But the apostles preached to the unconverted and they were heard. Luke consulted with those who knew how many heard, and it’s a regular part of his narrative. This tells us that numbers matter and we ought to strive for God’s blessings in God’s ways.
“The Acts is also important, however, for the contemporary inspiration which it brings us. Calvin called it ‘a kind of vast treasure.’ Martyn Lloyd-Jones referred to it as ‘that most lyrical of books’, and added: ‘Live in that book, I exhort you: it is a tonic, the greatest tonic I know of in the realm of the Spirit.’ It has, in fact, been a salutary exercise of the Christian church of every century to compare itself the church of the first, and to seek to recapture something of its confidence, enthusiasm, vision and power. At the same time, we must be realistic. There is a danger lest we romanticize the early church, speaking of it with bated breath as if it had no blemishes. For then we shall miss the rivalries, hypocrisies, immoralities and heresies which troubled the church then as now. Nevertheless, one thing is certain. Christ’s church had been overwhelmed by the Holy Spirit, who thrust it out to witness.”
–John Stott, The Message of Acts, pp. 5-6
In covenant theology, the covenant with Adam is called both the covenant of works and the covenant life, by the Westminster Divines for example. Interestingly, Malachi calls the Mosaic law a covenant of life, peace and fear: “…my covenant with Levi may stand, says the LORD of hosts. My covenant with him was one of life and peace, and I gave them to him. It was a covenant of fear, and he feared me. He stood in awe of my name. True instruction was in his mouth, and no wrong was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many from iniquity” (Mal. 2:4-7). Those who call the Mosaic law a republication of the covenant of works usually deny the graciousness of the covenant of works with Adam before the fall. They then deny the gracious aspects of the Mosaic covenant as well. But there is continuity between the covenant with Adam and with Levi (or Levi through Moses). Adam was promised life, and so was Levi. Oddly, where Adam disobeyed, according to Malachi, Levi obeyed. And we know Levi’s obedience wasn’t perfect obedience, that a perfect sacrifice for sin was still required. Apparently Levi feared God by faith and trusted in God to save him.
We tend to over-spiritualize the work of God. I should say falsely spiritualize or unspiritualize, because whenever the Spirit does something in Scripture, it’s always concrete, powerful, obviously seen and experienced.
I’ve been working through the minor prophets and came today that great passage describing what the restoration would look like in Jerusalem. “Thus says the LORD of hostst: Old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with staff in hand because of great age. And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girl playing in its streets. Thus says the LORD of hosts: If it is marvelous in the sight of the remnant of this people in those days, should it also be marvelous in my sight, declares the LORD of hosts? ” (Zech. 8:4-6).
The restoration was the precursor of the coming of Christ, a mighty work of the Spirit. And what would it look like? Old people with canes watching kids playing in the streets. It would look like a multi-generational block party.
One of the most common and trite quotations of the Bible is “Judge not, lest you be judged” (Matt. 7:1). Even people who can write “damnation” in the dust covering their Bible (HT: LG) seem to have this verse memorized. It’s employed whenever someone wants to stop someone else from making an ethical judgment, and in doing so they make a judgment–”Don’t do that, I’m telling you it’s wrong.” So it’s contradictory, but still incorrect.
Jesus isn’t teaching us to refrain from ethical judgments. In Matthew 7 he says whatever standard of judgment you use for others, the same will be applied to you (7:2). He forbids hypocrisy. The solution to hypocritical judgment isn’t to remove judgment altogether anymore than the antidote for stealing is to stop convicting thieves. What’s needed is a just police force and unbribeable judges. In the plank-speck analogy, Jesus says to get the plank out your own eye so that you can help get the speck out of your brother’s eye (7:5). Repent yourself, then you will be qualified to help someone else.
We are in dire need of wise and true judgment, which means we are in dire need of repentance. Sound judgment and integrity necessarily follow true repentance. Just a few verses later Jesus talks about identifying (judging) wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matt. 7:15-20). Why do churches tolerate wolves masquerading as sheep? Why is the US Treasury run by someone who won’t pay his own taxes? It’s hard to see with eyes full of wood. But for those with integrity, de-planked and walking in the light, judgment is a must. It must be wise and charitable, governed by the golden rule (7:12), but then players are obvious: “You will know them by their fruits” (7:20).