I ran across two intriguing Bible reading plans recently. One is by James Martin Grey, an English clergyman who wrote “How to Master the English Bible” in 1907. (You can find it on Google Books if you want. It’s pretty short.) The other is by Prof. Grant Horner, who teaches literature and the Bible out in California. You can peruse the plan here if you wish.

Grey’s plan is simple, almost brutally so: Open up to the book of Genesis. Read it straight through in one sitting. Do it again. Repeat twenty more times. Then, open to Exodus. Read it straight through in one sitting. Do it again. Read twenty more times. Keep going until you’re done with Revelation. It seems like a drag at first but Rev. Grey makes some pretty attention-grabbing claims, in his modest way. He says that this method will acquaint one with the books of the Bible in ways that no other method of study can. He says you’ll have a better grasp of the whole of Scripture and how its various parts fit together when you’re done. Nothing else helped his preaching and teaching so much, he claimed, as this one method of study. The key seems to be the repetition. After a few times through a book, he says, you see the book in a different light and you begin to be drawn in by what you’re reading. It almost pulls you onward, and you start to pick up speed.

I was attracted to this method for a few reasons: 1) its simplicity. It’s reading the Bible, basically. 2) The repetition seems to be the most useful part. Especially for someone like me,  things sink in after repeated readings. You begin to see under the surface more as you go along. The blogger whose post pointed me toward this system initially stated that if you follow through on this, it will change your life. Given the power Scripture has, I don’t doubt that. That one statement, more than any others, was what got my attention and got me thinking about it, and I know that I need to know the Bible better for myself — we all need help in that area. This seemed like a pretty effective way to really get to know Scripture.

However, the method also raised a few questions for me. The time factor was one. I’d have to plan my days (or at least the starts of them, because I’d probably wake up early and do the reading then) around this. I’d be willing to do that, but it would be an effort, and that’s not always easy (especially if the baby wakes up at 3 am and doesn’t feel like going back down too easy.) The other question I have would involve some of the books themselves. I’m reading Ezekiel right now, for instance, and I can hardly imagine reading Ezekiel twenty times straight through in a row, without a breather on some other book in between. I suppose that if I’d read Genesis through Lamentations well enough to master their contents, Ezekiel would be a lot more interesting and hold a lot more that I hadn’t known was there before; I’m willing to grant that possibility, not having attempted the method yet. One variation I saw on the Internet consisted of starting with the shortest books, reading those twenty times through, then working up to the longer ones. That would take out one of the main benefits Grey advocates, which is becoming acquainted with the foundations before going on to later revelation. Still, it would be good. Any time you’re reading the Bible, you’re benefiting. The other question I had I’ll get to later, towards the end.

Prof. Horner’s system has gotten rave reviews and has become quite popular on the Internet, apparently — both in America and around the world. It’s a little more complicated than Grey’s system, but not much. The books of the Bible are divided up into ten lists, and each day you read one chapter from each list. You start out reading Matthew 1, Genesis 1, Romans 1, and whatever the other lists say to start out with. Then here’s where it gets interesting: since you’re reading books of different lengths, the combinations of chapters constantly changes as you follow through the lists. You never read the same set of chapters twice by cycling through these lists. You follow along that way basically for the rest of your life, filling yourself up with the Scriptures (Horner refers to it as “imprinting”, where the contents of the Scriptures become part of your mind and soul.)

It sounds intense but I’m drawn to it for a couple of reasons: 1) I don’t mind doing something intense if the payoff is there — and it definitely sounds like it’s there. It sounds disorienting to read in so many different books at once at first, but Horner claims that rather quickly you begin to see Scripture as a unified whole. You begin to observe Scripture interpreting Scripture in action (#2) as you cycle through big swaths of the Old and New Testaments. 3) It seems pretty customizable. You can probably tweak it to your preferences pretty readily. Horner himself modified an existing plan into his own plan years ago. 4) It treats Scripture as an organic whole instead of disparate parts or a box full of M&Ms (or loose gems, if you prefer that) — and it does so in a way I haven’t encountered before. 5) It seems to pick up on & amplify something I’ve noticed in my own scattered studies: everything in Scripture is connected. You can be reading in Ezekiel one day, and it will tie in with Psalms, part of one of the Gospels, something in Paul’s letters, and Genesis — all at once. This program takes that self-referential character of the Word and kicks it into high gear.

