This summer our priest, Nick Pang, challenged us to read the entire New Testament in the months June-August. This works out to about three chapters a day, which is not too onerous an undertaking. There were also discussion meetings by Zoom after the Gospels and Acts, after the Epistles and after Revelation so that the readers could share their experiences and impressions. About two dozen people here in Penticton participated. No matter how familiar you are with the New Testament I recommend this exercise. You don’t have to stick to three chapters a day, in fact reading longer segments at a time can be even better. I ended up reading less frequently than daily and consequently in longer chunks.
One thing I noticed was that the larger context provided by reading several chapters at once makes the readings more “conversational” in tone. That is, as the author moves from topic to topic you get a sense of how the ideas are being developed and influenced by what has come before and by what they lead up to. The teaching arises out of the whole and not as much out of a single verse or two. Of course, there are single verses that express what has just been said in a concise and memorable way and these are the verses we often memorize or use as aphorisms, which is helpful and good, but they do not stand alone and the fullness of their meaning is made clear in their contexts.
Reading each epistle as a whole invites you to think about how it would have struck its original recipients, for they certainly would have heard it as a whole when it arrived. The Gospels each have their own particular “tone.” Matthew is at pains to relate Jesus’ ministry to the Old Testament prophecies. Mark is terse and makes much of the Messianic secret thread of Jesus’ teaching. Luke talks much about healing and John longer and more detailed stories of the events he chooses to relate. Romans and Hebrews are the most theological in their messages. And what can be said about Revelation? Its images and riddles have invited people to unravel their hidden meanings for centuries (without a lot of consensus emerging) but reading the whole thing without stopping to puzzle over the details shows a grand vision of God’s providence over history leading to a blessed culmination.
No doubt the chief way we will all continue to read the New Testament will be as we always have, in smaller segments as, for instance, in the lectionary. And this is as it should be. But reading in this other way, holistically as it were, does give one a good grounding in each book of the New Testament and its place alongside all the others. God’s Word has come to us in Jesus himself but it is related in the voices of many witnesses, each gifted to express things in their own way. Praise the Lord.