Reading the Whole
Written by T. M. Suffield |
Friday, May 12, 2023
Putting aside that it’s easier to understand a text when you read it all, it is how they were written. Paul expected his letters to be read as a whole and for the church to hear them like this. There’s nothing wrong with reading shorter passages and expounding them—the Bible itself does this frequently—but if we do so without ever catching the whole then we are missing something we’re supposed to have.
A couple of weeks ago I ran an event in Birmingham called ‘Reading 2 Timothy‘, where we did exactly that: read the book of 2 Timothy over the course of a Saturday morning.
It’s a Bible study, which probably doesn’t seem that revolutionary. It probably isn’t that revolutionary, to be honest, but I’ve not seen it done like this elsewhere.
The aim is to read all of the book, within the timeframe we’ve given ourselves so that we can read it in context.
There are six reasons why that’s a good idea:
When we read a particular passage in the context of the surrounding sentences, we understand get insight into what that particular passage does or doesn’t mean.
We can widen the same principle out to the book as a whole: when we read a passage in the context of the whole book we get insight into what it means.
But, more importantly, when we read books of the Bible as a whole we start to understand the thread of the argument they’re making. Most people I know struggle to grasp a sense of a book as a book, there are multiple reasons here, but one of them is that we read in an atomistic way. When we read as a whole, we can follow the story that’s laid out for us.
We also then get to ask questions like, “why did the author put this paragraph here” assuming that the structure of the book itself will teach us.
It’s also difficult to notice the literary artistry of a book without being able to read it through in a sitting (or in four gulps across a morning in this specific case).