Drawbacks? Again, the time thing — but Bible reading is something you have to just commit to anyway. Once you do, the benefits come to you, but first you have to dig into it and trust that they’ll come. (Believe me, they do.) Two, the main obstacle I can see is one that Grey’s plan has in common: picking a Bible to use, both the physical book and the translation. Horner, even more so than Grey, insists that using one Bible for the long haul gives the best results with his program. I’d want to follow that advice, because it makes sense to me. I want to find one Bible to use for everything for as long as possible. My difficulty is exacerbated by the fact that the NIV, the Bible we use in church and that I grew up with, is going away in its present form. The 1984 revision of the NIV will be phased out in a year or two, and is already being replaced by the new revision coming out this year. The jury’s still out on whether the new NIV (NNIV?) will be worth using, but initial things I’ve seen make me wonder. NIV 2011 seems determined to pick up on generic “they” — instead of saying “him” or “him and her”, they use “they” or “them.” This is common in colloquial English, but personally I think it’s hapless and ugly and I grit my teeth every time I see it in NIV 2011. The Bible is supposed to sound majestic and beautiful, and generic “they” just doesn’t cut it. More troubling is the issue of gender neutral language — saying “people” where the original texts might say “men” but mean “people”, that sort of thing. Some of that is okay, but some of that tampers with word pictures in Scripture and you lose richness and depth of meaning if it’s not kept. The worst excesses of this can lead to God no longer being addressed as Father or Jesus as Son, which is outright false teaching. God revealed Himself to us in a certain way, and we court trouble if we speak of Him in a way that differs from what He Himself said.

My particular dilemma can be traced to a modern trend in Bible publishing: revising the text every few years. No modern translation (i.e. pretty much anything other than the KJV) is immune to this. It’s an expected norm now, that translations will be revised in the light of recent archaeological and philological evidence, and also adjusted to keep pace with current usage of English. The constant revising is due in part to market pressure; Bible translations are products like everything else publishing houses sell now, and they need to be “new” and “improved” periodically to keep customers’ attention. The downside is that if the Bible changes every few years, nobody can remember anything in it after a while. This cycle of revising is speeding up, too. The NIV took 27 years to get around to a revision, but the ESV, one of its biggest competitors, was revised in 2007 after being released in 2001. How much did the English language change in that time? Yeesh…I can see correcting typos or printing mistakes, but wholesale overhauls of the text are bad news if you want to pick a Bible and stick with it, and actually remember what’s in it.

The only long-term option for a Bible that won’t change is the KJV. It will never be more obsolete than it is today, and nobody’s fiddling with it anymore — they put out new translations based on it, but the KJV itself is fossilized, so to speak. Which is kind of nice. The Bible shouldn’t change every few years. But even there I run into problems. Which KJV should I use? I have a bunch, but I don’t know if any of them are what I’d want to subject to that kind of wear and tear. The Cambridge New Paragraph Bible, an edition of the KJV that’s set in single columns and paragraphs instead of a new verse on each line and double columns, is much more readable and would be my choice, but I only have a trade paperback of that and I don’t think it would hold up. Cambridge is releasing a much nicer version, but that’s delayed indefinitely (I haven’t been able to find out why.) I could get a nice KJV, a lifetime companion sort of book, but it would most likely be double column & verse per line, which I’d prefer to avoid. Then there’s the translation itself. I dig the KJV and think it’s timeless, but it isn’t what we currently use at our church (nor will it be in the foreseeable future.) It’s great for just reading Bible, but if I want to familiarize myself with the same version I use for preaching, teaching, counseling, etc, I’d be looking at one of those shifting modern translations. Dipped if you do, dipped if you don’t. Even if I decide to stick with NIV84 just as my personal reading Bible, there I’d have problems. My Cambridge Pitt Minion is a quality Bible, but unfortunately the cover is splitting from the text block. All Pitt Minions do that eventually, apparently. I wish I’d known that before I got it, but oh well. Cambridge has a lifetime guarantee on their books so that won’t be a problem to get it taken care of  — I just need to contact them. But I’m not entirely sold on the Pitt Minion as the perfect all-rounder. Maybe what I want doesn’t exist. I do have a potential candidate for that coveted honor. I have a single column NIV that I really like, but I’d realistically need to get it rebound before it would be ready for long-term duty. The cover it came with is basically cardboard impressed with a leather grain. It looks like it won’t hold up past Tuesday. Rebinding is an option, but it can set you back quite a bit — and if you wear that one out, where will you get another? Maybe the solution is to buy a dozen copies of the same edition and sock them away in a closet, still in the shrink wrap, then bring one out as I need it. Even if I didn’t get it rebound (which I’d probably want to, if it’s the edition I’m thinking of right now), it would still be a sizeable outlay of funds to ensure the Bibles I want to use. By that time the NIV should be entirely obsolete — about where the ASV is now. (Don’t know the ASV? Not surprised. It was an early 20th century attempt at updating the KJV. It was widely used but it’s out of date, obscure, and in the public domain now, which contributes to most of its use these days, frankly. People don’t have to pay for it, and free is always attractive.)

The whole thing is a boondoggle. Right now I have to wait and see how the NIV 2011 pans out, and what our synod does. I may just say the heck with it and start reading the KJV for myself, if I can get a decent enough edition to use. If the translations thing works out soon and the dust settles, and if I can find one (or two) particular Bibles that I want to use as my mainstays over the long haul, then I should be set and the way should be clear to try Prof. Horner’s system. Stay tuned for what transpires.

We know that whatever translation we read (within reason — some are better than others), reading the Bible and knowing it better is always beneficial. God’s Spirit always works through His Word, and He is not bound by considerations of translation or the life of physical books. Sometimes we just need to remember how urgent the task of knowing and believing Scripture is, and once we start the rest will fall into place.

Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you. (i peter 1.23-25 kjv)

…of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh. (ecc 12.12 kjv)