As someone who has read the Bible most days of his life, studied the Bible at undergraduate and postgraduate level, taught the Bible to anyone who would listen, and encouraged others to read the Bible for themselves… you might be wondering what has changed so that I am now suggesting an alternative?!
The answer is nothing has changed. I still believe that the Bible is God’s word. I’m persuaded that by reading it we can discover the meaning and purpose of our lives. The Bible shines a light into our being. It reveals the matters that matter most. It’s not a book of rules. It’s not a religious artefact. It’s a life-giving word because it makes us wise for salvation through trusting in Christ Jesus. (2 Timothy 3:15) I can’t think of too many things more worthwhile than sitting down and reading through the New Testament Gospels, with an open mind to discovering all you can about Jesus.
But, for today, I want to commend an alternative to reading the Bible… listen to it. Have someone else read it to you. You don’t have to open your Bible. You can shut your eyes if you want. Just listen to what it says. If you do that, then you’ll find yourself in good company. Before the printing press was invented, very few people had access to reading the manuscripts of the Bible. They depended on it being read out loud by those who did have access. In more recent times, I met some people who lived in Ethiopia for years when it was illegal to have Bibles. They couldn’t be seen in public with Christian Scriptures. From time to time churches and Christian groups were discovered with Bibles and they were punished severely. So what did they do? They privately memorised huge sections of the Bible, so they could share it with one another when they got together.
Now you might be able to find someone who’s willing to read it out loud while you listen, but they’ll probably give up fairly quickly and there is an easier way. Get yourself a copy of the Bible on CD or mp3, put it on your iPod or phone and you can listen to it anywhere. If you’re connected to the internet then you can find audio versions of the Bible to listen to. Bible Apps such as You Version and sites such as Bible Gateway are a good place to look.
I’m not suggesting you stop reading the Bible, but I think there can be advantages to simply listening. It’s a great use of time when you’re out and about. Plug in your earphones and listen to the Bible while you commute to work or drive down the coast. If you’re walking the dog or riding your exercise bike you might be able to listen to a book of the Bible each time. Perhaps you could make up a play list of Bible passages, instead of music, to listen to now and again.
Our church is about to start a teaching series on the book of Jeremiah. We’re covering the whole book over the next 9 weeks. It’s a long book with 52 chapters and the danger is that we’ll get lazy and not bother reading it at all. We’ll get bits and pieces in the talk on Sunday, but not really get the full picture. Listening to the Bible read out loud will get it into our heads.
I’ve taught through the 66 chapters of Isaiah in 16 weeks and the 48 chapters of Ezekiel in 8 weeks. And I found it so useful to listen to the words. I remember one day walking up and down Black Mountain, Mt Ainslie, Mt Majura, past the airport, and around North Canberra as I listened to the whole of Ezekiel. Another occasion I listened to 29 consecutive chapters as I drove to Bateman’s Bay. I did this over and over and I came to know and understand these books better and better.
In fact, some things became so much clearer as I listened. You try listening to Ezekiel 40-48 with chapter after chapter describing measurements and details of the new temple. It’s almost deadening in the detail! But then, after all the names and places and numbers are given, you hear these words… And the name of the city from that time on will be: THE LORD IS THERE. (Ezekiel 48:35) It doesn’t seem like much as you read it off the pages but, having heard the entire book read, and knowing the story that has gone before it, I can tell you it was WOW!
So if you’re about to embark on studying the book of Jeremiah, let me seriously suggest listening to it as well. If you’re not much of a reader but you’re interested in finding out what the Bible has to say, let me recommend getting an audio version. If you want to fill up some otherwise dead time, then why not stick the Bible on your phone or computer or put a CD in the car and listen to the Word of God. Who knows, it might even help you to read it more as well!